With college football's fall practice in full swing around the nation, it's really the first time names made famous on recruiting websites are showing up in actual practice reports. When it comes to picking which freshmen will make an impact in their first season on campus, it's really all about who can pick up the playbook the fastest and who fits a need. The SEC featured two huge stars as freshman a year ago in South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney — who might already be the best DE in the nation — and Georgia tailback Isaiah Crowell. Of course, after Crowell was dismissed from the team, the Dawgs could have another true freshman runner push for SEC Offensive Freshman of the Year. This season will feature another class of stellar prospects who will mold the landscape in the SEC (listed alphabetically):
The SEC's Top Impact Freshmen for 2012
Evan Boehm, OL, Missouri
The coaching staff in Columbia has been full of praise for their star prospect at guard. He has been battling for the starting spot and Gary Pinkel has stated the Lee’s Summit, Mo, native has the size and maturity to play right away. He would be the only the third true freshman offensive lineman to ever play under the Mizzou coach.
Landon Collins, S, Alabama
The secondary under Nick Saban will always be an area of strength and the nation’s No. 2 safety only makes it better. With Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick leaving, there should be room for the massive Collins to get onto the field alongside Robert Lester.
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
The 'Bama offense should be more explosive and more dynamic in 2012 and this is due in part to the boost in talent Nick Saban is getting at wide receiver. Cooper was a star in the Under Armour All-American event and has done nothing to disprove that in camp thus far. Look for Cooper to work his way into the starting line-up.
Quay Evans, DT, Mississippi State
Along with fellow tackle Nick James, Evans should expect to be one of a handful of Bulldog freshmen to see action early. The Morton, Miss., prospect was a Top 100 recruit and fills a need following the departure of NFL first-rounder Fletcher Cox.
Dorial Green-Beckam, WR, Missouri
The most prolific high school receiver in American prep history will suit up for Mizzou this fall. The nation’s No. 1 overall prospect can expect to see a lot of passes throw his way. His 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame creates match-up issues all over the field and will be impossible to cover, both vertically and in the slot. DGB will be a big star in the SEC.
Darreon Herring, LB, Vanderbilt
James Franklin announced last weekend that three true freshmen will be playing right away and Herring is one of them. The speedy tackler from Stone Mountain, Ga., is listed as the No. 2 outside backer but could very easily slide into the starting line-up once the season gets underway.
Kwon Alexander, Ronnie Feist, Deion Jones, Lamar Louis and Lorenzo Phillips could all see playing time this fall. It is anybody’s guess as to who will get the most playing time, but look for Alexander and the two spring enrollees, Louis and Feist, to get the first crack at contributing.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Despite an immature physical dust-up that resulted in an arrest this summer, the talented dual-threat beat out Jameil Showers to earn the starting job for the Aggies. He posted huge numbers, both through the air and on the ground, as a high school senior two years ago, and in Kevin Sumlin’s system, fans can bet on big numbers from the redshirt freshman.
Mekale McKay, WR, Arkansas
The massive 6-foot-6 hoops star has made an immediate impact on the Hogs offense as he could very well start opposite Cobi Hamilton. With the very talented Tyler Wilson at quarterback, McKay has a chance to do his best DGB impersonation this fall. Few veteran cornerbacks will be able to match up with his raw leaping and overall athletic ability that earn him Mr. Basketball in the state of Kentucky last year.
Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
The massive (6-foot-5, 235 pounds) linebacker has been battling Ferlando Bohanna for the starting middle linebacker job that may not get decided until well into the fall. McKinney has proven to be a leader even as a freshman and could easily earn the starting spot at MLB for Dan Mullen.
Otha Peters, LB, Arkansas
The linebacking corps at Arkansas has dealt with some injuries this summer and that has opened the door for players like Peters to step in and contribute. The 6-foot-1, 230-pounder from Covington, La., is in a heated battle for a starting spot. Either way, expect the true frosh to play big minutes this fall.
Shaq Roland, WR, South Carolina
Alshon Jeffery is gone and Steve Spurrier is hoping his new toy from Lexington, S.C., will help fill the void. The speedy pass-catcher was the No. 5 wideout prospect in the nation, the top prospect in the state, and has wowed the coaching staff since stepping on campus.
Jay Rome, TE, Georgia
The only thing standing in the way of the 6-foot-6, 250-pound freak of nature and certain stardom is himself. Mark Richt loves the athleticism and raw play-making ability Rome brings to the table, especially with Orson Charles now in the NFL. But the head Dawg wants to see consistent effort and some added toughness.
Running Backs, Georgia
Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall have the chance to be a special freshman tandem this fall. These two are going to get tons of carries and Gurley has been the early star of camp for the Dawgs. Along with massive fullback Quayvon Hicks, Mark Richt has a more than enough talent to offset the loss of the aforementioned Crowell. Look for the burley Gurley and the speedy Marshall to compliment each other perfectly.
John Theus, OL, Georgia
This big blocker from Jacksonville, Fla., could be the starter at left tackle from the second Georgia kicks off the 2012 season. He was the No. 2 offensive line prospect in the nation and the Dawgs are in big need of depth along the offensive front. Along with Zach DeBell, Theus will help stabilize the UGA front.
Zach West, OL, Kentucky
The hometown kid from Lexington Christian Academy is locked into a starting guard spot opposite Larry Warford. The 6-foot-4, 312-pounder could have played a year ago but Joker Phillips allowed the big blocker to develop. Now, he has four years of eligibility and a starting spot along the line.
Trey Williams, RB, Texas A&M
Christine Michael and Ben Malena are perfectly capable SEC tailbacks. But Michael has been injury prone throughout his career and Malena isn’t a scat back. Williams, on the other hand, brings a dynamic, speedy skillset to the offense and will complement both of the bigger backs perfectly.
TJ Yeldon, RB, Alabama
The twisting, turning, gyrating, impossible-to-tackle running back from Daphne, Ala., will have a shot to play early and often this fall. Eddie Lacy has a toe issue and Dee Hart is returning from a torn ACL, so the door is open for the big powerback.
Freshman Position Battles To Watch:
Jalen Collins and Jalen Mills, CB, LSU
These two shold battle for the starting spot vacated by the Honey Badger.
Kris Frost, Javier Mitchell and Cassanova McKinzy, LB, Auburn
There isn't a ton of depth for Auburn at LB, so fans should expect a lot of new faces making tackles this fall.
Beniquez Brown and Richie Brown, LB, Mississippi State
Expect to see plenty of youth in the defensive front seven for Dan Mullen this fall.
Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers, RB, Ole Miss
Jeff Scott has been banged-up and these two youngsters have been impressive in camp thus far.
Raphael Andrades and LaTroy Pittman, WR, Florida
The offense is in desperate need of play makers, so expect both to get a long look in camp.
Greg Robinson, Christian Westerman, Alex Kozan and Avery Young, OL, Auburn
The Tigers OL is stacked with young talent and these two could step in and play very quickly.
Other Names To Watch:
Caleb Azubike, DL, Vanderbilt
Jonathan Bullard, DL, Florida
James DeLoach, LB, Georgia
Travin Dural, WR, LSU
Dante Fowler Jr., DE/OLB, Florida
Reid Ferguson, LS, LSU
Kris Frost, LB, Auburn
De’Vante Harris, CB, Texas A&M
Dee Hart, RB, Alabama
Joshua Hosley, CB, Auburn
DJ Humphries, OL, Florida
Danielle Hunter, DE, LSU
Jordan Jenkins, DL, Georgia
Brian Kimbrow, RB, Vanderbilt
Justin King, AP, Tennessee
Dillon Lee, LB, Alabama
Ricardo Louis, WR, Auburn
LaDarrell McNeil, DB, Tennessee
Antonio Morrison, LB, Florida
Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Sheldon Royster, S, South Carolina
Justin Scott-Wesley, WR, Georgia
Justin Taylor, RB, Kentucky
Dwayne Thomas, DB, LSU
Eddie Williams, DB/WR, Alabama
- by Braden Gall
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