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Who are the top contenders for Freshman of the Year in the SEC?
The beauty of college football lies in its unpredictability and volatility.
Roster turnover is largely responsible for the tremendous amount of variability from year to year within the sport. Key graduations, early entries into the NFL Draft, dismissals and a massive influx of tomorrow's stars in the form of bright-eyed freshmen create more personnel turnover in college football than any other major sport in the country.
It's these (relatively) unknown commodities that offer fans a renewed hope of future success. Who are the top freshmen to watch in the SEC this fall?
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
The conversation about 2014's top freshmen not only in the SEC but in the nation begins with the No. 1 prospect in the class. From a power and speed standpoint, Fournette might be the closest thing college football has seen Adrian Peterson began his career at Oklahoma over a decade ago. He is a 6-foot-1, 230-pound sure thing and is likely a front-runner for national freshman of the year.
Cam Robinson, OL, Alabama
The mammoth 6-foot-6 freshman from West Monroe (La.) High School was the No. 1 offensive line prospect in the nation. He enrolled early and has already been working with the first team offense for most of the summer. How many national title contenders will have a true freshman anchoring the left tackle position?
Kyle Allen, QB, Texas A&M
The No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation is a tall, pocket passer from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Desert Mountain. The 6-foot-3 signal-caller is a student of the game and is battling Kenny Hill for full-time starting duties in College Station. Many believe Allen is the future and will eventually wrestle the starting job away from Hill permanently.
Ricky Seals-Jones | Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M
Seals-Jones was a five-star top 25 prospect in the 2013 class. He redshirted last year after catching three passes in two games early in the year. His massive frame is a mismatch nightmare for most SEC defenses. Packaged with the smaller, more explosive and versatile Noil, this duo could easily develop into one of the SEC's best.
Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee
The Nashville product is every bit of 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds and he stands out on Tennessee's practice field. He's dealt with some health issues during his outstanding prep career, but if he can stay on the field, his rare combination of size and speed makes him an instant impact player for Butch Jones — both as a runner and pass-catcher.
Jalen Tabor | Duke Dawson, DB, Florida
Both enrolled early in January and both will compete for the starting spot opposite All-American Vernon Hargreaves III. The loser of that battle will likely be the top nickelback — a position that is almost a starter in the modern SEC. Tabor is slightly more talented and fits better as a corner, while the more physical Dawson has the ability to make plays around the line of scrimmage. Florida is the LSU of the East in terms of producing defensive backs.
Matt Elam, DT, Kentucky
The massive 6-foot-7, 350-pounder (depending on the time of day) is already entrenched as a starter for Mark Stoops' defensive line. The head coach can barely hide his excitement about injecting this talented in-state product into the heart of his developing defensive front. Elam will go through growing pains but has the astounding quickness and agility that NFL scouts drool over when it comes to guys his size.
Jamal Adams, S, LSU
In just a few trips to the practice field, Adams already has Les Miles raving about his overall ability. The big-time defensive back prospect is already working with the starting defensive unit for coordinator John Chavis and is set to become the next in a ridiculously impressive run of elite secondary players for LSU.
Tre Williams, LB, Auburn
He may not start the season in the starting lineup but fans can expect to see plenty of Williams this fall. Behind an impressive work ethic and willingness to learn, Williams has placed himself in the running to steal a starting spot in his first fall camp. 'Headhunter' is the word starter Cassanova McKinzy used to describe Williams.
Brandon Harris, QB, LSU
He is battling with Anthony Jennings but the 6-foot-2, 195-pound dual-threat signal-caller brings a new dimension to LSU's offense. He may not win the starting job right away but all signs are pointing to this dynamic freshman as the future for Cam Cameron and Les Miles in Baton Rouge.
Myles Garrett | Justin Manning, DL, Texas A&M
The only player rated ahead of Garrett in the national recruiting rankings was Fournette. The freakish 6-foot-4, 250-pounder is set to carve out a critical role for a defensive line in desperate need of development. Garrett and former four-star redshirt freshman Justin Manning are two names who should establish themselves as future All-SEC types in 2014.
Tony Brown | Marlon Humphrey, DB, Alabama
One of the few weaknesses for Alabama is at cornerback where graduation and the NFL Draft have finally caught up with Nick Saban. Brown (6-fooot, 190) enrolled early and will be fighting for one of two open corner sports all camp long. He was the top defensive back signee in the SEC and was considered the No. 9 overall prospect in the nation. Humphrey is no less talented and he brings an equally impressive 6-foot-1 frame to a secondary in need of quick help (relatively speaking).
Oren Burks, S, Vanderbilt
The redshirt freshman moved from linebacker to safety when new coach Derek Mason took over. Mason wants his size (6-2, 215) at the back end of his defense. He has a chance to be one of the most imposing playmakers in a totally rebuilt secondary.
Malkom Parrish, DB, Georgia
Both players can play multiple positions and both have seen time at various spots. Parrish has excelled backing up J.J. Green at the Star position and has pressed for starting time at corner. Additionally, Aaron Davis, a redshirt freshman and starting corner in spring practice, is now playing at safety due to Parrish's emergence. Both could start this fall in coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's reworked secondary.
Wesley Green, CB, South Carolina
Few teams took a bigger hit at one position like the Gamecocks did at cornerback. Which is why Steve Spurrier signed five defensive backs in this class. Green and fellow freshman Chris Lammons will get every opportunity to land starting roles in Lorenzo Ward's secondary.
Best of the rest:
Bijhon Jackson, DT, Arkansas
Rod Taylor, OL, Ole Miss
Malachi Dupree, WR, LSU
Josh Malone, WR, Tennessee
Braden Smith, OL, Auburn
Dillon Bates, LB, Tennessee
J'Mon Moore, WR, Missouri
Peyton Barber, RB, Auburn
Nigel Bowden, LB, Vanderbilt
Nifae Lealao, DT, Vanderbilt
Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama
Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia
Aeris Williams, RB, Mississippi State
Special Teamers to Watch:
Daniel Carlson, K, Auburn
JK Scott, P, Alabama
Cole Hedlund, K, Arkansas
Gary Wunderlich, P, Ole Miss