Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task.
The SEC is college football’s premier conference, and there’s no shortage of new talent ready to step into the spotlight. Alabama receiver Chris Black was poised to play last season, but a shoulder injury forced the Florida native to redshirt. With Black back in the lineup, the Crimson Tide should have one of the nation’s top receiving corps. Missouri’s Dorial Green-Beckham was the No. 1 overall recruit in the Athlon Consensus 100 in 2012 but failed to make a huge impact. Now that Green-Beckham should be more comfortable in Missouri’s offense, the sophomore is expected to easily surpass last year’s totals. And of course, we can’t forget about the defensive side of the ball. Georgia’s Jordan Jenkins, Alabama’s Geno Smith and Landon Collins and Florida’s Dante Fowler could be household names by the end of the year.
Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2013 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season. So while some of these players on this list are known to fans of a particular team, the rest of the conference or nation might not be as familiar.
SEC Breakout Players for 2013
Chris Black, WR, Alabama
Amari Cooper emerged as one of the SEC’s top receivers last season, and Alabama’s receiving corps is poised to get another boost in 2013 with the addition of Black. The Jacksonville native was regarded as one of the top receiver prospects in the 2012 signing class and was expected to be a factor in the Crimson Tide’s passing attack last year. However, Black suffered a shoulder injury in August, which forced him to redshirt. The redshirt freshman is now healthy, and his emergence will provide quarterback AJ McCarron with one of the nation’s deepest receiving corps.
Evan Boehm, C, Missouri
Injuries and inconsistent play plagued Missouri’s offensive line last season. The Tigers allowed 2.4 sacks a game and ranked 12th in the SEC in rushing offense. With four starters back, Missouri may have a change of fortune in the trenches in 2013. Boehm was impressive last season, starting all 12 games as a true freshman in the rugged SEC. The sophomore is expected to slide to center this season and should be the anchor for an improved line this fall.
Jonathan Bullard/Dante Fowler, DE, Florida
Even though Florida’s defensive line will miss Sharrif Floyd, there’s no shortage of talent returning in the trenches for coordinator D.J. Durkin. The Gators will get a boost from the return of end/linebacker Ronald Powell from a knee injury, but the development of Bullard and Fowler should keep Florida among the best in the SEC. Bullard recorded 27 tackles and 1.5 sacks last year, while Fowler chipped in 30 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Now that both players have had a full offseason in the weight room, coach Will Muschamp is counting on them to lead Florida’s pass rush in 2013.
Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
The Razorbacks ranked last in the SEC in rushing offense last season. But with Bret Bielema taking over in Fayetteville, Arkansas’ offense is expected to focus its attention on establishing the ground attack in 2013. Jonathan Williams is the team’s leading returning rusher (231 yards) and he solidified his place at the top of the depth chart with a solid spring. However, Bielema and coordinator Jim Chaney are excited to get a look at Collins this fall. The true freshman ranked as the No. 6 running back in the 2013 signing class by Athlon Sports and will see plenty of action this year. Collins may not beat out Williams for the No. 1 spot, but this freshman could force a 50-50 split of carries by midseason.
La’el Collins, OT, LSU
LSU fans are certainly familiar with Collins’ ability, but the rest of the nation needs to take notice. The SEC is stocked with talent at tackle, as Jake Matthews, Antonio Richardson and Cyrus Kouandjio are considered the frontrunners for first-team All-American recognition. And Tennessee’s Ja’Wuan James and Vanderbilt’s Wesley Johnson are solid players who shouldn’t be overlooked in 2013. Collins earned honorable mention All-SEC accolades last season after starting 13 games at left guard. The Baton Rouge native plans to move to left tackle this year, and at 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, Collins certainly has the size to move defenders in the run game or counteract edge rushers on passing downs.
Landon Collins, S/Geno Smith, CB, Alabama
Despite the loss of cornerback Dee Milliner and safety Robert Lester, Alabama’s secondary isn’t expected to drop too far from its No. 1 rank in pass defense. The sophomore tandem of Collins and Smith is the next wave of stardom for the Crimson Tide secondary, with both players expected to see a significant increase in playing time this year. Collins played in all 14 games and registered 17 stops in 2012, while Smith recorded nine tackles in 13 contests. Smith worked his way into the starting lineup for two games last season and got better as the season progressed. Now that both players have a year of experience under their belt, look for Collins and Smith to emerge as major contributors for Alabama’s defense.
Justin Cox, CB, Mississippi State
With Darius Slay and Johnthan Banks departing, Mississippi State’s secondary will need to find two new corners this offseason. Although both players will be missed, the pass defense may not take too much of a step back. Cox had an outstanding two-year stint at East Mississippi Community College, recording 11 interceptions and 19 pass breakups. He was a four-star junior college recruit by ESPN, and at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, the junior has the size to play safety or cornerback. Adjusting to the talent level in the SEC won’t be easy, but Cox has the talent to emerge as a solid cornerback.
Sheldon Dawson, CB/Tray Matthews, S, Georgia
The Bulldogs ranked as the No. 2 team in the SEC against the pass last season, but with the departure of cornerback Sanders Commings and safeties Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams, coordinator Todd Grantham has some big holes to fill. Junior Damian Swann is back at corner, and Georgia is counting on the development of Dawson and Matthews to keep the pass defense near the top of the SEC. Dawson played in 13 games and recorded 12 stops last year, while Matthews enrolled early after ranking as a top-100 national recruit in the 2013 signing class. Both players will need some time to adjust to life in the SEC, but Dawson and Matthews look like future stars for Georgia.
Bud Dupree, DE, Kentucky
New coach Mark Stoops played a key role in turning around Florida State’s defense, and Big Blue Nation hopes he can develop Dupree and junior college transfer Za’Darius Smith into All-SEC ends. Dupree played last season as the rush end in Kentucky’s 3-4 scheme, but he will slide exclusively into one of the end spots in 2013. The Georgia native recorded 91 tackles and 6.5 sacks last season and should continue to develop with a defined role coming off the edge. Double-digit sacks isn’t out of the question for Dupree this year.
Trae Elston, S, Ole Miss
Obviously, all eyes in Oxford are on No. 1 recruit Robert Nkemdiche, but the Rebels have a few non-freshmen ready to emerge in 2013. Elston played extensively (12 games) as a true freshman last year, while recording 61 tackles and one sack. He also led the team with eight pass breakups. Elston started nine games last season and is expected to anchor one of the safety spots in 2013. The sophomore is known as a big hitter, but his continued development will be crucial to Ole Miss improving a pass defense that ranked 11th in the SEC last season.
Justin Garrett, LB/S, Auburn
Considering how well Auburn has recruited over the last five years, it’s surprising to note it has not finished higher than ninth in the SEC in total defense since 2008. But that could change in 2013, as veteran coordinator Ellis Johnson was the right hire for new coach Gus Malzahn, and the Tigers have enough talent to expect considerable improvement on defense. Johnson plans to implement a 4-2-5 scheme, with Garrett serving in a hybrid linebacker/safety role. The Georgia native has played sparingly over the last two years, recording just 21 tackles in his career. However, Garrett was impressive this spring, earning MVP honors on A-Day and drawing praise from the coaching staff. Garrett suffered a foot injury in a recent scrimmage and it’s uncertain how long he will be out of action.
Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
The nation’s No. 1 recruit in the 2012 signing class had a relatively quiet debut. Green-Beckham was suspended for one game and finished the year with just 28 receptions for 395 yards and five scores. However, Green-Beckham’s performance picked up late in the season, catching 21 passes over the final five games, with a touchdown catch coming in each of the last three contests. With quarterback James Franklin closer to 100 percent after shoulder surgery last year, Missouri’s passing attack is poised to improve in 2013. All signs point to Green-Beckham having a good offseason, which should translate into more production.
Josh Harvey-Clemons, LB/S, Georgia
Georgia’s defense is in rebuild mode this offseason. The Bulldogs return only three starters and suffered key losses at each level of the defense. Harvey-Clemons is expected to be one of the new leaders for Georgia, but he is suspended for the opener against Clemson. The sophomore recorded 14 tackles in 14 contests last season and is slated to fill the Bulldogs’ hybrid linebacker/safety role in 2013. Harvey-Clemons was regarded as a five-star recruit coming out of high school and at 6-foot-5, 212 pounds, he has the size and speed to run like a defensive back, yet packs a punch on hits like a linebacker. The sophomore’s development will be crucial to how well Georgia’s defense performs this year.
Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia
Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree are gone, leaving a huge void in the Georgia linebacker corps for 2013. Talent certainly isn’t an issue for coordinator Todd Grantham, as Jenkins was impressive as a freshman in limited action last year and is poised to be one of the new leaders for Georgia’s defense. In 14 games last season, Jenkins recorded 31 tackles, five sacks and one forced fumble. Replacing Jones’ production on the outside won’t be easy, but Jenkins should easily push for 10 sacks this year.
Marquez North, WR, Tennessee
With Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson departing, Tennessee’s receiving corps is starting over this year. Making matters even more challenging will be a new quarterback, along with a different system under new coach Butch Jones. North is one of the top recruits in the Volunteers’ signing class, ranking as the No. 37 overall recruit by Rivals. At 6-foot-4, North has the size to be a matchup nightmare in the red zone against opposing SEC defenses. The freshman will need to quickly acclimate himself to life in the SEC, but he has all of the tools to be a go-to target for quarterback Justin Worley.
Julien Obioha, DE, Texas A&M
Damontre Moore’s decision to enter the NFL Draft was a huge blow for Texas A&M’s defense. The Aggies need to find another pass rusher to replace Moore, and all signs point to Obioha as the next star for this defense. The New Orleans native started all 12 regular-season games for Texas A&M last year and recorded 25 tackles and one sack. Now that Obioha has spent a full offseason in the weight room and has had plenty of time to learn the defense, look for the sophomore to emerge as the Aggies’ new leader in the trenches.
Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
While Jake Matthews garners all of the attention on Texas A&M’s offensive line, Ogbuehi is quietly ready to emerge as an All-SEC player. The junior has 19 starts under his belt, with 13 coming in 2012 at right guard. With Luke Joeckel leaving for the NFL, the Aggies plan to shift Ogbuehi out to right tackle, which shouldn’t be a problem for the 6-foot-5, 300-pound junior. With a big season, Ogbuehi could be the next Texas A&M lineman to declare early for the NFL Draft.
Jermauria Rasco, DE, LSU
Despite having to replace a handful of key players from last year’s defense, LSU’s defense is expected to remain near the top of the SEC once again. The line will miss Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, but Rasco and Danielle Hunter aren’t short on talent and will be a handful for opposing linemen this season. Rasco was a five-star recruit in the 2011 signing class and has played in 22 games in his first two years at LSU. Although he doesn’t have a start under his belt, Rasco has 27 tackles and two sacks during that span. The junior is expected to anchor one of the end spots for coordinator John Chavis and could earn All-SEC honors at the conclusion of 2013.
Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Tigers have an unsettled quarterback situation, which puts plenty of pressure on the rushing attack to carry the offense until the passing game gets on track. The good news for the Tigers is juniors Tre Mason and Cameron Artis-Payne are capable of handling the workload, especially if the offensive line develops into a solid unit. Four starters are back up front for 2013, but this group allowed 3.1 sacks a game last year. Robinson’s development should help the offense, as the 6-foot-5, 320-pound sophomore is expected to anchor the line from his left tackle spot.
Dontavis Sapp, LB, Tennessee
After recording just 42 tackles in his first three seasons on Rocky Top, Sapp is poised to play a significant role in Tennessee’s linebacking corps in 2013. The Georgia native was picked as the team’s most-improved defensive player in the spring and has consistently drawn praise from coach Butch Jones. If Sapp picks up where he left off this spring in September, Tennessee should have one of the SEC’s top linebacker groups, especially with junior A.J. Johnson leading the way.
Chaz Sutton, DE, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney is likely to see plenty of double teams from opposing offensive lines, leaving Sutton with plenty of opportunities to go after the quarterback. Sutton played behind Devin Taylor and Clowney last year but still managed to record 23 tackles and five sacks. He also forced two fumbles and made seven tackles for a loss. After playing behind some talented other players the first three years of his career, 2013 is Sutton’s chance to showcase his talent and at 6-foot-5 and 263 pounds, the Georgia native certainly has All-SEC potential.
Vince Taylor, DT, Vanderbilt
The Commodores have upgraded their talent and depth on the defensive line over the last few years, with Taylor and sophomore defensive end Caleb Azubike expected to develop into standouts for coordinator Bob Shoop. Vanderbilt enters 2013 feeling better about its current state at defensive end, while tackle is a little less certain. But that’s where Taylor’s emergence should come into play. The junior has played in 25 career games, recording 26 tackles and one fumble recovery. The Mississippi native has good agility for a 308-pound tackle and is expected to slide into a starting role this year.
Related College Football Content
SEC Predictions for 2013
SEC 2013 All-Conference Team
Pivotal Players to Determining a SEC Championship
SEC Coaches Talk Anonymously About Conference Foes for 2013
Florida Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Texas A&M Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Georgia Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013
Getting to Know the SEC's New Coaches for 2013
College Football's 2013 All-America Team
SEC's Top Heisman Contenders for 2013