It’s always difficult to project how quickly the top players in SEC recruiting classes will be able to make an impact.
The transition to the FBS level takes time. Opponents are so much stronger, faster and smarter than in high school. The playbooks are more complex. And players have to make progress in their weight program in order to handle the physical toll of college football.
So even at a time when young players have bigger roles than ever, it’s still incredibly hard to immediately be good as a true freshman, let alone be named all-SEC.
Some freshmen will have the chance in 2017, though. Two factors make it much easier for true freshmen to make a big impact early: talent and opportunity. They have to have the physical gifts to compete with college football players at 18 years old. And there has to be a void on the depth chart where they can have the chance step in and make plays immediately.
All of these players have some combination of the two. It’s just a matter of which ones take advantage of those circumstances.
So, here are the 2017 recruits who have a chance to be first- or second-team all-SEC next season:
LB Dylan Moses, Alabama
Despite being a top-eight recruit in the country, the climb toward an all-SEC nod may start slow for 5-star Alabama commit Dylan Moses. The Crimson Tide is always so stacked at linebacker that getting on the field early is no guarantee.
But Alabama is losing two stars in Reuben Foster and Tim Williams, and another senior linebacker in Ryan Anderson. The Crimson Tide may have a need for Moses to step up early. If he can earn significant playing time as a true freshman, though that’s a big “if,” he could have a great chance at becoming all-conference.
TE Jeremy Patton, Arkansas
Arkansas had one of the top JUCO signings in the SEC last week in 4-star TE Jeremy Patton. The nation’s No. 1 JUCO tight end will immediately provide an athletic weapon for Austin Allen. It also helps that some of the conference’s top tight ends from 2016, like O.J. Howard and Evan Engram, will be gone next season. There’s also a void on the depth chart, as star Arkansas TE Jeremy Sprinkle heads to the NFL. That could reduce the competition for Patton to get an all-SEC nod.
QB Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
Jarrett Stidham was the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback and a top-40 recruit nationally out of high school in 2015. Now he brings that talent to an Auburn team that’s been searching for a quarterback for the past two seasons. He’ll have stout competition for an all-conference spot from a few talented young quarterbacks in the SEC, but Stidham will very likely be in the running, especially if Auburn wins a lot of games.
CB Elijah Blades, Florida
Florida’s star cornerbacks, Quincy Wilson and Jalen “Teez” Tabor, have not announced their NFL Draft decision. If they declare early, the Gators will have a major void at corner that Elijah Blades may be able to fill. At 6-foot-2, the 4-star defensive back has ideal length to be a ball hawk at the next level.
S Richard LeCounte III, Georgia
The No. 1 recruit in Georgia’s 2017 class, Richard LeCounte has the talent to be an immediate difference-maker for the Bulldogs. Under Kirby Smart’s coaching, he could quickly become one of the best defensive backs in the conference.
OT Isaiah Wilson, Georgia
Georgia gets two spots on this list, in part because the Bulldogs have more positions where a highly rated recruit could make an impact right away. Georgia’s offensive line play has been abysmal this season, and 5-star OT Isaiah Wilson will probably be needed to shore up one of the tackle positions in 2017. Should he do well and Georgia’s offense begin to resemble its old self, he may get consideration for an all-SEC spot.
S JaCoby Stevens, LSU
As LSU’s top rated commit for 2017, it will be hard to keep 5-star safety JaCoby Stevens off the field as a freshman. In Dave Aranda’s defense, he’ll get to be part of one the conference’s best units, which will probably help his all-SEC candidacy as well.
CB Jamyest Williams, South Carolina
Jamyest Williams is the crown jewel of Will Muschamp’s first full recruiting cycle at South Carolina. The 4-star corner will get opportunities right away in a Gamecock defense that already showed a ton of promise in Muschamp’s first year. Williams, mature beyond his years, will take those opportunities and make big plays immediately.
OT Trey Smith, Tennessee
Trey Smith is Tennessee’s best recruit in the Butch Jones era. He’ll be expected to play a role on the Vols’ offensive line right away. The 5-star recruit will need to hold his ground against some of the conference’s top pass rushers, but if he survives those tests, coaches and media will take notice.
LB Anthony Hines, Texas A&M
Texas A&M commit Anthony Hines is coming off one of the more absurd statistical seasons in the country. He recorded 245 total tackles and 38.0 TFL as a senior in 2016. Those kinds of numbers aren’t feasible in college. However, if Hines’ stat sheet is eye-popping enough, he’ll certainly get some all-conference love as a freshman.
All ratings and rankings come from the 247Sports Composite unless otherwise noted.