SEC players poised to break out in 2016
Every season, there are SEC players who were buried on the depth chart (or in playing at their local high school) who earn a starting job and transform into household names. Here are a few such players who have the chance to become impact performers this fall:
Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama
We’re taking the better late than never approach with Scarbrough, who was the first name listed in last year’s version of this story.
A knee injury and a suspension limited his playing time early last season, and by the time he was ready to play, Derrick Henry was well on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy.
Both Henry and Kenyan Drake have moved on, leaving Scarbrough, Damien Harris and this year’s recruiting class to fill the void. The former five-star recruit has Henry’s size (6-2, 240 pounds), but the Tuscaloosa native needs to find some of Henry’s durability to become the workhorse for a retooled Crimson Tide offense.
Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia
The hype has been building for months on this five-star recruit, whom SB Nation recruiting analyst Bud Elliott compared to Drew Blesdoe.
Like Blesdoe, Eason stands 6-5 and has a big arm and a knack for fitting deep throws into coverage.
The $64,000 question is this: Will Kirby Smart hand the Lake Stevens, Wash., native the keys to the offense in Week 1, or will he slowly acclimate him to life in the SEC, giving him a few snaps here and there, like former coach Mark Richt did with Matthew Stafford?
My guess is that he’ll ease the newcomer in slowly, but, barring injury, we won’t see much of Greyson Lambert or anyone else at quarterback after about Week 4.
Arden Key, DE, LSU
Key grabbed hold of a starting defensive end spot in LSU’s fourth game last season, and the true freshman from Atlanta never looked back.
He posted 41 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks. The Tigers return a slew of talented players around him on the defensive line in 2016 — guys like Lewis Neal, Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux — so opposing teams won’t be able to focus on him.
In that scenario, Key could double his sack total from last season. That is, of course, assuming the offense allows them to play from ahead a little more often.
Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR, Ole Miss
The Rebels need to replace the 119 catches, 1,797 yards and 15 touchdowns recorded by their top two receivers in 2015 (Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core).
Stringfellow, who sat out the 2014 season after transferring from Washington, was the team’s fourth leading receiver last season with 36 grabs for 503 yards and five scores. Fellow returnee Quincy Adeboyejo figures to take a step forward as a senior next season, but Stringfellow could easily top 80 catches and 1,000 yards with one of the better quarterbacks in the SEC (Chad Kelly) throwing him the ball.
CeCe Jefferson, DE, Florida
Jefferson made three starts in 2015, but mostly came off the bench behind Bryan Cox Jr., Alex McCalister and Jonathan Bullard, who started at end in the bowl game. Limited opportunities didn’t stop him from making 29 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks en route to earning Freshman All-America honors from The Sporting News.
Jefferson, a former five-star recruit, should enter 2016 as a clear-cut starter and it will be interesting what kind of numbers he can put up with a full season’s worth of snaps.
John Franklin III, QB, Auburn
When you find out that Auburn has signed a junior college quarterback with blazing speed and freakish athleticism, you think of guys like Cam Newton and Nick Marshall, both of whom followed that path to success on the Plains.
Enter Franklin, a former Florida State signee who played last season at East Mississippi Community College.
— Auburn Football (@FootballAU) February 3, 2016
He shared time with Wyatt Roberts as the starter there (as did Kelly in 2014), but he’s hoping his combination of speed (timed at 4.38 in the 40-yard dash) and experience will help win him the job at Auburn outright.
Gus Malzahn has declared the starting job as “wide open,” but Franklin will have to push past incumbents Jeremy Johnson and Sean White, among others, to claim it.
“(The history with JUCO quarterbacks), and the system that Coach Malzahn runs are the main reasons I chose to come to Auburn,” Franklin said. “Not everybody wants to deal with a junior college quarterback, but I’m excited about his track record ― both of his guys went to the national championship game, both are in the NFL right now. Why wouldn’t you want to play for him? His resume speaks for itself.”