Georgia needs Demetris Robertson to emerge as a consistent threat in the passing game
In the SEC everyone is well aware of names such as Tua Tagovailoa and Jake Fromm. And once again, the conference is loaded with a who's who of notable talents. But more often than not, it's the unforeseen emergence of a handful of players that can throw a wrench into what we thought we knew and part of what makes college football so exciting and unpredictable.
Injuries, transfers, breakout freshmen, any of these situations and circumstances could very well give us the next star in the making in the SEC. Consider the following your 2019 wild card players in America's preeminent league.
Offense: Kadarius Toney, WR
I thought 2018 would be a breakout year for Toney. The sophomore was dynamic but only amassed 46 total touches. If he can handle the football 60-plus times in 2019, the Gators offense should be fun to watch under Dan Mullen.
Defense: Amari Burney, LB
Burney is a former safety who is a sensational athlete. Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham will be able to use Burney in virtually any defensive package, at any almost any position.
Offense: Demetris Robertson, WR
Georgia needs a new primary target to emerge following the departure of the team's top three leaders in receiving yardage and Jeremiah Holloman's unexpected dismissal in June. The Bulldogs really need Robertson to make a big splash after the former five-star recruit played sparingly last season following his transfer from Cal.
Defense: Nakobe Dean, LB
The Bulldogs have veterans Tae Crowder and Monty Rice expected to get the nod at inside linebacker but Dean is someone who should see action right away. He may be a freshman, but when you draw comparisons to Roquan Smith that's enough to classify as a wild card for a linebacking unit that doesn't feature a returning starter.
Offense: Terry Wilson, QB
Wilson is a returning starter and is coming off of a season that culminated in 10 wins. So why is he a wild card? Because many have their doubts about him carrying the offense now that Benny Snell is gone. Wilson will need to improve upon his 11:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2018 and prove that he can be more than a game manager.
Defense: Jamar Watson, LB
It's a tall order to replace an edge rusher the likes of Josh Allen, but if Watson, the lone returning outside linebacker with significant experience can be a viable force off the edge, Kentucky's defense can be respectable in 2019, a year after allowing only 16.8 points per game.
Offense: Kelly Bryant, QB
Bryant is a proven winner, but that was at Clemson. I'm calling Bryant the wild card due to the senior making his Missouri debut after transferring last season. New system. New playbook. New teammates. If Bryant can catch on fast, the offense should click just fine with Larry Rountree and Albert Okwuegbunam serving as primary weapons. Bryant is the wild card as to whether or not Barry Odom increases his win total yet again in Columbia.
Defense: Trajan Jeffcoat, DE
Missouri has cranked out some good defensive ends since joining the SEC in 2012. Those include Michael Sam and Shane Ray, just to name a few. If Jeffcoat can make the jump as a sophomore than the Tigers may have another stout defensive end anchoring their front four.
Offense: Bryan Edwards, WR
Jake Bentley needs a playmaker on the outside following the departure of Deebo Samuel, who was a second-round pick in this year's NFL draft. Edwards' production in 2018 wasn't far behind Samuel, statistically speaking. If Edwards takes the next step, South Carolina's passing game could be potent.
Defense: Jaycee Horn, CB
There is NFL pedigree with Horn, son of former NFL wide receiver Joe Horn. After starting 10 games as a freshman, Jaycee Horn is the Gamecocks' most experienced defensive back. South Carolina is solid in its front seven so if Horn emerges as somewhat of a shutdown corner, Will Muschamp could have the makings of a fearsome defense.
Offense: Wanya Morris, OT
Assuming that medical issues will keep left tackle Trey Smith sidelined, the Volunteers will need to turn to someone else to anchor their offensive line, a position group that was a weak link in 2018. If Morris can immediately step in as a true freshman and serve as a serviceable blindside protector for Jarrett Guarantano, this will make it easier for new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to try and turn this unit around in 2019.
Defense: J.J. Peterson, LB
The Vols continue their transition to a 3-4 scheme and are thin at linebacker. Peterson was Jeremy Pruitt's top signee a year ago and could be a wild card if he lives up to his potential in 2019.
Offense: Riley Neal, QB
The graduate transfer comes from Ball State and steps into an enviable situation with playmaking trio Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Kalija Lipscomb, and Jared Pinkney around him. But as good as the Commodores' skill position players are, the wild card to this offense is Neal. If he's able to handle the transition from the MAC to SEC, Vanderbilt could post a winning record and surprise someone along the way. If Neal struggles with the step up in competition, it could be another frustrating season for Derek Mason and company.
Defense: Dontye Carriere-Williams, CB
A junior college transfer by way of Wisconsin, Carriere-Williams is tasked with filling the shoes of Joejuan Williams, last season's No. 1 cornerback who was a second-round pick by New England in this year's NFL draft.
Offense: Brian Robinson Jr., RB
The Alabama backfield continues to crank out top-notch ball carriers during the Nick Saban era. Many expect Najee Harris to be the guy, but Robinson has waited patiently, and if he emerges and gives offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian another scary 1-2 punch. The Crimson Tide's ground attack could be even more lethal.
Defense: Antonio Alfano, DE
Depth is a question for Alabama along the defensive line in 2019. With Raekwon Davis the lone returning starter, defensive coordinator Pete Golding will be looking for more playmakers up front and Alfano could be that guy. Alfano was a top-five overall recruit in 2019, per 247Sports, and if he learns quickly could very well be a wild card as a freshman.
Offense: Colton Jackson, OT
Arkansas has quality skill position talent returning and a "new" quarterback (SMU transfer Ben Hicks) that has experience running head coach Chad Morris' offense. However, the offensive line could hold the key to the Hogs' success. Jackson is just one of two returning starters up front where he's expected to anchor the left side.
Defense: Dorian Gerald/Gabe Richardson, DE
The Razorbacks' defense has All-SEC-caliber players on each level in tackle McTelvin Agim, linebacker De'Jon Harris, and safety Kamren Curl. The problem for coordinator John Chavis is finding more supporting pieces. Gerald and Richardson are senior defensive ends who really need to pick up their play after combining for zero sacks and four tackles for a loss last season.
Offense: Joey Gatewood or Bo Nix, QB
Stop me if you've heard this before under the Gus Malzahn era: Quarterback play will determine what Auburn is this year. That's the case yet again for the Tigers. Auburn returns all five starters up front as well as talented running back JaTarvious Whitlow and some intriguing options at wide receiver. But the offensive output will come down to which quarterback can get the Malzahn offense humming.
Defense: Owen Pappoe, LB
Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has the best defensive line in America with and all four starters returning in the secondary. The question is who will rise up at linebacker and lead that unit? The answer could very well be Pappoe, a 5-star linebacker from Lawrenceville, Georgia.
Offense: John Emery Jr., RB
The Tigers in search of a running back? That's usually not the case, but if Emery can live up to his recruiting hype as the No. 2-rated running back per 247Sports than head coach Ed Orgeron might not need to worry about his running game.
Defense: Jacob Phillips, LB
It's never easy losing a talented leader like Devin White in the heart of your defense but Phillips taking another step in 2019 could be the difference in LSU having a good defense to having a great defense.
Offense: Tommy Stevens, QB
Nick Fitzgerald is gone. Keytaon Thompson has more experience in this offense, but Stevens could be just what Joe Moorhead's offense needs to show its full potential after an uneven showing in 2018. Stevens does have to win the job but there's also some familiarity between the Penn State transfer and head coach going back to their time together with the Nittany Lions.
Defense: Fabien Lovett, DT
The Bulldogs lost Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons from their front four and Lovett is considered a rising star in Starkville. He will need to be if coordinator Bob Shoop wants his dense to come close to what it was in 2018.
Offense: Matt Corral, QB
The Rebels have hovered around six wins the last three seasons. If Matt Luke is to break that recent trend he will need his redshirt freshman quarterback to take a big step forward. Scottie Phillips is back at running back, but the receiving corps will look completely different with A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf both in the NFL.
Defense: Sam Williams, LB
The Rebels have struggled at this position for a while but Williams will look to shore up that unit a year after leading all junior college players in sacks.
Offense: Quartney Davis, WR
The rising junior recorded 45 receptions and seven scores in 2018 after missing the prior two years due to knee injuries. If Davis takes another step in 2019 Kellen Mond will have a chance to be a Heisman dark horse.
Defense: Leon O'Neal Jr., S
The Aggies were picked apart through the air in 2018, allowing more 20-yard pass plays (54) than other SEC team. O'Neal made the most of his opportunity in the bowl game, recording an INT and pass deflection, and could be the type of stable center fielder defensive coordinator Mike Elko needs on a unit that returns just four starters.
— Written by Nick Kayal, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as a college football and NFL writer. Nick is a Morning Show Host in Nashville on 102.5 The Game. Follow him on Twitter @NickKayal.