SEC Football Players Primed for a Breakout in 2014
Raise your hand if you thought Auburn wide receiver Sammie Coates would lead the SEC in yards per catch, Kenyan Drake would lead Alabama in yards per carry and Vanderbilt running back Jerron Seymour would have more rushing touchdowns than Georgia's Todd Gurley in 2013.
Put your hand down, no you didn't.
The SEC season was full of surprises in 2013, and it could produce more of the same in 2014.
Alabama running back Derrick Henry seems like a likely candidate to break out after his 100-yard performance in the Sugar Bowl, but with Drake and T.J. Yeldon back, will he get the carries required to really bust out?
Which players who were on campus this past season could jump past him and could become stars in 2014?
Our top five picks are in this slide show.
Mississippi State RB Josh Robinson
Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson has played understudy to LaDarius Perkins over the last two seasons, but now that Perkins has exhausted his eligibility, it's Robinson's time to shine.
The 5'9", 225-pounder from Franklinton, La., rushed for 459 yards and three touchdowns last season, 184 of which came during the Bulldogs' final three games of the season.
He has the build to rush between the tackles but deceptive speed when he gets out into space. Now, head coach Dan Mullen will have a full offseason to implement the dual-threat ability of quarterback Dak Prescott into the offense, and Robinson's versatility should allow him to run the true spread system he was brought to Starkville to run.
If Robinson can supplement Prescott's ability on the ground, it should create headaches for opposing defensive coordinators and work wonders for the Bulldogs' outlook in 2014.
Florida WR Ahmad Fulwood
It sounds like a broken record, but now—maybe—Florida will stretch the field.
New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was brought in to mix things up a bit, implement his hurry-up style and kick-start an offense that has been stuck in neutral for going on three years now.
Ahmad Fulwood stands to benefit.
The 6'5", 196-pound wide receiver had 17 catches for 127 yards and one touchdown during his freshman campaign, with all but one of his catches coming after Game 5. He has a big frame that will benefit from another offseason in a strength and conditioning program.
He also has the length to present matchup nightmares to defensive backs, can grow into a weapon over the middle and has a scheme that may actually allow him to get the ball now.
Not a bad recipe for success.
Alabama DE Jonathan Allen
Alabama running back Derrick Henry will get his share of publicity, but the real breakout star for the Crimson Tide plays on the defensive side of the ball.
Defensive end Jonathan Allen came to Tuscaloosa last season with a ton of hype. The 5-star prospect and 11th-best player in the class of 2013, per 247Sports.com, made a small impact in 2013, notching 15 tackles and three tackles for loss, but the best is yet to come.
With Jeoffrey Pagan gone to the NFL, it's only natural that Allen steps up to become a key contributor at the defensive end spot along the Crimson Tide defensive line.
He knows that, in order to take the next step, he's going to have to beef up during the offseason to withstand the down-by-down punishment that comes along with playing in the trenches in the SEC, according to Matt Scalici of AL.com:
The 6'3", 264-pounder already has the speed to be a dangerous edge-rusher. If he can become stout against the run, he'll be a superstar in 2014.
Georgia QB Hutson Mason
Hutson Mason waited very patiently to become Georgia's starting quarterback, going so far as to take a redshirt in 2012 in order to give himself one year of separation from recently departed starter Aaron Murray.
It will be worth the wait.
Mason didn't exactly come out hot in each of his first two starts of his career, but he led the Bulldogs to a 41-34 double-overtime victory over Georgia Tech to close the regular season and then threw for 320 yards in a 24-19 loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
The loss wasn't his fault. He led his team into the red zone twice late in the fourth quarter, only to have drops derail what could have been game-winning drives.
He's got a solid running game led by Todd Gurley to rely on and several receivers, including Michael Bennett and Malcolm Mitchell, returning. With an offseason to get acquainted with his teammates in the starting lineup, Mason should be a star in 2014.
Auburn RB Cameron Artis-Payne
Cameron Artis-Payne was a big part of the Auburn offense early in 2013, but he saw his workload diminish as Tre Mason emerged as a star for the SEC champs.
Now, it's Artis-Payne's turn.
He rushed for 610 yards and six touchdowns on the season, but now the 5'11", 210-pounder has the chance to take the starting job and run with it.
Sure, there are talented running backs on his heels, including rising redshirt freshman Peyton Barber and incoming 247Sports.com 5-star running back Racean "Roc" Thomas. But Artis-Payne showed that he has the talent to provide similar output to Mason within the system, and that system should open up now that quarterback Nick Marshall has a full offseason in it.
Watch out for Artis-Payne in 2014, because he could follow in the same footsteps as Mason all the way into stardom.