2014 Stat Predictions for Top 20 SEC Football Stars
SEC football media days mean the season is right around the corner.
Well, as much as mid-July can represent games approaching, anyway.
One of the great things about SEC football is that known commodities return even when numerous stars depart—players like Johnny Manziel, Aaron Murray, AJ McCarron, Tre Mason and Jarvis Landry.
Now we attempt to predict the season statistics for many of the SEC’s potential stars of 2014.
We have already projected stats for each of the SEC’s new starting quarterbacks, so they won’t be included here.
Instead, we will focus mostly on stars—projected or established—who should make the biggest impact on the league in 2014.
RB Tra Carson, Texas A&M
Projected Stats: 1,100 rushing yards, 14 TDs
No Johnny Manziel teamed with an inexperienced quarterback—perhaps true freshman Kyle Allen—means extended opportunities for Texas A&M’s stable of tailbacks.
Tra Carson has seemingly emerged as the front-runner to replace Ben Malena as the primary running back.
Not only will coach Kevin Sumlin likely need to rely on his run game to help the Aggies steal victories, but A&M also features one of the strongest offensive lines in the conference.
Carson, who transferred from Oregon after the 2011 season, delivers a combination of size and speed that makes him a perfect workhorse for an offense that will need one.
RBs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, Arkansas
Collins' Projected Stats: 1,300 rushing yards, 8 TDs
Williams' Projected Stats: 1,000 rushing yards, 5 TDs
Alex Collins arrived in Fayetteville expected to make an immediate impact for the Razorbacks.
As a true freshman, Collins compiled 1,026 yards and four touchdowns.
Not only did Collins pull off the feat as a true freshman while still adjusting to SEC speed, but he also did so while splitting time with Jonathan Williams and in spite of largely ineffective quarterback play.
Quarterback Brandon Allen’s throwing shoulder improved during the offseason, which should allow coach Bret Bielema’s play-action attack to hit on all cylinders.
With opposing defenses unable to zero in entirely on the Arkansas tailbacks, both Collins and Williams should find open running room more easily.
Add a full offseason of training and Collins could take a significant step forward in 2014.
Williams should also see an increase in production, though Collins seemingly owns the greater upside.
WR Amari Cooper, Alabama
Projected Stats: 65 receptions, 1,300 receiving yards, 12 TDs
Toe and foot injuries limited receiver Amari Cooper for more than half of the season in 2013.
When he regained his health, though, Cooper reemerged as one of the top pass-catchers in the SEC.
Alabama’s last two games showcased Cooper’s full talents once again. He caught six passes for 178 yards and a touchdown against Auburn before turning in a nine-catch, 121-yard performance against Oklahoma.
With the NFL beckoning, not even Alabama’s unclear quarterback situation seems likely to slow down Cooper this season.
WR Sammie Coates, Auburn
Projected Stats: 55 receptions, 1,100 receiving yards, 11 TDs
Nobody will accuse Auburn’s passing attack of being a well-oiled machine in 2013, yet receiver Sammie Coates emerged as a huge breakout star.
Coates won’t sneak up on anyone this season. Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman even declared Coates the No. 1 freak in the nation.
Auburn primarily ran through the read-option a year ago. When coach Gus Malzahn did decide to throw, he often asked Nick Marshall to look deep.
Coates’ speed, jumping skills and athleticism made him a nightmare for opponents to cover on jump balls.
Marshall didn’t have the benefit of an offseason last year and split reps when August camp opened, limiting the Tigers' playbook.
That won’t be the case in 2014.
Coates should have opportunities to establish himself as more than just a deep threat—and his numbers should increase as a result.
Look for Coates to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark and reach the end zone a few more times in an offense that should come closer to a 50-50 run-pass split.
RB Mike Davis, South Carolina
Projected Stats: 1,400 rushing yards, 15 TDs
An ankle injury had far more success in slowing Mike Davis than did SEC defenses in 2013.
Behind an underrated offensive line that returns virtually intact, Davis ran for at least 100 yards in seven of his first nine games.
Ultimately, the ankle injury limited Davis’ effectiveness over the final four contests, but the rising junior had already proven his point.
Even the loss of quarterback Connor Shaw doesn’t figure to slow Davis. Dylan Thompson, the rising starter, has experience and will likely be more of a pure pocket passer, leaving the tough ground yards to Davis.
The Gamecocks will have a potent offense, and nobody will shine as brightly as their starting tailback.
QB Jeff Driskel, Florida
Projected Stats: 2,500 passing yards, 18 passing TDs, 9 INTs
Florida coach Will Muschamp turned to Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper in hopes of getting the most out of Jeff Driskel.
The former 5-star prospect has never realized his projected potential.
Driskel was a favorite pick to have a breakout season in 2013 before he suffered a season-ending leg injury during the Week 3 win over Tennessee.
Now Driskel is down to his final chance to enjoy the type of success expected when he arrived on campus.
How much he succeeds in his goal will likely hinge on Muschamp’s willingness to hand the reins completely over to Roper.
If Muschamp defaults to an ultra-conservative, vanilla offense during tense moments, it could be tough for Driskel to post huge numbers.
Roper’s quarterbacks progressed very well at Duke, but he has to have the freedom to run his full system.
Look for Driskel to post career numbers this year with Muschamp’s ability to let go dictating just how gaudy they are.
RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
Projected Stats: 1,000 rushing yards, 8 TDs
Don’t mistake modest Year 1 projections for Leonard Fournette as doubt in his ability.
Rather, it’s a prediction that coach Les Miles will take his time before settling on Fournette as his bona fide go-to back.
Miles frequently subs his always full stable of tailbacks in and out with regularity. Having experienced rushers in Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard could mean Fournette doesn’t fully hit his stride until a month into the season or longer.
As long as Fournette gets 160 carries, he seems like a reasonable bet to hit the 1,000-yard mark as a true freshman.
It’s not quite winning the Heisman Trophy in Year 1, but it would still represent a strong start to what should be a memorable career.
RB Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, Georgia
Gurley's Projected Stats: 2,000 yards total offense (rushing and receiving), 22 total TDs
Marshall's Projected Stats: 1,400 yards total offense, 12 total TDs
Neither of Georgia’s two prized tailbacks escaped the injury bug that swept through the Bulldogs offense last season.
Todd Gurley lost three games—and his chance at a second consecutive 1,000-yard season—to an ankle injury suffered early in the LSU game.
Marshall tore his ACL a week later, early in the Tennessee contest.
Gurley ran like a man possessed at times a year ago. When he did, the rising junior proved virtually unstoppable.
Look no further than his season-opening performance against Clemson last year when Gurley went for 154 yards and two scores on just 12 carries.
Not only is Gurley arguably the nation’s top runner, but he also provides a game-breaking presence in the passing game as a receiver.
Marshall possesses outstanding breakaway speed. He will find big plays while spelling Gurley so long as his knee holds up this year.
RB Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
Henry's Projected Stats: 700 rushing yards, 10 total TDs
Yeldon's Projected Stats: 1,300 rushing yards, 12 TDs
It’s amazing how quickly SEC fans have shoved T.J. Yeldon—a two-time all-conference selection—out of the way for Derrick Henry to dominate.
Make no mistake: Yeldon will be the featured back for the Crimson Tide in 2014, just as Mark Ingram was while Trent Richardson matured and Richardson was while Eddie Lacy started to rise.
However, Yeldon will lose carries to Henry and Kenyan Drake—especially if he doesn’t quickly solve fumbling issues that surfaced at inopportune times a year ago.
Henry is a physical anomaly—a 6'3", 241-pound beast who can also break away from defenders with his speed.
Maintaining his 10.9 yards-per-carry average, though, would be absurd when Henry gets more chances.
RB Marlin Lane, Tennessee
Projected Stats: 1,000 rushing yards, 10 TDs
The departure of Rajion Neal leaves more touches for Marlin Lane.
He would be well advised to take advantage of them early in the season because he will have true freshman Jalen Hurd breathing down his neck for playing time.
Lane has proven through backup action over the past two years that he is a capable SEC tailback. Now he must prove he can carry an offense—and one that will feature a hodgepodge of offensive linemen charged with the task of creating holes.
Ultimately, Lane will only be as successful as his blocking counterparts. If they can’t come together quickly—meaning before the Sept. 13 Oklahoma game—it could be a long season for Lane and whoever plays quarterback.
Look for Lane to post career numbers in his final season at Tennessee, but cracking an all-SEC team—between losing carries to Hurd and running behind a very green offensive line—will prove difficult.
WR Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State
Projected Stats: 70 catches, 1,000 receiving yards, 10 total TDs
Those outside of Starkville might be surprised to find Jameon Lewis on this list.
Quietly, though, Lewis posted huge numbers for a Mississippi State team more inclined to pound the ball with its wrecking ball of a quarterback than throw downfield.
When Lewis’ number got called, he rose to the challenge, compiling a team-best 923 receiving yards and reaching the end zone eight times.
Yet as much as Lewis stood out in 2013, he did so with just two 100-yard games—including a nine-catch, 220-yard performance in the bowl win over Rice.
For Lewis to post substantially better numbers, Dak Prescott must progress as a passer, which he is perfectly capable of doing.
However, for this exercise, numbers similar to last year for Lewis seem like the safest bet.
QB Nick Marshall, Auburn
Projected Stats: 3,000 passing yards, 24 passing TDs, 8 INTs, 800 rushing yards, 10 TDs
A full year in Gus Malzahn’s system should allow Nick Marshall to blossom as a passer in 2014 while running a little less and thus exposing him to fewer hits.
It’s easy to forget that hits Marshall took cost him nearly two full games last year. Auburn would be wise to limit his rushes, thus keeping him on the field more often.
Remember that Marshall also practiced for the first time at Auburn last August, meaning he missed all of spring practice and split reps for the first week-plus during the preseason.
This year’s spring helped Marshall, a rising senior, as much as it might the average rising true sophomore.
Furthermore, Marshall will have numerous weapons in the passing game.
Favorite target Sammie Coates returns, as does Ricardo Louis. The addition of D’haquille Williams—who could easily emerge as the team’s breakout star in 2014—will only further Marshall’s development.
WR Marquez North, Tennesssee
Projected Stats: 50 catches, 800 receiving yards, 6 total TDs
Questioning the talent of Marquez North would be a mistake.
Doubting whether or not he can eclipse 1,000 yards during his sophomore season with the considerable uncertainty throughout the rest of his supporting cast, however, would not.
North would likely test out as one of the most talented receivers in the SEC. However, as a receiver, he can’t pass block or throw passes to himself.
The Tennessee quarterback situation remains unresolved heading into August camp. As many as four players could take first-team reps when practices resume.
Whoever earns the starting nod will take snaps behind one of the least experienced offensive lines in recent SEC memory.
North’s talent alone will make him a presence for the Volunteers, but expecting gaudy numbers this year under the circumstances seems unfair.
QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Projected Stats: 2,600 passing yards, 18 passing TDs, 10 INTs, 900 rushing yards, 15 TDs
For Dak Prescott to make the step from talented curiosity to true Heisman Trophy dark horse, he must develop substantially as a passer for a couple of reasons.
First, Prescott must be able to keep defenses honest in the same way Tim Tebow and Cam Newton did. If he can’t, they will dare Prescott and his 58 percent completion percentage to beat them through the air.
Added attention to the designed run will make Prescott’s life tougher in picking up the critical 3rd-and-2 situations that Tebow and Newton became superstars for regularly converting.
Prescott must also avoid the injury list, which he frequented in 2013, missing the better part of three games.
The good news is Prescott, like Nick Marshall at Auburn, has the luxury of developing as a first-team quarterback, getting as many reps as the coaches see fit.
Prescott’s downhill running style gives him the opportunity to be a dominant presence in the SEC, but for him to fulfill his potential, he will need to become a more-than-serviceable passer.
RB Jerron Seymour, Vanderbilt
Projected Stats: 1,100 rushing yards, 16 TDs
Jerron Seymour wasn’t supposed to be the primary back last year for Vanderbilt.
By the end of the first month, though, Seymour had supplanted expected starter Wesley Tate as the Commodores' go-to back.
Now he enters as the established veteran on an offense that returns few in skill positions.
Vanderbilt represents another uncertain quarterback situation, which could easily result in a dependence on the running game.
Such news might be music to Seymour’s ears.
Look for Seymour to build on a very promising 2013 campaign and be the team’s best weapon during coach Derek Mason’s first season.
WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
Projected Stats: 80 catches, 1,200 receiving yards, 9 TDs
A couple of factors should lead Laquon Treadwell to post even better numbers than when he led Ole Miss in receptions last year as a freshman.
For starters, Donte Moncrief is now gone to the NFL, where he will team up with Andrew Luck on the Indianapolis Colts.
Moncrief finished with fewer catches (59 compared to Treadwell’s 72), but went for substantially more yards (938-608) and one extra touchdown (6-5).
Now Treadwell will be the unquestioned top receiver.
Even better, quarterback Bo Wallace is now more than a year removed from surgery to repair his throwing arm.
At times last year, it was obvious Wallace simply didn’t have the arm strength to make some necessary throws.
Look for Treadwell to establish himself as more than a possession receiver as a sophomore and to emerge as one of the league’s top pass-catchers.
QB Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
Projected Stats: 3,600 passing yards, 23 passing TDs, 10 INTs, 300 rushing yards, 5 TDs
Bo Wallace never looked completely right in 2013 after he had his throwing shoulder surgically repaired.
Time has passed, though, and Wallace should be fully healed for his final go as the Ole Miss starting quarterback.
Even without his customary arm strength, Wallace managed to cut down significantly on the crippling mistakes he made in 2012.
That year he threw 17 interceptions on 235 attempts. In 2013, he dropped that number to 10 interceptions on 283 throws.
The Rebels saw a direct correlation between Wallace throwing interceptions and winning or losing games. They went 6-2 when he avoided an interception compared to 1-4 when he threw at least one.
Wallace’s style will inevitably lead to turnovers from time to time, but the positive should significantly outweigh the negative during his senior season.
Look for coach Hugh Freeze to open up the passing game more this season and for Wallace to reward him more often than not.