SEC football is the most physically demanding conference in the sport. However, elite recruits SEC schools collects are often ready right away.
Out of the top 50 recruits in America, 17 are committed to SEC schools. With the conference inevitably losing a significant amount of talent to the NFL, several players could have opportunities to play — and start — in 2017.
Fans saw last season just how quickly recruits could acclimate. By year’s end, four of the 14 starting quarterbacks were true freshmen. Two such freshmen started in the College Football Playoff national championship game: quarterback Jalen Hurts and OT Jonah Williams.
Here are five SEC recruits who could start as true freshmen.
OL Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
247 ranking: No. 4
Alabama doesn’t start many freshmen, but it’s easier when an 18-year-old comes in at 6-foot-6 and 327 pounds. Cam Robinson and Jonah Williams were the Crimson Tide’s 2016 offensive tackles; both became starters as true freshmen. That lends credence to Leatherwood, considering he is the nation’s best offensive tackle prospect.
Leatherwood saw heavy recruiting pressure from programs across the country, but offensive line coach Mario Cristobal sealed the deal. Cristobal since left Alabama to become offensive coordinator at Oregon.
Leatherwood enrolled early, so he will get a full offseason in the Crimson Tide’s conditioning program. He has the body to play tackle or guard.
Running back Najee Harris and linebacker Dylan Moses were also contenders for this ranking, but they will deal with much more depth at their positions.
OL Isaiah Wilson, Georgia
247 ranking: No. 16
Not only is Wilson the highest-rated player in Georgia’s No. 3 overall class, but he also fills the position of greatest need. The Bulldogs’ offensive line was exceptionally bad in 2016. In fact, football outsiders rated the unit No. 101 out of 128. That was much closer to Georgia Southern (116) and Georgia State (126) than it was to Georgia Tech (29).
Offensive tackles Tyler Catalina and Greg Pyke are graduating. While Catalina did his best at left tackle after transferring from Rhode Island, he just wasn’t built to be an SEC lineman. He was listed at a lean 6-foot-6, 314 pounds. Wilson is 6-7 and 350 pounds as a high school player. If he has enough time to condition during the summer, Wilson will be a contributor.
DB Jamyest Williams, South Carolina
247 ranking: No. 64
South Carolina returns cornerbacks Chris Lammons and Jamarcus King. That’s going to make it tougher for a young defensive back to find consistent minutes in the rotation from the start. However, Williams is an elite athlete who has offers from many of the nation’s top programs.
The one kicker: Williams isn’t locked up as yet. He still has a visit to Georgia set up. This ranking depends on his remaining a member of South Carolina’s signing class. But if he does, Williams has the electric athleticism to compete for a starting spot immediately in Columbia.
RB Ty Chandler, Tennessee
247 ranking: No. 68
Tennessee’s program is in a strange place after losing so many key pieces to the NFL Draft. However, departures open opportunities for young players, including incoming freshmen.
Throughout the past few months, Tennessee lost Jalen Hurd to transfer and Alvin Kamara to the draft. Quarterback Josh Dobbs was easily the most productive rusher on the roster. Rising junior tailback John Kelly will receive plenty of snaps, but his frame isn’t sturdy enough to be an all-purpose back. Chandler, who boasts a 4.4 40-yard dash, will be an excellent complementary back.
QB Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
247 ranking: No. 88
Mond isn’t the only freshman who will have a chance to start. Wide receiver Jhamon Ausbon and linebacker Anthony Hines will arrive on campus with starting jobs all but locked up. However, it’s extra intriguing when a true freshman might push a returning starter for the starting job.
Former junior college transfer Jake Hubenak played significant minutes against Mississippi State, Ole Miss and UTSA. The Aggies went 1-2, and underwhelmed against the Roadrunners. Mond is a somewhat inconsistent passer and his learning curve would be steep. However, he developed significantly during his time at IMG Academy. He will have every opportunity to win the job.