If you paid attention to the 2013 recruiting class, you would know that the SEC raked in top recruit after top recruit. There is a truckload of talent heading to the conference that already runs college football and a lot of the elite players will be playing on the defensive side of the ball.
Players could see the field from day one due to a position opening, lack of depth at a certain position or the fact that a particular recruit is just so good it is impossible to keep him off the field. In many cases, it is a combination of all three, and the coaching staff has no choice but to throw the young man into the lion’s den and see how he does.
It is amazing to think that these players were playing at your local high school just a few months ago, and will now be playing against some of the top competition in college football the next year.
With many guys to choose from, here are a handful of SEC recruits that will take the field immediately as true freshmen.
Although Reginald Carter had offers on the table from several national programs in college football, he wasn't as big of a name in the recruiting world as he probably should have been. A lot of this had to do with major knee surgery he had his junior year, which caused him to miss a chunk of playing time during the last couple of seasons in high school.
The good news for Bulldogs fans is that Carter is back on the field and ready to compete right away for playing time.
What stands out about Carter is that he has the bulky frame at 6'2", 230 pounds and he is a sure tackler in the open field. He covers a ton of ground for his position and simply gets after it on the football field with his relentless pursuit.
Georgia could certainly use linebacker depth, especially with the loss of Jarvis Jones, and I expect to see Carter step in and help contribute.
If you watched any games involving Missouri last season, you would know that the Tigers need all of the help they can get defensively. The culture shock in the new conference was a great one, and it may take a while before this school can get enough elite bodies to compete on a regular basis.
Antar Thompson is an SEC-type player who will be given every chance to see reps from day one. At 6'3", 290 pounds, this is somebody who is already growing into his man body and despite his frame, he gets off the ball well and carries his weight nicely. You would like to see him work on his technique and use his hands a little bit more, but Thompson has the skill set to become a solid defensive lineman in this conference.
Missouri isn't like most SEC teams that are sitting on a ton of defensive linemen depth. With the loss of defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, Thompson will see action as a true freshman.
It remains unclear where Jalen Reeves-Maybin will even line up this season. Capable of playing either side of the ball, and able to play the safety or linebacker position, the 4-star recruit is listed as an athlete that can help in many different ways.
With Tennessee having more questions than answers entering camp, it is safe to say that most of the help is needed on a defense that ranked dead last in the SEC a year ago. Reeves-Maybin is a physical player who displays terrific closing speed and could help out a secondary that has lost three starters from last year.
The Tennessee native has already enrolled on campus knowing that he will be given a chance for early playing time, and although he has things to offer offensively, defense is the area with the most concern at the moment for the Volunteers.
With Alabama recruiting the way it is at the moment and the constant changes on defense, we are seeing more and more linebackers earn playing time as first-year players. Guys such as Dont'a Hightower, Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley all saw reps as true freshmen and we shouldn't expect anything different for Reuben Foster.
The Crimson Tide return all four linebackers from a year ago, but Foster was a man-child at the high school level and already has his chiseled frame at 6'1", 240 pounds. He is able to shed blocks consistently, cover area from sideline to sideline, and he absolutely explodes on the ball-carrier when going in for the tackle.
Guys that are as talented and as college-ready as Foster don't sit on the bench for very long. Alabama may be deep at the linebacker position, but an extra elite player has never hurt anybody. He will see the field early in 2013.
Much like Missouri and Tennessee, Kentucky doesn't have enough elite defensive players to let one of its top recruits learn the system and ease his way into playing time. We are talking about a Wildcats defense that finished 10th in the SEC last year with only 26 sacks, which aren’t going to lead to many victories in this conference.
Kentucky, meet Alvonte Bell, the newest member of the defensive line.
Bell will be able to fill out his lengthy frame at 6'6", 239 pounds in a year or two, but it is his athleticism and ability to rush the passer that the team could use immediately. He gets off the ball well to get into the backfield and can interrupt passing lanes with his long arms.
Bell must bulk up, but with Mark Stoops now running the show, you just know a defensive-minded coach will find ways to get this kid on the field sooner than later.
The losses on the defensive side of the ball for LSU have been well documented. Losing six starters total and majority of the key guys on the defensive line will allow endless opportunities for young players, including 2013 recruits such as Frank Herron.
At 6'5", 235 pounds, Herron doesn't have to worry about getting in the gym and bulking up before the season kicks off. He can lineup practically anywhere on the defensive line and his athleticism jumps off the screen when watching him play. He also gets off the ball well and plays with a high motor that this LSU coaching staff will quickly fall in love with.
Herron is still a little raw at the position and you would like to see him improve his technique, but he is more than capable of getting on the field as a first-year player and adding more depth to an already young defensive front.
Auburn returns nine starters on defense, but that may not exactly be a great thing for the Tigers. Finishing 11th in the SEC with only 22 sacks and losing the best defensive lineman in Corey Lemonier, this is a defense that needs all of the help it can get.
This is where Carl Lawson comes into play and he will help improve those numbers when he is on the field. A player who plays the game with a high motor and gets after it, Lawson has a unique combination of strength and speed, and was often able to end up in the backfield at the high school level. He is quick off the ball, fires out of his stance and is putting a hit on the ball-carrier before you know it.
You would like to see Lawson bulk up a bit, but when you have one of the flashiest players in a recruiting class, you aren’t going to keep him on the sidelines for long. Auburn struggled to rush the passer last season and this recruit will help change that.
With only three defensive starters from last season returning for Georgia, there are plenty of vacant spots available. The secondary only has one experienced player and that is why Tray Matthews will see the field a lot sooner than most guys from the 2013 class.
In fact, Matthews told Gentry Estes of 247Sports that he wouldn't have enrolled early if it wasn't for his chance to see immediate playing time in Athens.
“That's the only reason why,” Matthews said. “If that wasn't the case, I would have definitely played basketball."
The Bulldogs lost both starting safeties with Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams testing the waters at the next level. Matthews has terrific instincts to be effective in both pass coverage and run support, and he is also a solid tackler in the open field. With him enrolling early and soon to make a name for himself in spring practice, expect Matthews to help keep this Georgia defense together next season.
Due to the amount of playing time from some of the young guys last year, many expect Florida to remain a solid defensive team despite losing so much experience. Talent isn't a question with the Gators; it is the amount of young guys that will be expected to keep this unit within the Top 25 of college football.
Adding another young player certainly wouldn't hurt and that is why Vernon Hargreaves III will see the field as well.
With cornerback positions up for grabs, this top recruit will actually be given the chance to start in the backfield. Hargreaves reacts to the ball well, changes direction with ease and he plays the ball nicely when it is in the air. When you throw in his ball skills and playmaking ability, this is somebody who could quickly become that next great shutdown cornerback in the SEC.
Hargreaves should have little trouble proving himself to the coaching staff and be on the top of the depth chart before you know it.
When you are widely considered the top recruit of an entire recruiting class, you are going to see the field immediately. In fact, one of the main reasons you are labeled with the No. 1 recruit title is because you have the potential to provide an immediate impact.
This is why Robert Nkemdiche will suit up for Ole Miss and help continue to improve the Rebels' success in the SEC.
With his frame at 6'4", 285 pounds, this is a kid who already has the look of a college starter. He is physical at the point of attack and can play several different positions on defense. He is effective against both the run and pass, and he plays the game with a high motor. There is really nothing this kid can't do and the upside for him to continue to improve is absolutely tremendous.
Nkemdiche will likely be worked into the playbook to get his feet wet, but there is no way folks in Oxford will allow him to ride the bench his freshman year. We will have plenty of chances to see what the top recruit of the 2013 class can do.