By Brandon Daniel @Brandon_Rant on May 29, 2014
The SEC is always loaded with incredibly talented players, and this time of the year proves it with the staggering amount of players drafted into the NFL. 2014 will be no different with a good mix of proven upperclassman and talented youngsters. Which players by season’s end will emerge to become household names and dominate the stat sheets when it’s all said and done? Here’s my take.
Dylan Thompson is a fifth-year senior with experience taking the reigns to the offense for the first time. Thompson is not your typical first-year starter. Playing behind Connor Shaw the last few seasons gave the talented QB some big-game experience when Shaw has missed time due to injury. With the top seven SEC signal-callers from a year ago all gone, look for Thompson to emerge as one of the SEC's top passers in 2014.
The similarities between Thompson and Hutson Mason are uncanny. Both are fifth-year seniors, first-year starters and replacing one of the best quarterbacks in their respective schools’ history. Mason has the taller order in that he must fill the shoes of the most prolific passer in SEC history. It would be tough to add Mason to this list without the experience he got last season, but he played well and has a chance to be one of the best in 2014.
Derrick Henry was one of the most coveted prospects in the nation coming out of high school. He flashed some of the reasons why last season in limited duty, averaging 10.6 yards a carry. His opportunities will still be limited because superstar T.J. Yeldon will still be the starter. With A.J. McCarron gone, I’d expect the Tide to lean more on the run, which should give Henry more chances. More opportunity may be all Henry needs to emerge in 2014.
Coates put up solid numbers a year ago, with 902 yards, seven touchdowns and an eye-popping 21.5 yards per catch. He has tremendous big play ability and will get plenty of opportunities deep with the way the Tigers can run the ball. Auburn won’t get away with running the ball like they did last season, which should give Coates more opportunity to shine. Don’t be surprised if he’s the leading receiver in the SEC when 2014 concludes.
Kennedy made the most of his opportunities last year, catching 60 balls for 658 yards and seven touchdowns. That's decent, especially considering how well the Aggies spread the ball around and the presence of superstar Mike Evans on the roster. Evans is gone to the NFL along with second leading receiver Derel Walker, so there will be a void on the outside. Look for Kennedy to fill that void and be one of the top receivers in the SEC this season.
There's probably not a more hyped true freshman in the nation than LSU’s Lenoard Fournette. This is for good reason as he has the talent to be a really special player. Freshmen turn in great seasons when supreme talent meet opportunity, and that could very well happen for Fournette. Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue are in the NFL now, leaving Terrence Magee behind. If Fournette can beat out Magee look for him to make an immediate impact as a freshman.
Grant could be in for a huge year in 2014. He put up great numbers, including a 9.8 yards per carry average in 66 attempts. His only downfall last season was the fact that Tre Mason and Nick Marshall took most of the carries and he battled Cameron Artis-Payne for the scraps. However, Mason is gone and there are now 317 touches that must be replaced. With increased opportunity expect Corey Grant to shine in the fall.
It’s strange to put a quarterback with the talent and experience of Jeff Driskel on an emerging list, but to this point he has never had an emergent-type season. There’s been heavy coaching turnover during his time in Gainesville and injuries took away his junior season. Now he enters his senior year healthy and playing in an offensive system that should capitalize on his strengths. System, health and experience prime Driskel for a great season.
The two big offensive line names from a year ago, Jake Matthews and Greg Robinson, are gone to the NFL via the first round. That means there is a void to the claim of best offensive lineman in the SEC. Tunsil may can lay claim to that title in his sophomore year. He came in and earned a starting left tackle job as a freshman in the SEC. Not only that, but he only gave up one sack in the process. The sky is the limit for the Rebels' young tackle.
Leonard Floyd is a physical freak, and showed it in his freshman season, tallying 7.5 sacks during his first year in Athens. He’s a gifted athlete, and with a year of experience under his belt he’s only going to get better. The fact that he should have a better defensive coordinator coaching him up means he could be headed for a huge season. Expect a double-digit sack year from Floyd and a real shot at defensive player of the year honors.
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