The SEC has no shortage of superstars, so it can be hard for even the most hyped recruits to make a name for themselves in the conference. But when eyes turn to the practice fields in the spring, some players can grab early momentum for the upcoming football season.
Spring practices offer these players the opportunity to show what they didn’t get a chance to display in games and how much they have grown since the last year ended.
Here are 10 players who should begin to garner attention when 2016 spring practices get started.
Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State – After two years on the sideline behind Dak Prescott, the Bulldogs offense will be led by Fitzgerald in 2016, and there’s reason to think the 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore will do well with the opportunity.
In limited action in 2015, he completed 11 of 14 passes with three touchdowns, albeit against schools like Northwestern State and Troy. Still, spring practices will be a great chance for the giant, big-armed passer to show what he has and establish himself as the new leader in Starkville.
Derrius Guice, RB, LSU – There’s no doubt who the star running back is at LSU, so it’s easy to forget about the impressive stats posted by Guice. As a freshman, he showed himself to be a solid complement to Leonard Fournette, and finished the year with 8.5 yards per carry and three touchdowns.
While Fournette has shown the ability to flat-out run over defenders, Guice’s ability to make men miss made him a dangerous return threat and should make him a fun player to watch in spring practices.
Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama – The combination of Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake absorbed all of the attention in the backfield during the Crimson Tide’s national championship run in 2015. With both players now gone, Scarbrough is another massive running back who promises to get the ball often for Alabama.
The 6-foot-2, 240-pound running back was limited by a knee injury as a freshman, but he averaged 5.8 yards per carry when he saw the field, mostly in clean-up duty.
Damore’ea Stringfellow, WR, Ole Miss – After transferring from Washington and sitting out a year, Ole Miss finally got a look at what it has in Stringfellow during the 2015 season and received some positive results. Stringfellow, Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo all finished with similar stats during the 2015 season, with Stringfellow grabbing five touchdowns.
Laquon Treadwell and Core are gone to the NFL, so it’ll be up to Stringfellow and Adeboyejo to gel with Chad Kelly in the spring and lead the way for the Rebels in 2016.
Arden Key, DE, LSU – As a true freshman, Key contributed five sacks for the Tigers, but really stood out in a few games. He was particularly impressive against some of the best competition too, with his best games coming against Texas A&M and Alabama.
Given another year to grow and take advantage of the LSU weight room, Key could be an absolute nightmare for opposing offensive linemen in 2016, and spring practices will give us our first clue as to how quickly his development is coming along.
Byron Cowart, DE, Auburn – Cowart was the No. 3 prospect in the Class of 2015 and the No. 1 strong-side defensive end, so there was plenty of expectations that he would contribute early. Unfortunately for the Tigers, he finished with just six tackles and was frustrated during the year.
Still, there’s no question he’s one of the most talented young athletes in the SEC and stands to play much more than the 220 snaps he did as a true freshman.
Kahlil McKenzie, DT, Tennessee – The son of Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie was a top recruit in the Class of 2015, and made an early impact for the Volunteers with appearances in every game as a true freshman. He finished the year with 14 tackles and a sack, but promises to be a significant cog in the Tennessee defensive line in 2016.
At 6-foot-3, 344 pounds, McKenzie brings beef to the UT line and should be a tank who dominates in spring practices, where offensive linemen will have the unfortunate task of going one-on-one against the true sophomore.
Daron Payne, DT, Alabama – Contributing for the Crimson Tide as a freshman is already hard, but it’s borderline impossible when you’re a defensive lineman. He was already one of the strongest players on the team upon arrival, but with players like A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed and Jonathan Allen ahead of him on the depth chart, Payne didn’t see the field much.
When he did, he didn’t make much of an impact on the statsheet, but he still took on double teams and made plays available for teammates. Given another year of growth, he should be a key part of the always-top-notch Alabama front seven.
Chris Westry, CB, Kentucky – Westry was a three-star recruit and barely cracked the top 1,000 prospects for the Class of 2015, but was a surprisingly important part of the Wildcats defense as a true freshman.
The 6-foot-4 defensive back had a game-sealing interception against South Carolina and was the top cornerback on the Kentucky depth chart before the season even started. While he has length, he was listed at just 185 pounds and should be an even better player in 2016 after presumably adding some weight.
Dominick Sanders, S, Georgia – Unlike most of the players on this list, Sanders has already accrued a good amount of experience for the Bulldogs. The junior safety is a solid starter for UGA, but should be able to stand out even more now that Kirby Smart is taking over the reins of the defense.
Without much other experience in the secondary beyond Sanders and Quincy Mauger, the UGA defense will rely heavily on the junior to stand out and take on a leadership role, beginning in the spring.
All recruiting rankings and ratings according to the 247Sports Composite.