SEC Football: One Sleeper to Watch on Every Team in 2013
Here, I’ve brought up a player on each SEC team who I believe will be a sleeper in 2013.
You won’t see any superstars whom everyone’s talking about. The players here are under the radar to begin the coming season, but they’ll be talked about more as the year progresses.
Feel free to debate and add your own sleepers in the comments section below.
*Slideshow in alphabetical order by school
Alabama: Landon Collins
Landon Collins hasn’t broken into the starting lineup at safety for Alabama, but the rising sophomore will get on the field enough in 2013 to make a huge impact.
ESPNU ranked Collins the sixth-best prospect in the class of 2012, and he’s starting to show why. As B/R Featured Columnist Sanjay Kirpalani recently noted, Collins has enjoyed a breakthrough in the spring. If Collins stood out in Alabama’s elite defense, then he should be catching everyone’s eyes.
Did I mention Collins has the best defensive backs tutor in the land in Nick Saban?
Arkansas: Deatrich Wise Jr.
Watch for Deatrich Wise Jr. on the Arkansas defensive line, I think he’ll develop into a great DE for the Razorbacks.
Wise makes up one-third of Arkansas’ solid redshirt freshman defensive line prospects, along with Darius Philon and JaMichael Winston, but Wise is the most intriguing to me. Wise could take a similar development path to J.J. Watt for a number of reasons.
First, they share Bret Bielema as their college coach, who spent the past seven seasons as Wisconsin’s head man before making his move to the SEC this offseason.
Second, neither were elite high school prospects. Watt, the 172nd-ranked defensive end prospect in the ESPNU class of 2007, actually transferred to Wisconsin from Central Michigan following his freshman season. Wise, meanwhile, was the 150th-ranked DE prospect in the ESPNU class of 2012.
Third, Watt and Wise are both tall ends. Watt is 6’5”, and Wise is 6’6”. Watt uses his height to swat passes away with regularity for the Houston Texans, and Wise has the physical tools to do the same at Arkansas. It’s premature to compare Wise to Watt, but as you can see, there are some parallels.
Despite being redshirted in 2012, Wise did appear in two games for the Razorbacks (Jacksonville State and Alabama). Bielema should call Wise’s number a lot more this season, and he’ll get ample opportunity to show off his skills.
Arkansas’ whole defense should improve with Bielema in charge, and Wise could be one of the Razorbacks' defenders who surprises in 2013.
Auburn: Jay Prosch
Jay Prosch doesn’t get a lot of attention, but he’ll greatly benefit the Auburn program. As the Tigers’ student-athlete representative at the recent SEC Media Days, Prosch further showed how much he means to the program.
Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee foresees Prosch as a “glue guy” for the Tigers. The rising senior experienced a lot of change last year, but it should make him a stronger player in 2013 and inspire his teammates.
Prosch transferred from Illinois in January 2012 to be closer to his ailing mother, who was fighting brain cancer; she died one day before the season opener against Clemson. Between then and now, he went from an All-American run-blocker at Illinois to a multi-faceted back at Auburn. This season, Prosch will begin the next chapter of his life, and Gus Malzahn’s hiring is one such symbol of this change.
The fullback position seems like a dying one in football, but Prosch helps keep it relevant in Auburn’s offense. The Sports Xchange ranks Prosch as the second-best fullback prospect in his class, and the site projects him as a fifth- or sixth-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft.
The SEC better pay attention to Prosch, because he’ll cause defenses fits if they don't.
Florida: Demarcus Robinson
Florida has one of the deepest rosters talent-wise in all of college football, so it can afford to redshirt most true freshmen. Wide receiver Demarcus Robinson already appears on the Gators’ two-deep, which suggests he’s already set to be a top option in 2013.
Robinson, the 53rd overall player in the ESPNU class of 2013, only sits behind Quinton Dunbar at the "X" right now. And he’s the only freshman receiver listed on Florida’s summer depth chart.
Tyler Piccotti says on B/R that Robinson could already be one of Florida’s best wideouts this coming season (along with Dunbar). The rest of the country might overlook Robinson because he’s a true freshman and the Gators have other options with more experience. But he’ll be on everyone’s radar once the calendar turns to 2014.
Georgia: Jay Rome
Georgia has one of college football’s top offenses, and with so many weapons, somebody’s going to benefit from the loads of easy looks. I like that guy to be tight end Jay Rome.
Rome, a rising redshirt sophomore, believes he and Aaron Lynch form the best tight end pair in the country. It’s not always wise to take athletes' words at face value, but he has a solid argument.
Lynch made the media’s preseason SEC first team, so he’s going to get attention. Rome himself played in all 14 games in 2012, and he even caught a touchdown in the SEC championship game.
Again, the Bulldogs have many stars who will steal the early headlines, but don’t be surprised if Rome’s name comes up before taking the starting role in 2014. After all, Rome was the 18th overall prospect in the ESPNU class of 2011.
Kentucky: DeMarcus Sweat
DeMarcus Sweat was my “secret weapon” representative at Kentucky last season. The SEC knows Sweat best as a kick returner, but I think he’s a sleeper at wide receiver.
Two of Sweat’s four receptions in 2012 were touchdowns. That’s not a significant sample size, but even so, he has a nose for the end zone.
Sweat is on Kentucky’s two-deep at WR (per Scout.com), and with his penchant for scoring, his numbers should improve. I think of him as a potential home run hitter for the Wildcats.
While Joker Phillips ran a balanced offense, new head coach Mark Stoops wants to throw the ball more. That’s music to the ears of Sweat and all Kentucky receivers.
LSU: Kadron Boone
As LSU's official football website states, Kadron Boone "[e]merged as LSU’s No. 3 receiver as a junior in 2012 and is expected to hold that role again in 2013." Combine that with his jump in stats from 2011 to 2012, and you’ll see why he’s a great sleeper candidate.
Boone, along with the rest of the Tigers offense, should get a boost from new coordinator Cam Cameron, who has college and NFL experience at both offensive coordinator and head coach.
Cameron specializes in quarterbacks, so expect more passing to be done in Baton Rouge. Wide receivers like Boone will benefit from exposure, if not from production.
In 2010 and 2011, Boone averaged 6.5 receptions for 67 yards and one touchdown per season. In 2012 alone, he caught 26 passes for 348 yards and four TDs.
With all eyes will once again be on QB Zach Mettenberger and wideouts Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. in the LSU passing game, Boone will be overshadowed in the beginning of 2013. But if he makes another huge jump his senior season, more people will have to pay attention come NFL draft time.
Mississippi State: A.J. Jefferson
A.J. Jefferson is used to flying under the radar.
Jefferson’s only offers from BCS schools came from Ole Miss and Mississippi State, as he was the 54th-ranked defensive end prospect in the ESPNU 2012 class. He redshirted in 2012, and he doesn't exactly have the most hype surrounding him. Also, at 6’3” and 260 pounds, he’s the smallest defensive lineman on the team’s pre-spring two-deep.
Noted for his pass-rushing skills coming out of high school, no college football team can have too many pass-rushers, and good ones get noticed very quickly.
This season, Jefferson gets an opportunity to shine. With a solid 2013, he’ll leave the rest of the BCS wondering why they passed on him.
Missouri: Jimmie Hunt
I debated between Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt here, but I went with Hunt, because he’s one spot behind Sasser at the "H" on the Missouri depth chart.
Last season, I said Hunt was Missouri’s top “secret weapon.” Sleepers aren’t much different, and Hunt remains the overshadowed guy in 2013. Of Hunt’s 11 catches in 2012, three went for touchdowns. Hunt was also one of three Tigers last season to average at least 17 yards per reception.
Marcus Lucas, L’Damian Washington and Dorial-Green Beckham should be the top three receivers for the Tigers. Tight end Sean Culkin should also draw more attention than Hunt.
Hunt won’t get a lot of opportunities, but when he does, he’ll make them count.
Ole Miss: Barry Brunetti
With 19 returning starters, Ole Miss should be set heading into the season. Compiling the fifth-ranked recruiting class of 2013, according to ESPNU, will also bring help and exposure to the program. One player who won’t right away, but could by season’s end, is backup quarterback Barry Brunetti.
Brunetti was the third-most productive of the Rebels’ trio of dual-threat quarterbacks in 2012, but Randall Mackey’s departure will likely benefit him. Brunetti shouldn’t challenge Bo Wallace for the top spot under center, but he’ll get enough reps to contribute in a big way.
The former West Virginia transfer takes Ole Miss’ position here because he’s overshadowed by people like Wallace, wide receiver Donte Moncrief and the incoming freshman class.
South Carolina: T.J. Gurley
T.J. Gurley is recovering from a knee injury, but Lee Schechter of B/R believes he’ll become a significant contributor at free safety by season’s end.
The rising sophomore had 13 tackles in eight games before suffering the injury in 2012. Despite missing almost half of the season, Gurley made the SEC All-Freshman Team, so he obviously has potential.
Jadeveon Clowney steals the entire spotlight at South Carolina, so I could’ve put just about anyone on the Gamecocks roster here, but Gurley is someone who should make a big impact despite not being a clear-cut starter. In other words, Gurley is a sleeper on a team full of sleepers.
Tennessee: Jason Croom
Wideout Jason Croom has much potential, but he’s not one of the top three listed on Tennessee’s depth chart—yet.
A majority of the passing offense from 2012 went to the NFL, so the Volunteers need guys to step up and fill the void. Croom should do that, but not many outside of Knoxville will think much of him.
Tennessee signed three receivers in the 2012 class, and Croom was the lowest ranked, according to ESPNU. Croom and the other two (Drae Bowles and Alton “Pig” Howard) will be responsible for carrying the passing attack of the future, but Croom’s height (6’4”) gives him an instant advantage in the interim.
The Volunteers like to go with three-receiver sets, so all of the new starters have plenty of chances to make an impression. Croom isn’t one of them just yet, but with so many questions for the position, don’t be surprised to see him emerge and exceed expectations (especially as a potential red-zone target due to his height).
Texas A&M: Matt Joeckel
As the backup to reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, you might think Matt Joeckel won’t get a lot of game experience. Then think about how Manziel plays the game and you’ll understand Joeckel’s value.
Manziel’s sandlot style at quarterback leaves him vulnerable to injury (as his exploration of specialized insurance policy has suggested). Sure, Texas A&M boasts one of the SEC's best offensive lines, but no matter: everybody’s gunning for him in 2013.
If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it, but Joeckel should be prepared to take over outside of mop-up work.
Matt (twin brother of No. 2 overall pick Luke) stands 6’3” and played in five games in 2012. If he plays well if and when he gets his opportunities, and if Manziel leaves for the 2014 NFL draft, Joeckel should at least make Aggies fans feel better from a durability standpoint.
Sorry for the pessimism, but I do think Manziel will get hit a little too hard at time in 2013, and Matt Joeckel will play pretty well in his absence.
Vanderbilt: Kris Kentera
Tight ends are usually safe sleeper picks. Vanderbilt has a few tall ones, and Kris Kentera is one to watch.
Jordan Matthews could be one the nation’s best at wide receiver, so the Commodores will likely need to spread the ball around, as opposing defenses will inevitably hone in on Matthews. Enter Kentera.
Kentera caught 10 passes in 2012, and two went for touchdowns. Despite being the most productive tight end last season, he's not a runaway starter on the early depth chart. Sounds like a sleeper to me.