Every year in the SEC, a new crop of super-talented freshmen enter the SEC. Some, like former 5-star Georgia recruits Jacob Eason and Isaac Nauta, enter with much more fanfare and hype.
But regardless of recruiting ranking, a number of freshmen impressed both fans and coaches this season with their play. And while many excelled, a few stood out above others. These are the five most impressive seasons put forth by SEC freshmen in 2016.
Related: All-SEC Freshman team
5. Jabari Zuniga, Florida defensive end
After redshirting his first year in Gainesville, Zuniga proved to be a pleasant surprise for the Gators in 2016. He led the team and all SEC freshmen in sacks with 5 on the season.
While injuries wrecked Florida’s defense, it did give Zuniga a chance to showcase his talent. He looks like a major piece to the Florida defense in the coming year.
4. Benny Snell Jr., Kentucky running back
While Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas all landed top-6 running backs in the 2016 recruiting class, it was the 3-star Snell who had the best freshman season.
Snell led all SEC running backs with 1,091 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. And those numbers came while sharing a backfield with Boom Williams, who also had a 1,000 yard season. With Williams leaving for the NFL, Snell figures to have an even better sophomore season.
3. Leo Lewis, Mississippi State linebacker
While his freshman teammate Jeffery Simmons drew a lot of the attention, it was Lewis who was a star of the Mississippi State defense.
Lewis led all freshmen in the nation in tackles with 79 while also racking up 4.5 tackles for loss. With a number of losses in the front seven, the All-SEC freshman must continue to grow as a player.
2. Jalen Hurts, Alabama quarterback
Hurts’ last two games as a passer shouldn’t overshadow the spectacular season he had. There were five SEC quarterbacks ranked higher in the 247Sports composite rankings than Hurts. But the freshman from Texas had a better season than all of them.
In addition to running for 954 yards, Hurts threw for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns. For his efforts he was named SEC Offensive Player of the Year.
While he completed just 48 percent of his passes in his final three games, Hurts also had this spectacular touchdown run in the final minutes of the national championship game.
— Jasmine (@JasmineLWatkins) January 10, 2017
1. Jonah Williams, Alabama offensive tackle
While Hurts put up great numbers, he wasn’t even the best freshman on his own offense. That distinction belongs to Williams. The 5-star offensive tackle from California started every game for the Crimson Tide, something Hurts didn’t even do.
He earned multiple accolades for his work over the course of the season, as he was named to a number of Freshman All-American teams. While Alabama will lose Cam Robinson to the draft, the Crimson Tide will still have one of the best offensive tackles in all of college football with Williams.