Darren McFadden, Percy Harvin, Knowshon Moreno, A.J. Green, Warren Norman, Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel are the last eight SEC Freshman of the Year winners.
That is four first-round NFL Draft picks and a Heisman Trophy winner with Harvin also being a part of two BCS national championship teams during his time at Florida. This is the bar that has been set in the nation’s toughest conference for first-year players. And with no end in sight to the SEC’s recruiting dominance — it signed 44 of the top 100 Athlon Consensus 100 prospects — this round of new faces should be just as exciting to watch. A host of big-time playmakers enter the fray with sky-high expectations. And many of these youngsters will play pivotal rolls on championship-caliber teams.
Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Ole Miss
He was the No. 1 prospect in the nation and is drawing (unfairly) comparisons to Jadeveon Clowney. While Nkemdiche is a totally different type of defensive end than Clowney, he should have a similar impact in his first year. His work ethic and physical tools will allow him to make plays each week but he will also spend a good deal of time this year learning how to play one of the toughest positions on the field.
Tray Matthews, S, Georgia
The Bulldogs' defense is working through a major rebuild and getting Matthews onto campus in January was a huge blessing. The Athlon Consensus 100 safety is already slotted into the starting lineup for a unit that desperately needs leadership and stability after heavy turnover in the offseason. Matthews is a great athlete with excellent intangibles, so he should adjust quickly to the college speed.
Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida
The Gators might have finally found an impact playmaker on the outside of the offense in Robinson. He is big, physical, explosive and has NFL written all over him. With injuries mounting, Robinson has a chance to play a huge role for an offense that desperately needs a go-to target in the passing game.
Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel, DE, Auburn
Physically, Lawson is ready to start opposite of Dee Ford at end for Auburn. He will battle with fellow top-100 prospect Daniel — and senior Nosa Eguae — to lock down that spot along the Tigers front for Ellis Johnson. Short (6-2), quick and powerful (260 pounds), Lawson is developed well beyond his years and has a chance to be a special player on the Plains. Even if it is in spot duty behind Eguae.
Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
There is a host of elite running backs entering the SEC this fall but Collins might have the best combination of upside, talent and opportunity. Bret Bielema’s system is run-heavy and there is little depth in the backfield blocking Collins' path to carries. Look for the 5-foot-11, 210-pound speed-power combo to play early and often for the Hogs.
LaQuan Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
The No. 1-rated wide receiver in the nation is landing in an offense that should throw the ball as much as anyone in the league. Treadwell is a monster physically and is as game-ready as any freshman at any position in the nation. He has some talent ahead of him on the depth chart but what he learns from Vince Sanders and Donte Moncrief will only help him develop into a playmaker quicker.
Marquez North, WR, Tennessee
The Volunteers are in desperate need of playmakers at wide receiver to replace the lawfirm of Hunter, Patterson and Rogers. North has gotten rave reviews in camp thus far and has elite vertical ability and size. The top prospect in the Vols class, North is 6-foot-4, 215 and should become the top target for whomever is playing quarterback.
Montravius Adams, DL, Auburn
The massive 6-foot-4, 320-pound tackle likely won’t start but fans will known all about him in short order. He will wear an odd number (No. 1) for a guy weighing in at more than three spins. However, it is his play that will get him noticed on the field as he develops into one of the league’s top true nose tackles.
Jerald Hawkins and Ethan Pocic, OL, LSU
The big redshirt freshman Hawkins had a great offseason and has continued his excellent play in fall camp. After Josh Williford was hurt again, Les Miles has had to move pieces around on his front line. Hawkins could slide into a starting spot at right tackle while the 6-foot-7 Pocic, an early enrollee and top 100 recruit, could start at center.
But where are all the Crimson Tiders?
Relax, 'Bama Nation. Alabama is so loaded, the Tide gets their own section. Nick Saban set a record this year by signing 15 Athlon Consensus 100 recruits as he has redefined recruiting in recent years. This is why I have to give the Tide their own section:
Derrick Henry, RB
Sure, he is listed as a running back and will get carries but he is so much more than that. He is talented enough to play H-Back, tight end, wide receiver, outside linebacker or even defensive end. But who wants to tackle 6-foot-3, 243 pounds of runner?
Jonathan Allen, DE/OLB
At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, Allen could be the perfect player for the Jack Back role in Saban’s 3-4 scheme. He can rush the passer, play the run and can drop into coverage.
O.J. Howard, TE
The actual H-back position will likely be filled by Howard. The nation’s top tight end recruit needs to improve his in-line blocking but has all the tools to be a big-time player as a hybrid tight end/H-back.
A'Shawn Robinson, DT
He isn’t likely to be a starter but his overly developed young frame and general passion for the game has drawn high praise from all parties. Look for Robinson to make a quick impact.
Reuben Foster, LB
“Grown man” is the phrase that comes to most when watching Foster line up in the middle of the 'Bama defense. He is a physical monster and is trying to pry his way into the lineup as just a true freshman.
Robert Foster, WR
He has drawn Julio Jones comparisons in very short order at The Capstone. He and fellow freshman Raheem Falkins have turned heads in camp — despite a crowded depth chart at wide receiver.
Others to Watch: Ryan Anderson, LB; Dee Liner, DL; Alvin Kamara, RB; Tyren Jones, RB; Altee Tenpenny, RB
Related: Getting to Know the New SEC Coaches
Kendell Beckwith, LB, LSU
Has a long way to go but any true freshman who could start at LSU must be talented.
Jeryl Brazil and Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
The “Jalens” have the starting jobs locked up, but these two speedsters could be special.
Tony Conner, S, Ole Miss
One of the nation’s top safety prospects will begin his career as an important nickel back.
Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
If not for No. 1 CB tandem in the nation, he’d likely be locked into a starting job.
Jaleel Hytchye, CB, Kentucky
Could start at corner for the young Wildcats secondary.
Andrew Jelks, OL, Vanderbilt
Will be the top reserve along a developing and improving 'Dores offensive line.
Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn
He is the best long-term option but will need to prove he is ready. Kiehl Frazier's move to safety helps.
Marcus Maye, S, Florida
Will be, at worst, the No. 3 safety for the Gators behind Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins.
Latevius Rayford and Jordan Cunningham, WR, Vanderbilt
A pair of true freshman wideouts have proven themselves quickly in fall camp.
Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
Could easily be the starter as Matt Jones sits out recovering from serious viral infection.
Cody Waldrup, C, South Carolina
Struggled with snaps in spring but has tons of ability and the coaches are confident.
Ja’Quay Williams and Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M
Jumbo athletes (6-3, 215 and 6-5, 225 respectively) both could make a big impact right away.
Tashawn Bower, DE, LSU
Harold Brantley, DT, Missouri
Richie Brown, LB, Mississippi State
Jordan Diggs, LB, South Carolina
Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee
Greg Gilmore, DT, LSU
Jason Hatcher, DE, Kentucky
Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
Frank Herron, DE, LSU
Grant Hill, OL, Alabama
T.J. Holloman, DB, South Carolina
Chris Jones, DE, Mississippi State
Denver Kirkland, OL, Arkansas
Alex Koran and Jordan Diamond, OL, AUB
Christian LaCouture, DT, LSU
Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri
Justin Manning, DL, Texas A&M
Daniel McMillan, LB, Florida
Zach Myers, C, Kentucky
Ryne Rankins, LB, Georgia
Brock and Clayton Stadnick, OL, South Carolina
Tony Stevens, WR, Auburn
Ryan Timmons, WR, Kentucky
Laremy Tunsil, OL, Ole Miss (pictured)
Shaq Wiggins, CB, Georgia
Tim Williams, LB, Alabama