In the SEC East last season, we saw true freshman quarterbacks Jacob Eason and Jake Bentley take over starting jobs and not let go. There were also two true freshman running backs, Kentucky’s Benny Snell and Missouri’s Damarea Crockett, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
At many positions, it takes a full season of learning the ropes before one can make an impact on the field, but there are some positions where it’s important for freshmen to establish themselves early or risk getting leapfrogged by a prospect in the next recruiting class.
There are plenty of outstanding freshmen joining SEC rosters this fall. Tennessee added 5-star offensive tackle Trey Smith. With his talent, he’ll likely play, but if he has a little trouble blocking experienced pass-rushers, Vols coaches won’t necessarily be panicking right away. Georgia also added a number of blue-chippers, headlined by 5-star OT Isaiah Wilson and S Richard LeCounte III. If they contribute this year, it certainly helps the Bulldogs. If not, they likely break through in their sophomore seasons.
Other freshmen might not have that wiggle room. Depending on the depth chart, some offensive skill position players can have an impact on future recruiting based on how they perform. In other cases, the best scenario might be for the prize recruit not to play at all.
Here are four SEC East freshman whose careers could hinge on what happens this fall:
Georgia QB Jake Fromm
Best-case scenario: Fromm, one of the top pro-style prospects in his class, essentially has two best-case scenarios. One best-case scenario for Fromm is that he redshirts this season and starts his four-year clock in 2018. A redshirt season would create two years of separation between he and Jacob Eason, the returning starter at quarterback. Fromm may not need all four seasons in college, but it’s nice to have the option.
If Fromm were to win the starting job, that could also be considered a best-case scenario. It certainly avoids the worst-case scenario.
Worst-case scenario: The worst-case scenario for Fromm would be taking limited backup snaps and burning the redshirt without gaining significant experience. This scenario is only likely to play out if Brice Ramsey is unavailable and something happens to Eason.
Florida QB Kadarius Toney
Best-case scenario: A 3-star athlete and early enrollee, Toney turned heads in UF’s spring game as a Wildcat quarterback. He scrambled away from pressure and threw a touchdown pass, and ended the game with an impressive quarterback keeper. Many expected Toney to provide a change of pace to QB Feleipe Franks, a pro-style pocket passer.
That was before, however, Malik Zaire got the green light to transfer in from Notre Dame. Zaire, a dual-threat quarterback, is likely to be the first- or second-string quarterback for the Gators this fall. With his running capabilities, Zaire may cut into Toney’s touches.
The best-case scenario for Toney would be that he holds on to Wildcat packages as a change of pace from Franks, the starter.
Worst-case scenario: If Zaire wins the job, Toney could get moved from quarterback, which would be a tough blow to someone who has worked at the position since January. While the coaches have made it known they want Toney to get touches, he would have a lot of catching up to do at running back or wide receiver.
Tennessee RB Ty Chandler
Best-case scenario: Chandler, a 4-star freshman, will have a chance to establish himself as the No. 2 running back to John Kelly. The best case scenario would be that he leapfrogs Kelly as the top ball-carrier on the team, but a solid showing as RB2 would be just fine in the eyes of many.
Worst-case scenario: Running backs are always getting recruited, and it’s an easy position at which to contribute as a freshman. If Chandler fails to make a name for himself this fall, running back recruits will see an opportunity for early playing time at Tennessee. The worst-case scenario for Chandler is that a forgettable freshman season leads to UT signing an elite running back in 2018.
Kentucky WR Lynn Bowden
Best-case scenario: An athlete as a recruit, Bowden can line up at multiple positions and he just might this fall for Kentucky. With his impressive speed, the 4-star recruit could contribute at wide receiver, running back and even quarterback. Ideally, Mark Stoops and Eddie Gran creatively use Bowden as a slot receiver and Wildcat quarterback.
Worst-case scenario: It seems far-fetched, to be honest, but there’s always the possibility of trying to ask too much of a freshman. If he’s getting reps at three positions, one might wonder if that takes away from his chance of becoming truly great at any one spot.