The SEC’s incoming freshmen who could have biggest impact on division races
It’s interesting how much attention and fanfare SEC recruiting receives, given that few true freshmen make an immediate impact on the field.
Most first-year players provide nothing more than depth, if they see the field at all, but sometimes, a freshman possesses enough talent to make a difference.
Of course, each team’s roster plays a role in how soon a player will crack the rotation. Jalen Hurts and Calvin Ridley are obvious exceptions to the rule, but Alabama typically is much less likely to depend on immediate help than a team without elite talent on the depth chart.
Now that spring practice is finished, we’ve got a small idea of which true freshmen have the potential to break out in their first season on campus. If they manage to play at a high level, it just might be enough to swing a division race.
Jerry Jeudy – WR, Alabama: Unlike last season, the offense is Alabama’s biggest strength heading into the summer. The Crimson Tide would likely be fine without Jeudy, but the 5-star prospect showed during the spring that he could be Nick Saban’s next star receiver. The 6-1, 184-pound receiver finished with five catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns in Alabama’s A-Day Game. If Alabama has another version of Amari Cooper, Ridley or Julio Jones on the perimeter, it won’t need a shutdown defense.
Deangelo Gibbs – DB, Georgia: Gibbs and fellow freshman Richard LeCounte have drawn positive reviews this spring, but Gibbs seems to have a clearer path to seeing the field. The only major hole in Georgia’s defense is at the STAR position, one that Gibbs is perfectly equipped to play. If Kirby Smart decides that Gibbs’ physical traits are enough to overcome his inexperience, he will be a major part of the defense.
J.J. Holloman – WR, Georgia: One of Georgia’s greatest perceived weaknesses entering the spring was at wide receiver. Holloman is part of the reason people are beginning to believe that might no longer be the case. The Bulldogs’ top-rated receiver prospect had a splendid debut during the G-Day Game – three catches for 77 yards and a touchdown – and looks like he could become a dynamic option for Jacob Eason.
Lynn Bowden – WR, Kentucky: Although he’s primarily considered a receiver, Kentucky’s top-ranked freshman is truly a dynamic athlete. Mark Stoops has discussed playing Bowden at slot receiver, running back and quarterback this season. The Wildcats need another playmaker on offense besides Benny Snell, and Bowden might be the most versatile one they’ve had since Randall Cobb.
Grant Delpit – S, LSU: The Tigers seemingly reload in the secondary every year, and this one is no different. Although LSU will be inexperienced in 2017, it won’t lack for talent. Delpit and JaCoby Stevens are two extremely talented incoming safeties who look like surefire stars at some point in their careers. For now, however, Delpit has stood out this spring. The 6-3, 191-pound safety is already drawing comparisons to former LSU star Jamal Adams, who was taken sixth overall in last month’s NFL draft.
Willie Gay – LB, Mississippi State: Mississippi State went to great lengths to sign several JUCO defensive players who can contribute right away next season. The Bulldogs’ revamped defense will likely include true freshman linebacker Willie Gay, however. Dan Mullen has been highly complimentary of the athletic linebacker since he signed with Mississippi State, and Gay’s playmaking ability gives him a great chance to earn a starting job for a defense that needs a premier player.
Jamyest Williams – DB, South Carolina: Although he has yet to enroll, Williams has already generated plenty of buzz around Columbia. He’s an opportunistic, lightning-quick defensive back who has drawn positive comparisons to Tyrann Mathieu. South Carolina has a lot of returning players in the secondary, but Williams is surely bound to make an impact at some point this season.
Trey Smith – OL, Tennessee: One of the top players in the Class of 2017, Smith is an absolute monster up front and mature enough to handle the rigors of the SEC. If he manages to stay healthy, Smith could become one of the best offensive linemen in program history. He will have a role this season, and he should help an offense that needs to build a new identity.
Anthony Hines – LB, Texas A&M: The Aggies have had a solid pass rush in recent years, but the rest of their defense hasn’t been nearly as noteworthy. Hines looks like a guaranteed starter from Day 1 at this point, but he is currently nursing an ankle injury. When at full speed, he’s a do-it-all player who should be able to help sure up Texas A&M’s poor run defense.