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The SEC's Top Freshmen to Watch in 2015


Once upon a time, LSU head coach Les Miles said something along the lines of "Not only do we lose a senior class every year, but we also lose a junior class." That statement is pretty powerful because it's true. Teams like LSU, Georgia, Alabama and Florida lose a ton of talent on a year-to-year basis to the NFL.

Related: Ranking the Top 15 Players in the SEC for 2015 (Experts Poll)

Also, with every recruiting class, there are at least a handful of players who will transfer or get kicked off the team for various reasons. With holes to fill on their rosters, SEC teams bring in a new freshmen class full of young talent every year. Many of those players shine immediately. Who are the top freshmen to watch in the SEC this fall?

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Kyler Murray, QB, Texas A&M

Most of the talk in College Station is about the way Kyle Allen finished the regular season last year. However, there is another quarterback on his heels who is one of the most impressive players to emerge from high school in recent years. Murray is already pushing Allen for the starting job with a unique skill set that allows him to move around and extend plays. Some are already comparing him to a former A&M quarterback with similar attributes.

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Blake Barnett, QB, Alabama

Alabama's five-way quarterback battle is down to four, at least for the time being with Jacob Coker missing a few practices due to a minor foot injury. Barnett is in the heat of battle with other hopeful Crimson Tide quarterbacks and he probably has the most upside of any of them. It seems unlikely Nick Saban would start a true freshman quarterback, but it happens. Barnett is one of the most talented quarterback recruits Alabama has ever signed.

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Kahlil McKenzie, DT, Tennessee

With every practice in Knoxville comes another dominating performance by McKenzie. He is a mammoth player. The size of McKenzie's legs, which could be likened to tree trunks, has already proven his elite lower body strength. Though he may not start right away, it will be hard to keep him off the field for very long in 2015. Vol fans have likened him to former great John Henderson.

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Martez Ivey, OT, Florida

The Gators are in desperate need of some playmakers on offense. New head coach Jim McElwain did a solid recruiting job in his first partial offseason by securing some of the nation's most talented players on National Signing Day. Ivey has the perfect frame (6-5, 290) for an SEC offensive tackle. He is the total package with a long reach and quick feet that could allow him to start immediately on a depleted offensive line.

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Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

Amari Cooper is gone and for Alabama fans, that is sad news. But with Cooper's legendary career in the rearview mirror, the door is open for young talent to catch passes in Tuscaloosa. Ridley was named the MVP of The Opening last year and became familiar with Barnett. It may not be this year, but Barnett and Ridley could be the future of Alabama's offense. Ridley should at least get considerable playing time early on.

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Trent Thompson, DT, Georgia

Like McKenzie at Tennessee, Thompson already has the size and quickness to be an FBS-caliber defensive tackle. He could be relied on early by Georgia to clog gaps and stop the run, but keeping the attention of blockers isn't the only thing he can do. Thompson also is known for his ability to put pressure on the quarterback. It's no surprise he was regarded as the nation's best high school player last year.

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Will Grier, QB, Florida

Accompanying Ivey on Florida's offense is the redshirt freshman Grier. He has been in a battle for the starting quarterback spot with Treon Harris, but he is a better passer and appears to be better at the line of scrimmage. Should Grier win the spot, Florida's passing attack will see an upgrade in McElwain's first year as head coach. Grier will have a weapon on the outside in Demarcus Robinson.

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Kevin Toliver II, DB, LSU

During Miles' tenure, LSU has cycled through elite defensive backs. The Bayou Bengals have sent enough to the NFL to become known as "DBU."  Toliver committed to LSU in 2012 as a high school sophomore and never strayed. He is now poised to become a starter at cornerback. Toliver was one of the most physical prospects to come out of Florida last season.

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Daylon Mack, DT, Texas A&M

The third defensive tackle on the list, Mack is built (6-1, 330) like a bowling ball, or maybe closer to a wrecking ball. Mack also might be the strongest incoming freshman in the SEC. In fact, he pushed a three-ton Chevrolet Suburban over half a mile as part of his offseason training. If that doesn't scare opposing offensive linemen, what will?

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Byron Cowart, DE, Auburn

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Not to overuse the word "elite," but Cowart is another one. Ranked as the No. 1 overall player coming out of high school by many services, he possesses a strong upper body and an ability to get after the quarterback. Auburn's defensive line is pretty much set already, but Cowart will be able to learn the defense and add depth in year one under new coordinator Will Muschamp.

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Cece Jefferson, DE, Florida

Jefferson adds another piece to an outstanding class of defensive linemen in the SEC. This freshman is the total package. Not only can he rush off the end, he also can stand up offensive linemen and allow other tacklers to come through. Jefferson sort of seems like a tackle in an end's body. There is no reason he shouldn't contribute early on in Gainesville.

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Ross Pierschbacher, OL, Alabama

The Crimson Tide have to replace eight starters on the offense, including three up front. Pierschbacher, a redshirt freshman, is pretty versatile and could fill in at guard or tackle. He is a punishing run blocker and has done a good job of working on his pass protection in the offseason. He will likely start somewhere on the offensive line this season.

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Leo Lewis, LB, Mississippi State

Headlining the Bulldogs' 2015 class, Lewis brings in a simple, fundamental ability to tackle ball carriers, finishing with 176 tackles his junior and senior year. He isn't too flashy on film, but he gets the job done. Before spurning LSU for the Bulldogs on National Signing Day, Lewis also was committed to Alabama and Ole Miss. He should be pretty familiar with the SEC West.

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Drew Lock, QB, Missouri

Many believe Lock could be the best freshman quarterback in the country. He will be behind Maty Mauk on Mizzou's depth chart, but should Mauk show some of the same struggles he did a year ago, it isn't crazy to think Lock could step in early. He isn't only the prototypical pro-style quarterback either. Lock has stated that he wants to play basketball at Missouri, too. He averaged nearly a double-double in high school.

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Lester Cotton, OL, Alabama

In an ideal situation, Saban would take experience on the offensive line. But, as mentioned before, the Crimson Tide have a lot to replace so 2015 isn't an ideal situation. What they do have is 6-foot-5, 325-pound monster Lester Cotton waiting in the wings. Cotton can start immediately, even in the SEC, if he learns the offense. He's quite the run blocker, amassing a phenomenal 223 pancake blocks as a senior.

Best of the Rest:

Jonathan Ledbetter, DE, Georgia

Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

Shy Tuttle, DT, Tennessee

Ronnie Harrison, DB, Alabama

Ty Storey, QB, Arkansas

Jauan Jennings, WR, Tennessee

Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

Javon Patterson, OL, Ole Miss

Terry Beckner, DT, Missouri

Adonis Thomas, LB, Alabama

Terry Godwin, WR, Georgia 

Incoming Specialists:

Rodrigo Blankenship, K, Georgia

Daniel LaCamera, K, Texas A&M

Joseph Charlton, P, South Carolina

— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host and lead SEC Writer for Three Point Stance Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.