This past season, the SEC featured plenty of breakout stars. Shane Ray, Dak Prescott, Nick Chubb, Pharoh Cooper, Reggie Ragland and Senquez Golson were just a few of the players who made a name for themselves and emerged as some of the top performers in the conference in 2014.
Looking ahead to the 2015 season, it appears that the league is once again loaded with plenty of promising players who are ready to reach their potential and become a household name.
Here’s a look at five SEC players who are ready for stardom this fall.
Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn
Jeremy Johnson won’t be able to bring the same type of speed and overall athleticism to Auburn’s spread offensive attack that former quarterback Nick Marshall did. What Johnson should add, however, is much more stability in the passing game.
The former 4-star recruit from Carver High School (AL) may not be a true dual-threat quarterback like Marshall, but he makes up for his lack of rushing ability with his tremendous passing skills. Johnson gave the Tiger faithful a taste of what he can do with his arm during spot relief duty this past season, when he completed 28 of his 37 throws, averaged 11.8 yards per attempt and accumulated a 201 overall passer rating.
The question is: does Marshall’s successor have what it takes to stretch out that impressive showing over a full season?
In a recent interview with the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, the 6’5’’, 230-pound junior said he’s looking forward to his new leadership role.
“This is a new team, new players, new coaching staff. I’m looking forward to bringing everybody in to where if I say we’re going to move right, the whole team moves right. That’s the type of leader I’m trying to become for this team. Being a quarterback you have to be that leader to where your teammates are going to follow you no matter what. I got to be able to look to the right to me and be able to say, ‘Can I trust this person?’ That’s what we’re trying to get as a team, as a unit and we’ve all got high standards for each other.”
Besides high standards, Johnson also possesses sky high potential. He’s the type of big, strong-armed passer who adds a new dynamic to the Auburn offense. Offensive guru Gus Malzahn surely has to be excited about creating schemes that will give Johnson the opportunity to flourish in 2015.
Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia
Going into the 2014 season, many considered Georgia’s linebacker corps to be among the best in the nation. The trio of Jordan Jenkins, Amarlo Herrera and Leonard Floyd formed quite a formidable unit, one which received plenty of acclaim.
Ultimately, Jenkins, Herrera and Floyd each made a big impact for the Bulldogs defense, finishing the season as the team’s top three tacklers. However, Lorenzo Carter was the one who ended up stealing the spotlight.
During his debut campaign, Carter had no trouble transitioning from defensive end to outside linebacker. The former 4-star recruit from Norcross, Georgia was one of the most productive freshman defenders in the country. He totaled 41 tackles, including seven tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries. It was a performance that earned him a spot on the SEC’s All-Freshman team.
Though Jenkins and Floyd will likely garner more accolades this offseason, Carter could end up being the real star of Georgia’s defense in 2015.
Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee
Georgia’s Nick Chubb and LSU’s Leonard Fournette were the two SEC freshman running backs that everyone talked about in 2014. The fascination with those two players is understandable, considering Chubb and Fournette both showed flashes of dominance, as they combined to rush for over 2,500 yards and 25 touchdowns.
There was another freshman running back—Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd, who also made an instant impact in his first season. Though Hurd’s name wasn’t mentioned as much as players such as Chubb and Fournette, he was still almost just as impressive. The 6’3’’, 227-pound former blue-chip 5-star recruit displayed the same caliber of explosive burst and natural playmaking ability that made him a highlight-reel sensation in high school.
In his first season in Knoxville, the Tennessee native rushed for 899 yards, caught 35 passes and scored seven touchdowns. His 37 total plays of 10 yards or more tied for the 11th most in the conference.
Hurd’s combination of size, speed, receiving ability and playmaking instincts makes him a true total-package game-changer.
If Tennessee wants to make a move up the SEC ladder in Butch Jones’ third season, the Volunteers will need the sophomore rusher to put the offense on his back and carry an even heavier load in 2015.
Jarran Reed, DE, Alabama
Alabama has had at least one defensive lineman selected in each of the past five NFL drafts. That streak will come to an end this year, but that’s only because DE Jarran Reed chose to return to Tuscaloosa instead of leaving school early for the pros.
Reed will rejoin A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen to form arguably the best defensive line in all of college football in 2015.
In his first season after transferring from East Mississippi Community College, the 6’4’’, 315-pound lineman immediately made his presence felt in the trenches. He finished the season with 54 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and five pass breakups, and he played a key role in helping the Tide rank fourth in the nation in rushing defense.
The powerful run-stuffer has the prototypical size, strength, agility and overall skill-set that you look for in a 3-4 defensive end. Now that Reed has had a year of experience playing against SEC offensive lines, he should be ready to truly dominate in 2015.
Will Redmond, CB, Mississippi State
If you judged Will Redmond’s 2014 season purely on his stats—three interceptions, 51 tackles and five pass breakups—you would say it was a solid, but certainly not a sensational campaign by any means.
In this case, though, you’d have to look beyond the stat sheet to see just how good Redmond was in his first season as a starter.
The 6’0’’, 185-pound senior built quite a buzz within the NFL scouting community based on his standout performances against top-flight competition, prompting at least one scout to call him a potential first or second-round pick..
Redmond emerged as one of the conference’s top cover corners, as he proved to be the stabilizing force of an otherwise shaky secondary.
The former 4-star recruit from Memphis possesses a tremendous size-speed combination that’s a cut above most other corners in college football.
The SEC has produced plenty of great defensive backs in recent years. It appears that Redmond is ready to now become the conference’s next great lockdown corner.