Redshirt freshmen make an impact for every college football team during the course of a season, and it’s no surprise a handful of talented players are ready to push for time after sitting out the 2016 campaign. A variety of reasons could be pinpointed for the redshirt year, but the extra time could be beneficial to learn a scheme, develop physically in the weight room or help provide some space on the depth chart with a stacked group of upperclassmen departing the following year.
Which redshirt freshmen could make an impact in the SEC in 2017? Here are 25 names to watch:
25 Redshirt Freshmen to Watch in the SEC in 2017
Andre Anthony/Ray Thornton, LB, LSU
Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley leave big shoes to fill in LSU’s linebacker unit this spring. Additionally, hybrid edge rusher/linebacker Arden Key is taking a leave of absence from the team. How quickly will coordinator Dave Aranda find the right answers? The Tigers aren’t hurting for talent but overall depth is a question mark for offseason workouts. Thornton should alleviate some of the concerns about the linebacker unit, as the Texas native should push for snaps and contribute to the pass rush on the outside. Anthony was forced to redshirt after arriving on campus late last season but was regarded as a four-star prospect from the 2016 class.
Related: 25 Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2017
Sean Auwae-McMoore, OL, Vanderbilt
The Commodores must replace two starters – left tackle Will Holden and center Barrett Gouger – from its 2016 unit. One of the replacements could come in the form of Auwae-McMoore, who could help fill the void at center.
Ben Cleveland/Solomon Kindley, OL, Georgia
Protecting Jacob Eason is a priority if Georgia wants to win the SEC East in 2017. And it’s no secret the Bulldogs have room to improve up front after giving up 24 sacks last season and leading the way for rushers to average just 4.7 yards per carry. Line coach Sam Pittman is one of the best in the nation but has his work cut out this spring after the departure of three starters. Pittman is expected to mix and match players at guard and tackle, so Cleveland and Kindley could fit in at either position depending on spring performance.
Nick Coe, DL, Auburn
Carl Lawson’s ability to get to the quarterback (nine sacks) and generate pressure off the edge will be missed in 2017. Auburn has recruited well in the trenches over the last few seasons, so there are options for coordinator Kevin Steele. Coe finished his high school career with 34 tackles for a loss and is expected to push Jeff Holland for the edge spot this offseason.
Ben Davis, LB, Alabama
Reuben Foster’s presence in the linebacker unit will be missed, but Alabama is overflowing with talent and potential options. Davis joins Mack Wilson and true freshman Dylan Moses as the likely top reserves to starters Shaun Dion Hamilton and Rashaan Evans on the interior of the 3-4 scheme. Davis was regarded as a five-star prospect and the No. 10 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite.
Quartney Davis, WR, Texas A&M
Davis ranked as the No. 3 recruit in Texas A&M’s 2016 signing class by the 247Sports Composite and was pushing for snaps before a season-ending knee injury in the offseason.
Feleipe Franks, QB, Florida
With Luke Del Rio recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, Franks will have every opportunity to stake his claim for the No. 1 job in spring workouts. While there was some rumblings about playing time last year, coach Jim McElwain maintained Franks’ redshirt status and allowed him to learn behind Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby. Franks was a four-star recruit out of high school and threw for 2,766 yards and 35 scores during his senior year at Wakulla.
Jarrett Guarantano, QB, Tennessee
Guarantano was a huge win for coach Butch Jones on the recruiting trail, as he committed to Tennessee over Ohio State. The New Jersey native was regarded as a four-star prospect (No. 77 overall) and the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2016 signing class by the 247Sports Composite. Guarantano will battle Quinten Dormady for the starting job this spring.
Briston Guidry/Jonathan Marshall, DL, Arkansas
With Arkansas moving to a 3-4 scheme, it’s tough to get a read on some of the positions entering spring ball. However, the Razorbacks have playing time available in the trenches after Deatrich Wise, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Taiwan Johnson and JaMichael Winston all expired their eligibility. Guidry was regarded as a four-star prospect out of high school, while Marshall ranked as a three-star recruit and the No. 634 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite. Regardless of which linemen start for coordinator Paul Rhoads in 2017, both Guidry and Marshall should push for snaps in the new 3-4 alignment. Redshirt freshman linebacker Alexy Jean-Baptiste is another name to remember.
Sadarius Hutcherson, OL, South Carolina
Receiver Randrecous Davis is another name to remember in the redshirt watch for South Carolina, but Hutcherson could earn a starting job at left tackle this offseason. The redshirt year was beneficial for Hutcherson, as he bulked up from 273 pounds at the start of 2016 to 311 for the start of 2017 spring ball.
Drake Jackson, OL, Kentucky
Kentucky loses only one starter from its 2016 unit, but center Jon Toth was the group’s best player and won’t be easy to replace. The Wildcats will shuffle a few players around this spring to find the right mix up front, but Jackson is a name to remember. The redshirt freshman could slide into Toth’s spot at center or could move to guard in search of playing time.
Jordan Jones, WR, Arkansas
With the departure of receivers Drew Morgan, Keon Hatcher and Dominique Reed, along with tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, quarterback Austin Allen will be throwing to a revamped group of receivers in 2017. The Razorbacks are bringing in three junior college prospects to add to the competition, while Jones is a name to watch after a redshirt year. The Arkansas native ranked as the No. 537 overall prospect by the 247Sports Composite and caught 11 touchdown passes as a high school senior.
Kobe Jones, DL, Mississippi State
Improving the defense is a priority for new coordinator Todd Grantham after the Bulldogs ranked 110th nationally in total defense and 93rd in scoring. Help is on the way through the junior college ranks, but last year’s freshman class has a couple of players to watch. Jones is one of those players, as he’s poised to push for snaps in the trenches after a redshirt season in 2016.
Zaire Jones, S, Vanderbilt
Jones and cornerback Joejuan Williams were two of the top recruits from Derek Mason’s 2016 haul. Williams played in all 13 games last season and is due for a bigger role in 2017, while Jones took a redshirt in his first year on campus. The Mississippi native should join the rotation at safety and add to a group that already includes Ryan White (75 tackles), LaDarius Wiley (76) and Arnold Tarpley (40).
Nigel Knott, CB, Alabama
Alabama’s defense didn’t have many concerns last year, but depth in the secondary was one of the few issues for coach Nick Saban. Anthony Averett and Tony Brown are back to anchor the cornerback spots, and Minkah Fitzpatrick could also slide back from safety. Adding to the depth and overall talent is Knott, who took a redshirt year after ranking as a four-star prospect from the 2016 signing class. Knott was a standout defender in Mississippi’s high school ranks and registered 112 tackles (with three picks) as a junior in 2014.
Eric Monroe, DB, LSU
LSU’s secondary suffered significant personnel losses, as cornerback Tre’Davious White and safeties Dwayne Thomas and Rickey Jefferson expired their eligibility, while safety Jamal Adams left for the NFL. Monroe ranked as a four-star prospect and the No. 55 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite in the 2016 class and is slated to push for a significant role safety this spring.
A.J. Rose, RB, Kentucky
With Boom Williams departing for the NFL, the Wildcats open spring practice looking for a second option to pair with Benny Snell in the backfield. Rose earned praise for his work on the scout team last season, and the Ohio native should carve out a role in the backfield for 2017.
Nick Starkel, QB, Texas A&M
With Trevor Knight out of eligibility, Texas A&M is slated to have a three-man battle for the starting job this spring. Senior Jake Hubenak has the edge in experience, but true freshman Kellen Mond and Starkel will push for the top spot on the depth chart. Starkel was the lone quarterback commit for coach Kevin Sumlin in last year’s class and redshirted after throwing for 3,091 yards and 29 touchdowns as a high school senior at Liberty Christian.
Stephon Taylor, DL, South Carolina
The Gamecocks have room to improve on defense after finishing 90th nationally against the run last year. Coach Will Muschamp already has some promising young pieces in place, and junior college recruit Javon Kinlaw is expected to make an impact in 2017. More help is on the way from last year’s signing class, as three redshirts are expected to push for snaps. Taylor was the highest-ranked member of that trio from last season’s haul, ranking as the No. 297 overall prospect by the 247Sports Composite.
Related: 25 Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2017
Reggie Todd, WR, Mississippi State
Despite losing standout receiver Fred Ross, the cupboard at receiver is hardly bare for coach Dan Mullen. Donald Gray, Keith Mixon and Malik Dear headline the key pass catchers for quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, but Todd is a name to watch in spring practice. The Alabama native was a four-star recruit in Mississippi State’s 2016 class and ranked as the team’s top signee on offense.
Charles Wiley, DE, Ole Miss
The Rebels are losing two key contributors at end with the departure of Fadol Brown and John Youngblood but return Marquis Haynes (seven sacks in 2016) to anchor the line in 2017. Wiley – a four-star recruit in the 2016 signing class – should push for snaps in the trenches this offseason.
Tre Williams, DE, Missouri
Missouri has a strong track record of producing standout defensive linemen, but coach Barry Odom heads into spring looking to restock this unit after the departures of Charles Harris, Josh Augusta and Rickey Hatley. Williams was regarded as the top defensive recruit in Missouri’s 2016 signing class by the 247Sports Composite and enters spring as the backup to senior Marcell Frazier.