The SEC continued its recruiting dominance in 2016. Fourteen of the top 25 recruits nationally went to an SEC school, and 11 of the conference’s 14 schools ranked in the top 26 classes.
With so much talent coming into the conference, several players have an opportunity to step into a starring role when they get on campus. Here are 10 true freshmen expected to contribute right away.
DE McTelvin Agim, Arkansas
When Agim committed to his home-state Razorbacks, he instantly became a superstar. The defensive end added a fifth recruiting star during the 2015 offseason and is poised to be an instant contributor for Bret Bielema’s defense. Agim likely will not start behind a bevy of experienced starters on the defensive line, but he is likely to get into games. Agim is listed at 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds, but he ran a freaky 11.6 100-meter dash while in high school.
WR Nate Craig-Myers, Auburn
Ricardo Louis was good for Auburn last season, but only one returning wide receiver posted 200 receiving yards last season. Between mediocre wide receivers and horrible quarterback play, Auburn’s offense was a shadow of what it was with Nick Marshall at the helm. Luckily, Craig-Myers is a game-changing talent at wide receiver. The Under Armour All-American was clear when SEC Country asked whom he expects to lead the wide receiver corps this year: “Myself and whoever wants to tag along.”
DE Marlon Davidson, Auburn
Davidson was highly touted coming out of high school, but few expected him to contribute as a true freshman. But after an impressive spring, Davidson pushed former 5-star prospect Byron Cowart out of his starting spot. It took fewer than 10 spring practices for the true freshman to establish himself. After Cowart was arrested in April, Davidson might have just locked down the starting spot for good.
QB Jacob Eason, Georgia
It’s unclear whether Eason will be able to wrest the starting job from the more experienced Brice Ramsey. Regardless, Eason will almost undoubtedly take over this season. After throwing for more than 10,000 yards and 99 touchdowns in high school and earning Gatorade National Football Player of the Year, Eason enrolled early at Georgia. During the spring game, he led the way with 244 yards and a touchdown on 29 passing attempts. Heads will turn as soon as Eason gets on the field for good.
QB Brandon McIlwain, South Carolina
Winning a starting quarterback job as a freshman is impressive. Winning the job over a trio of former starters is almost unthinkable. That is the position McIlwain finds himself in. McIlwain has risen above Perry Orth, Connor Mitch and Lorenzo Nunez in the quarterback competition. McIlwain starred in football and baseball in high school and will play both sports at South Carolina.
OT Greg Little, Ole Miss
Few offensive linemen have the physical profile to play right away, but Little is one of the best physical prospects in the class. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds, Little, who played at Allen (Texas) High School, was the No. 3 overall player in the 2016 class. Most expect Little to immediately step in and fill the role left vacant by NFL draft pick Laremy Tunsil.
TE Isaac Nauta, Georgia
There are not many game-changing tight ends, but Nauta has the skills to be one of them. After being committed to Florida State, Nauta flipped at the last minute to Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs. Though Jeb Blazevich has a strong grip on the position, Nauta is the kind of talent who will find ways to get on the field. Enrolling early certainly will help his case.
DE Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi State
It’s impossible to talk about Simmons without acknowledging his legal troubles. However, when he returns to the field, Simmons is a game-changing defensive talent. Simmons was the No. 19 player in the class and the best prospect the Bulldogs have reeled in since All-America DT Chris Jones in 2013. The Bulldogs have five seniors in the two-deep on the defensive line. Simmons should force his way into the rotation. In 2017, the defense will be all his.
RB Devwah Whaley, Arkansas
Arkansas boasts one of the great rushing offenses in college football, and Whaley could be the next star. The Razorbacks lost running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams to the NFL. That likely will provide an opportunity for Whaley. As a senior at Beaumont (Texas) Central, he ran for 1,701 yards and 23 touchdowns. He might not start as a freshman, but he will battle Rawleigh Williams III and Kody Walker for playing time right away.
OT Jonah Williams, Alabama
Williams was a 5-star prospect, but few offensive linemen are physically prepared to compete for playing time as true freshmen. But after spending spring with the team, Williams has become the presumptive starter at right tackle for the Crimson Tide. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 288 pounds, Williams still is growing. If he continues developing through fall camp, Williams could quickly lock up Freshman All-America honors.