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SEC Impact Freshmen

By Matt Osborne
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Each of the past two Heisman Trophy winners won the award after completing their first year of collegiate eligibility, serving as proof that freshmen in today’s climate are more prepared to compete than ever before.

With less than a week remaining until National Signing Day, we now have a relatively solid idea about what most classes will look like when all is said and done with this recruiting process.

Each of the past two Heisman Trophy winners won the award after completing their first year of collegiate eligibility, serving as proof that freshmen in today’s climate are more prepared to compete than ever before.

Here is a look at the top impact true freshman for each SEC team heading into the 2014 season.

Alabama – CB Marlon Humphrey

Following the departures of veteran cornerbacks John Fulton and Deion Belue, there will be plenty of competition for playing time in the Crimson Tide secondary in 2014. Humphrey is one of two five-star cornerback prospects for Nick Saban in the 2014 class, but the other, Tony Brown, could face punishment stemming from a recent incident in Tuscaloosa. Just recently giving his verbal commitment to Alabama, Humphrey is a physical corner who should thrive in Kirby Smart’s defensive scheme.

Arkansas – DT Bijhon Jackson

The Razorbacks finished near the bottom of the conference in rushing defense last season, allowing over 178 yards per game. With veteran Byran Jones lost to graduation, the Razorbacks will be looking for a replacement on the interior of the defensive front. Jackson already tips the scales at 300 pounds, giving him a frame to hold up to the pounding of an SEC schedule. He is ranked by many recruiting services as a top five prospect nationally at the position.

Auburn – RB Racean Thomas

Even with Tre Mason leaving early for the NFL, the Tigers still have returning talent in the backfield with Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne.  Neither of those players, however, have the natural athletic skill of the incoming Thomas. He is the complete package with the ball in his hands, possessing the skill to beat defenders with speed, agility or power. Gus Malzahn had great success with a freshman running back in 2010, and he will look to replicate that success in 2014.

Florida – DT Khairi Clark

Florida’s defense took a major hit in 2013 when Dominique Easley was injured during a September practice. The Gators still have solid talent along the front, but the defensive line is a unit which rotates players out with great regularity. Clark has long been regarded as one of the elite defensive prospects in the 2014 class, and he has a blend of size (320 pounds) and quickness which should allow him to see the field often in his first season.

Georgia – CB Malkom Parrish

The Bulldogs struggled tremendously in the secondary in 2013, thanks in large part to having a necessity to play a flux of young players. Given the struggles of last season, more newcomers will almost certainly be called upon for immediate production in 2014. New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt played a decent amount of man coverage at Florida State, and Parrish is the best of Georgia’s incoming defensive backs in one-on-one scenarios.

Kentucky – WR Thaddeus Snodgrass

Part of Kentucky’s offensive woes this past season can be attributed to a lack of playmakers on the perimeter. Snodgrass certainly has the most potential of any of the Wildcats’ incoming receiver prospects. Standing six-foot-two and possessing above-average speed and quickness, Snodgrass should be able to provide a somewhat consistent and reliable target for whoever the Kentucky quarterback is in 2014.

LSU – RB Leonard Fournette

Fournette, ranked by the vast majority of recruiting services as the top overall prospect in the 2014 class, likely would have found his way onto the field as a freshman regardless of the circumstances. With Jeremy Hill and Alfred Blue exiting the backfield, though, he has a good chance at becoming the Tigers’ featured back from day one on campus. Fournette already weighs in at around 230 pounds, so he will have no problem withstanding the physical blows which he will receive on a weekly basis.

RELATED: Who could be the next freshman to win the Heisman Trophy?

Mississippi – WR Markell Pack

The Rebels are set to lose two of their top three receivers from 2013, meaning that they will need to find additional pieces to complement receiver Laquon Treadwell and tight end Evan Engram. Pack has a frame which will be very similar to the recently-departed Donte Moncrief once he spends a little more time in the weight room. He already uses his body and his hands extremely well to make difficult catches look routine.

Mississippi State – LB Gerri Green

Mississippi State is set to return 16 starters in 2014, so competition will be fierce across the board. Although the Bulldogs are only losing one starter at linebacker – Deontae Skinner – Green is a phenomenal athlete for the position who should be able to find his way onto the gridiron in some capacity. In particular, the Bulldogs should be able to utilize his speed for some additional pass rushing coming off the edge.

Missouri – CB Raymond Wingo

Missouri is set to lose the most starters of any team in the SEC, including three of its four starters in the defensive backfield. Competition will still be stiff to replace cornerbacks E.J. Gaines and Randy Ponder, but Wingo may be the fastest players in the Tigers secondary from the second he steps foot on campus. In addition to his elite speed and athleticism, it also doesn’t hurt that Wingo stands six-foot-one. Even if he is only a situational player, it will be tough to keep him on the sidelines for long.

South Carolina – DE Dante Sawyer

With the losses of Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton to the NFL, the Gamecocks will be searching for players who can provide a pass rush off the edge. Though he will be slightly undersized as a freshman, Sawyer is big enough to not get pushed around. He also has outstanding speed and quickness off of the snap, making him a prime candidate to fill the void left by South Carolina’s departures. As he adds strength and technique, his role should become more prominent as the season wears along.

Tennessee – RB Jalen Hurd

Butch Jones will have no shortage of true freshmen earning their way onto the field in 2014 thanks to the mess he inherited from Derek Dooley. Rajion Neal has graduated, opening up plenty of playing time for a running back who will be forced to run behind five new starters along the offensive line. The Volunteers will be looking for a back who can withstand a physical beating, which is exactly what Hurd will do at 230 pounds. An early enrollee, he will also have the luxury of learning the playbook during the spring.

Texas A&M – WR Devante Noil

Once underclassman Mike Evans announced his intentions to enter the NFL Draft, the Aggies officially lost three of their top four pass catchers from 2013. Better known by his nickname of “Speedy”, Noil is ranked by many services as the top receiver prospect in the 2014 class. Though he is not even six feet tall, it is hard to find a player who is better with the ball in his hands in the open field. His physical gifts are rare, which will make it impossible to keep him off the field next fall.

Vanderbilt – S Emmanuel Smith

James Franklin’s decision to take the job at Penn State absolutely crushed Vanderbilt’s 2014 recruiting class. New head man Derek Mason is scrambling to try to piece together a respectable class, but his back is certainly against the wall. The good news is that the Commodores still have Emmanuel Smith – for now, at least. Keeping Smith committed would be huge for the Commodores, as they are set to lose all four starters in the secondary.

Matt Osborne - Matt Osborne currently serves as the director of recruiting and lead editor for Southern Pigskin. His work has been published in a number of national publications, including USA Today. Although he loves all levels of football, Matt's number one joy in his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborne200. For media requests, please email Matt at