15 SEC Football Players You Need to Know More About
Increased coverage of SEC football means big stars shine brighter than ever.
Just because a player opens on Labor Day weekend as an unknown, though, doesn't mean he will stay one.
All it takes is one game—in some instances, one play—for the first chapter of a history or a legacy to be written.
For every Nick Marshall and Dak Prescott in the SEC—players most SEC fans know—there are scores of talented players waiting to leave lasting marks on this season.
Today, we examine SEC players who might otherwise fly under the radar during the preseason and discuss what significance they carry heading into 2014.
Some of these names will be familiar to SEC fans who pay attention, but few will be household names to open the year.
To that end, players who made All-SEC teams or earned honorable mention honors last year won't be considered. (Players named to the All-Freshman team, however, will warrant consideration if they didn't make the first- or second-team All-SEC.)
Other players—like Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk, Arkansas tailback Alex Collins or Mississippi State defensive tackle Chris Jones—are well-known enough commodities that they won’t make this list either.
Uber-prospects such as Alabama running back Derrick Henry, Ole Miss defensive end Robert Nkemdiche and Ole Miss tackle Laremy Tunsil similarly made enough of a name for themselves that they don't belong here.
The idea is to spotlight under-the-radar players who could be the difference in one or two critical games this season—who could be the difference between going 9-3 and 11-1, or 5-7 and 7-5.
Here is our list.
DT Montravius Adams, Auburn
When Montravius Adams wreaked havoc on Washington State during Auburn's 2013 season opener, expectations rose substantially for the 5-star signee (as rated by 247Sports).
However, Adams never again lived up to the hype he generated in his collegiate debut. By the time the season ended, Adams played exclusively as a backup.
Now with Nosa Eguae gone, Adams has as good a chance as any Auburn defensive lineman to claim the spot to Gabe Wright's side.
If Wright continues his upward trajectory, that will be a good place to be for Adams.
RB Tra Carson, Texas A&M
Losing a player of Johnny Manziel's stature never makes an offense better.
It might, however, make Texas A&M's attack more balanced.
So much of the Aggies offense centered on the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner that play-calling often overlooked the run game (save for Manziel runs) entirely. Doing so meant a potential star like Tra Carson couldn't show his full potential.
Now that Manziel is gone, the Aggies must break in a new quarterback—potentially true freshman Kyle Allen—and it makes more sense to rely on what promises to be a stout run game.
Carson could be the engine.
The Oregon transfer backed up Ben Malena last year but stands to be in line for starter reps this season. Carson averaged 5.3 yards per carry last year and should see a substantially increased workload in 2014.
Look for him to be a big part of the reason why the Aggies offense won't suffer the type of relapse expected in life After Johnny.
RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
When a prospect draws comparisons to Adrian Peterson before ever practicing with his collegiate team, it's prudent to pay close attention to said player.
In 247Sports' composite rankings, Fournette took the honor of the top spot. He also ranked second on the site's own prospect list.
It's not every year a tailback can arrive on LSU's campus and play right away—even with Fournette's talent.
Jeremy Hill's decision to leave early for the NFL creates a void for someone to fill, and while Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard have college experience in helping LSU run directly at opponents, both will have their hands full in trying to keep Fournette off the field.
S J.J. Green, Georgia
Georgia coach Mark Richt released safeties Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons from the team this spring, leaving plenty of questions about the position.
Converted tailback J.J. Green stands to stake a claim for one of the two starting spots.
By the end of spring, Green worked his way to the top of the strong safety depth chart. For the Bulldogs to seriously contend in the SEC East, they will need steady play along the back line of the defense.
Green, apparently, will play a key role in first-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's success.
TE O.J. Howard, Alabama
Looking for someone who will benefit from new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin's faster attack?
Stop your search with tight end O.J. Howard—a big, athletic freak with soft hands.
The true sophomore should quickly become a best friend of whichever quarterback—likely Florida State transfer Jacob Coker—ultimately wins the starting position. Not only does Howard possess the hands to be a reliable presence, he has the athleticism to be a game-breaking threat in the open field.
Alabama didn't often call Howard's number in 2013, but when it did, he rewarded his team with big plays. Howard scored two touchdowns and averaged 19.2 yards per reception on just 14 catches.
DE Carl Lawson, Auburn
If a program must lose a disruptive defensive presence like Dee Ford, it sure is nice to have the luxury of two talented true sophomores waiting for their chances.
Carl Lawson represents one of the two young Tigers—Elijah Daniel the other—who bided time in 2013 while auditioning for a 2014 starting role.
Both showed flashes.
Lawson put on a full display of his potential during the Ole Miss game. The then-true freshman spent most of the evening forcing Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace to run for his life, finishing with 3.5 tackles for loss, including two sacks.
Not only did the Ole Miss game catch people's attention, it helped Lawson springboard to a 7.5-TFL season.
Lawson and Daniel will see their time increase in 2014. The duo should leave opposing fans remembering them.
WR Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State
Among the more confounding parts of Mississippi State's 2013 season is how Jameon Lewis managed to avoid more publicity with his stellar play.
Perhaps there is a simple explanation: State quickly fell off the radar, needing wins over Arkansas and Ole Miss simply to reach a bowl game, and quarterback Dak Prescott drew most of the attention.
Whatever the case, Lewis will become a well-known commodity in 2014.
Even as Prescott and the Bulldogs struggled to consistently throw the ball effectively last year, Lewis made himself the clear No. 1 target, amassing 923 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He also rushed for three scores.
RB Korliss Marshall, Arkansas
It might seem ridiculous to have an Arkansas tailback on this list.
After all, running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams built tremendous reputations in 2013 running Bret Bielema's ground-and-pound attack.
However, Korliss Marshall—a converted defensive back—adds a presence that could be instrumental in helping the Razorbacks steal victories in 2014.
Namely, Marshall possesses the type of blazing, game-breaking speed that makes him a dangerous threat even if he only touches the ball five or six times per game.
Marshall spent most of last season at safety before depth forced him into the Arkansas backfield. Once there, he displayed the elusiveness that made him an obvious choice for return specialist duties.
Against Ole Miss, Marshall ran for 42 yards on three attempts. He also picked up 45 yards on three carries against LSU.
Look for offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to find creative ways to get Marshall touches in 2014—and for the sophomore to make the ingenuity pay off.
LB Skai Moore, South Carolina
The faces of South Carolina's defense are now departed.
Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Victor Hampton led the unit for the last three years and helped the Gamecocks reach great heights during their time in Columbia.
What those fixated on Clowney's play missed last year is that a number of young Gamecocks emerged as players capable of maintaining the defensive success.
Perhaps no player is better suited to perform the "next man up" duties than Skai Moore, who ended up starting four games as a true freshman in 2013. By season's end, Moore helped solidify a linebacker corps that opened as a glaring, inexperienced weakness.
Now, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward should find the group to be a strength headed into the new year.
Moore led the team in tackles and interceptions a year ago despite spending most of his freshman campaign as a non-starter. His numbers and outstanding play led to first-team Freshman All-SEC and second-team Freshman All-America last year.
Fans in South Carolina don't have to look far to see who will carry on the defensive banner.
WR Marquez North, Tennessee
Wide receiver Marquez North will play an instrumental part of Tennessee's youth movement.
Whether he has the supporting cast to enjoy the type of breakout year he's capable of having remains to be seen.
Here's the thing about receivers: They can only have huge seasons if the offensive line keeps the quarterback clean and if said quarterback delivers on-time, manageable throws.
Both elements remain something of an unknown for a Volunteers squad that replaces its entire offensive line and spent most of the spring splitting quarterback reps between four contenders.
North finished his true freshman season with 496 receiving yards and a touchdown. His biggest moment came in an upset win over South Carolina when he turned in a spectacular catch to help put Tennessee in range for the game-winning field goal.
DE A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
Many SEC fans will have some level of familiarity with Alabama defensive end A'Shawn Robinson.
By the end of 2014, the league will realize he is among the next wave of great Crimson Tide defenders.
The Arlington, Texas, product took no time to arrive as a big presence for Alabama, racking up eight tackles for loss and 38 total stops.
All that as a non-starter.
Now, Robinson figures to crack the starting lineup. What's even scarier is the idea that Robinson spent most of 2013 in learning mode.
"He's a very intelligent young man. He took pride in knowing his assignments," defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said to Andrew Gribble of AL.com. "I can remember during the Texas A&M game there was frustration during the week of practice that 'I don't know this call, that call.' When he gets in the game, he plays fast and plays very athletic."
WR Demarcus Robinson, Florida
Florida's Demarcus Robinson could easily become this year's version of Sammie Coates.
Heading into last season, Coates—the Auburn receiver—was thought to be a potential big-play receiver who was huge on potential and limited on past success. It took a regime change for Coates to realize his potential under first-year coach Gus Malzahn.
Robinson recorded just five catches for 23 yards as a true freshman. He also gets a new start under former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper.
Between Roper's offensive prowess and the return of a healthy Jeff Driskel, Robinson should see a significant increase in opportunity.
Look for the rising sophomore to cash said opportunity into highlight-reel plays and a breakthrough season.
WR Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M
If not for a season-ending knee injury, Ricky Seals-Jones likely wouldn't appear on this list because SEC fans would already know about him.
Seals-Jones, a 5-star recruit in 2013, played in the season opener and recorded a 71-yard touchdown in Texas A&M's victory. However, he suffered the knee injury and missed the Week 2 game against Sam Houston State.
When Seals-Jones' knee still bothered him in the Alabama game, the team opted for him to undergo a surgery that ended his year.
Now, Seals-Jones is back, and Mike Evans is in the NFL.
Whether Kyle Allen or Kenny Hill ultimately wins the starting quarterback position, Seals-Jones will provide a game-breaking star as a top target.
WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
Donte Moncrief spent last season as the Rebels' unquestioned top target.
True freshman Laquon Treadwell learned and flourished while defenses focused on Moncrief.
Now, Moncrief is gone, and Treadwell has the opportunity to show he can carry the bulk of the passing game on his own shoulders. As a true freshman last season, Treadwell hauled in 72 passes for 608 yards and five touchdowns.
Look for Treadwell's experience, teamed with improved health of quarterback Bo Wallace's shoulder, to lead for greater downfield chances.
CB Tre'Davious White, LSU
Tre'Davious White represents the next in a long line of outstanding LSU cornerbacks.
Though White didn't enjoy the freshman year Vernon Hargreaves III had at Florida, he did take significant strides in showing why the Tigers were so excited to sign him in 2013.
By season's end, White showed all the signs of becoming one of the SEC's top cover corners. He finished the season with nine pass breakups, including two interceptions, while adding 55 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Players leaving early for the NFL left LSU turning to younger talent last season. That won't turn out to be a bad thing if coach Les Miles' staff can continue to assemble recruiting classes with the likes of White.
Perhaps it would have been more ideal for White to have eased into the playing rotation a little more last season, but he will be better for the experience. This year, he could emerge as one of the top cornerbacks in the nation.