Locked in: Here's five SEC 2014 All-Freshman Team guarantees
Part of college football’s early-season intrigue is the onslaught of new players itching to prove themselves coming out of high school. The SEC has several high-profile, five-star rookies this season, but there’s also a few who haven’t received preseason buzz and national celebrity status before stepping on the field.
We’ll feature a healthy mixture of both in our five All-Freshman team locks.
THE SEC’S 2014 ALL-FRESHMAN TEAM GUARANTEES
1. Speedy Noil, Texas A&M, ATH: Don’t say we didn’t warn you. A five-tool wideout with crazy moves and burst in the return game, Noil could emerge as one of the Western Division’s best players — at any position — this season depending on how quickly he adjusts to the Aggies’ offense in game situations. With no film on No. 2, I can’t imagine the 5-foot-11, 185-pound burner being an easy cover for opposing defensive backs. He’s electric in the open field and when the ball’s in the air, Noil’s likely the only player coming down with it. Teammates found that out the hard way during fall camp when Noil ‘Mossed’ a few 50-50 balls down the sideline.
— LongLiveLK (@_TheRealTonka) August 13, 2014
2. Jalen Tabor, Florida, CB: Every bit as talented as lockdown corner teammate Vernon Hargreaves was as a true freshman last season, Tabor’s an immediate impact player in coverage for the Gators after picking up D.J. Durkin’s defensive playbook quickly in Gainesville as a spring enrollee. He remains in a position battle with Brian Poole and J.C. Jackson, but has shown flashes of impressive ball skills during camp that led to his five-star rating. On an island in man-to-man coverage, cornerback’s the one position that a player can be exposed as a rookie, but Tabor’s too talented to be on the wrong end of a long touchdown.
3. Leonard Fournette, LSU, RB: The nation’s top-rated player need no introduction. Teammates and Les Miles have done it for him, comparing the 6-foot-1, 225-pound ballcarrier’s skill set to Adrian Peterson and his confidence level to Michael Jordan. That’s high praise and perhaps unobtainable expectations in Year 1. That’s why Fournette is No. 3 on the list. Every move he makes will be scrutinized, not to mention there’s two senior running backs who have worked just as hard for playing time in camp. Over the weekend, Kenny Hilliard continued his impressive fall with 100 yards rushing during LSU’s second fall scrimmage, an early run-heavy Wisconsin simulation.
4. Al Harris Jr., South Carolina, CB: The Gamecocks’ first true freshman corner to earn a starting job since Stephon Gilmore, Harris is the son of Al Harris Sr., a two-time Pro Bowl corner and 14-year NFL vet who now works as an assistant coach for the Kansas City Chiefs. A three-star prospect out of Sunshine State power St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale, Harris is playing with a chip on his shoulder as an under-recruited (by SEC standards) first-year starter. Arkansas was his only other SEC offer. Strengths are speed and quickness, elements he’ll utilize in the opener against Texas A&M when he’s likely matched up with the aforementioned Speedy Noil.
5. Nifae Lealao, Vanderbilt, DL: This highly-recruited four-star is the Commodores’ top signee in program history and comes to Nashville with sizable expectations as a can’t-miss defensive stalwart out of California. He won’t start in the opener against Temple, but rest assured Lealao’s presence will be felt in SEC East play this season when his size and strength’s needed against bulldozing running backs Todd Gurley and Mike Davis. Derek Mason’s willing to play true freshmen and Lealao’s snaps won’t be numbered once he moves out of a rotational role by October.
Potential impact players: Matt Elam, Kentucky, DL; Cam Robinson, Alabama, OL; Myles Garrett, Texas A&M, DL; Jalen Hurd, Tennessee, RB; Tony Brown, Alabama, CB; Josh Malone, Tennessee, WR