SEC Football: Early Projections for 2013 Breakout Stars
The 2012 season has just wrapped up, and we are right in the thick of recruiting season, but it's never too soon to start looking at the 2013 season.
We saw players like Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper and LSU running back Jeremy Hill come out of nowhere to become household names in the SEC in 2012.
So who will surprise people in 2013?
Our early projections for the top five breakout SEC stars of 2013 are in this slide show.
5. Texas A&M RB Brandon Williams
Brandon Williams may not be known to people in SEC circles, but that could change once toe meets leather in the 2013 season.
The former 5-star running back recruit from Brookshire, Texas was rated as the No. 2 running back in the country by 247Sports.com in the 2011 season, but chose to leave the state and sign with Oklahoma.
He rushed for 219 yards in a backup role as a true freshman for the Sooners in 2011 before transferring to Texas A&M. He was forced to sit out last season after the NCAA denied his waiver request for immediate eligibility.
Williams will likely start the season behind senior running back Ben Malena on the 2013 Aggie depth chart, but that doesn't mean that he won't get touches. Head coach Kevin Sumlin knows how to get the ball into the hands of his playmakers, and Williams will be a big one for the Aggies.
4. Auburn LB Kris Frost
Kris Frost was supposed to be an impact player at linebacker as a redshirt freshman in 2012, but found himself buried behind senior Daren Bates. Despite playing in nine games, Frost managed only three tackles in 2012.
That should change in 2013.
The 6'2", 233-pounder is the perfect fit in Ellis Johnson's new scheme. He has the size and speed to be a big-time weapon in the "Spur" position in Johnson's 4-2-5 defense, which requires more run support and underneath coverage responsibilities than that of a typical defensive back or nickel.
A new defensive coordinator means a fresh start for everyone on the Auburn roster. Frost has all of the skills to be able to take advantage of the opportunity and become a star in 2013.
3. Alabama RB Derrick Henry
Alabama doesn't rebuild; it reloads.
It will be doing so in 2013 with one of the best running back/athlete recruits we've seen in quite some time.
Derrick Henry, the 6'3", 240-pound monster was told that he will play running back at Alabama, and he will have the opportunity to make an immediate impact in Tuscaloosa.
With Eddie Lacy gone, T.J. Yeldon will undoubtedly inherit the role as the feature back, but both Lacy and Yeldon eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark. So even with Yeldon atop the depth chart, there's still going to be an opportunity for another running back to step up.
The running back position is still pretty stacked at Alabama with Kenyan Drake, Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and several other prospects likely signing on the dotted line in February. But Henry, a 5-star prospect according to 247Sports.com, enrolled early to get acquainted with the college game and should see action in 2013.
2. Georgia LB Jordan Jenkins
Despite Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree, John Jenkins and the rest of Georgia's star-studded defense in 2012, the Bulldogs were flat-out awful against the run, finishing 12th in the SEC in rush defense after giving up 182.14 yards per game on the ground.
Several of the stars are gone, but don't be surprised to see some emerge in 2013—including rising sophomore outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins.
Jenkins played behind Jones for the majority of last season, but made his way into the starting lineup at outside linebacker opposite of Jones down the stretch. He finished the season with 31 tackles, eight tackles for loss and five sacks.
For perspective, that's 2.5 more tackles for loss and 3.5 more sacks than Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o—a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
Jenkins will be a star for the Bulldogs in 2013.
1. Florida RB Matt Jones
Former Florida running back Mike Gillislee came out of nowhere in 2012 to rush for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns, helping lead Florida to an 11-win season and a berth in the Sugar Bowl against Louisville.
Now that Gillislee is gone, someone is going to have to step up to become the feature running back in Gainesville. Expect rising sophomore Matt Jones to be that guy.
The 6'2", 226-pounder from Seffner, Fla., saw his touches increase as the season went on. He for 183 yards once the calendar turned to November, including a season-high 81 yards and a touchdown against Florida State—a team that finished third in the country in rush defense.
He has the size, speed and vision to become a big-time weapon in the SEC. Considering Florida struggled to find a serviceable passing game in 2012 and dual-threat signal-caller Jeff Driskel will be back for his junior season in 2013, expect Jones to be a major focal point of the offense moving forward.