Impact freshman for every SEC East team
Every season, there are young guns in the SEC that take the conference by storm. Last year, Vernon Hargreaves for the Gators and Derrick Henry for Alabama are just two of the names that come to mind.
It’s merely a matter of hours until we kick off the 2014 college football season, so what are the incoming freshmen that could contribute the most to their respective teams? Let’s take a look at the impact newcomers for each SEC East team.
Gerald Willis, DL, Florida
What excites Florida fans the most about this former five-star recruit is his ability to play both tackle and end on the defensive line. At 6-foot-3, 275-pounds, Willis’ explosiveness off the line is particularly impressive. He’s strong enough to be successful on the inside, but his pass rushing skills make him a threat on the outside as well. Will Muschamp has already said Willis will be a part of the defensive line rotation for the Gators. He’s got all the skills to show he’s worthy of a significant amount of playing time, even as a true freshman.
Isaiah McKenzie, WR/ATH, Georgia
Full of speed and athleticism, Isaiah McKenzie is primed to be a dynamic player for the Georgia Bulldogs this season. He was not included at WR in the inital depth chart for Georgia’s game against Clemson, but he will be one of the primary returners for the Bulldogs. Kick and punt returns have been a bleak area for Georgia since Brandon Boykin’s last season in 2011. Last year, Georgia was last in both kick return and punt return yards per return (18.6 and 2.9 yards, respectively). McKenzie is an athlete that can bring an immediate boost to those areas. His initial impact will be felt in the special teams unit, but don’t be surprised if head coach Mark Richt finds more opportunities to get McKenzie the football as the season goes on.
Matt Elam, DT, Kentucky
Easily Kentucky’s biggest recruit of the 2014 recruiting class – both figuratively and literally – Matt Elam will be a load in the middle of the Wildcats’ defensive line. Elam stands at a monstrous 6-foot-7, 375-pounds and based off of the coaches’ comments, he’s no slouch.
“He’s so big, but he’s so athletic for his size. He’s a very unique player,” head coach Mark Stoops said. “Guys like that don’t come around all the time. He’s got a bright future because he picks up on things well. He’s extremely athletic for his size.”
If Elam is able to adjust to SEC play sooner rather than later, you could be looking at a game-changing defensive tackle. Pairing him with Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree on the line will make for very talented defensive front for the Wildcats.
Nate Brown, WR, Missouri
Deciding which true freshman would have the biggest impact for Missouri was a little tougher because there isn’t an obvious choice. But I’m going with wide receiver Nate Brown. He is 6-foot-3, 210-pounds, so he’s got a definite advantage with his size. More than likely, the Tigers will have a few true freshman playing at wide receiver this season and Brown was one of two freshman to see playing time with the starting offense during camp. With his size, he could become a reliable red zone threat for Missouri.
Al Harris Jr, CB, South Carolina
Despite being ranked as a three-star recruit, it seems that cornerback Al Harris Jr. will see a lot of playing time as a true freshman. For the Gamecocks’ opening game against Texas A&M, Harris Jr. will be starting opposite Brison Williams at cornerback. Harris Jr. is the son of former NFL cornerback Al Harris, and the younger Harris will be expected to contribute a lot to a position group that is a concern for South Carolina heading into the season. Head coach Steve Spurrier believe Harris Jr. is ready to play. We’ll see if the HBC is right come Thursday night.
Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee
He’s taller than most running backs, but don’t let his 6-foot-3, 227-pound frame fool you. Hurd can break a big run any time he has the ball. His blend of size and quickness will give opposing defenses nightmares. He hasn’t played in nearly a year due to an injury during his senior season, but he’s hungry to make an immediate impact for the Vols. He early enrolled in January and has improved his conditioning exponentially. Hurd will start as the backup running back, but don’t be surprised if you see his No. 1 jersey on the field more often throughout the season.
Ralph Webb, RB, Vanderbilt
I’m going a different route here with the Commodores. Seven redshirt freshmen are slated to start this weekend, while virtually all true freshman will be down the depth chart starting off. Running back Ralph Webb was named the starter Tuesday morning for Vandy’s opening game against Temple. Webb brings a balanced attack to the running game for the ‘Dores, who finished last in the SEC in 2013 with only 139 rushing yards per game. His 114 rushing yards – including a 60-yard touchdown run – in the spring game gave Vanderbilt fans a glimpse of what to expect with Webb. With new weapons at wide receiver as well, establishing the running game will be incredibly important for new head coach Derek Mason.