SEC Roundtable: Predicting the Conference's Breakout Players
Many of the names below you haven't heard of. But all of the names below you need to get to know, and soon.
Believe it or not, at the time of publishing football is less than six weeks away. Will the season happen for sure or look the way we imagine? That's to be determined, and to be determined very, very soon according to the SEC.
But for now, there's no reason to not move forward as if it were a normal offseason, and preview the conference as we always do.
This week for our SEC Roundtable, Sports Illustrated's reporters from around the Southeastern Conference teamed up to throw out some names that you probably haven't heard of but need to. Meet the SEC's breakout players:
Christopher Walsh (BamaCentral): Alabama LB Christian Barmore
Nick Saban added another stellar recruiting class, featuring numerous premier defensive front-seven players including Will Anderson and Chris Braswell, and linebacker Drew Sanders, but the player to watch for a breakout season is second-year defensive lineman Christian Barmore.
Barmore might not start, as Alabama is incredibly deep up front, but he could be poised for a monster season. He made 26 tackles including six for a loss and two sacks in limited playing time. Part of the reason why is he kept accidentally hitting quarterbacks in the head (usually when bringing his arm down) and getting called for penalties. Despite that he was still named to the Freshman All-SEC Team by league coaches. Two other strong candidates are quarterback Bryce Young (although he still has to win the starting job), and running back Trey Sanders, who missed all of 2019 due to a knee injury.
Others to note: OLB Will Anderson, LB Drew Sanders
Zach Goodall (AllGators): Florida WR Trevon Grimes
Senior wide receiver Trevon Grimes is the player to watch in the Gators’ passing offense. The 6-5, 214-pound former Rivals five-star, who transferred from Ohio State before his sophomore season, has flashed play-making skills in a crowded pass-catching unit over the past two seasons and looks to benefit from Florida sending four receivers to the NFL this offseason. Grimes hauled in 33 receptions for 491 yards (14.9 yards per catch) and three touchdowns in 2019, turning 23 of those 33 catches into first downs and averaging 8.2 yards after the catch, per Pro Football Focus.
Others to note: DE Zachary Carter, DT T.J. Slaton
Glen West (LSU Country): LSU TE Arik Gilbert
Fresh off being named the Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year, Arik Gilbert arrived in Baton Rouge with lofty expectation, and not just because he was the highest ever ranked tight end by 247Sports. As a senior, he caught 105 passes for 1,860 yards and 15 touchdowns, helping lead Marietta (Ga.) to its first Class 7A state championship since 1967.
LSU will be multiple in the way it uses Gilbert as the Tigers will stock him in the slot, in the dirt and split him out wide as well. Coach Ed Orgeron describes it as the “Calvin Johnson role,” a player new passing game coordinator Scott Linehan is all too familiar with.
Others to note: WR Racy McMath, LB Damone Clark
Nate Gabler (The Grove Report): Ole Miss RB Jerrion Ealy, TE Kenny Yeboah
Is it even fair to call running back Jerrion Ealy a breakout candidate? Last year he was on the SEC All-Freshman Team and the Second-Team All-SEC as voted by the coaches. But he can still break out again, and I don't think there would be a lot of people around the conference surprised if he made another leap and became one of the top-two tailbacks in the league.
Another name here I really wanted to go with, but will take a little more projection, is tight end Kenny Yeboah. Only a two-star recruit out of high school, Yeboah is a transfer from Temple. His stats at Temple weren't mind-boggling (233 yards and 5 touchdowns last season), but Lane Kiffin has a history of making tight ends play a massive role in his offense. Yeboah was hand-picked to do just that.
Others to note: LB Lakia Henry, OG Ben Brown, WR Jonathan Mingo
Joel Coleman (Cowbell Corner): Mississippi State OT Charles Cross
Mississippi State has had just three five-star recruits sign with the school in the last decade. One of them is expected to start at left tackle for the Bulldogs this season as redshirt freshman Charles Cross will likely be the man called upon to protect the blind side of expected starting quarterback K.J. Costello. This makes Cross perhaps one of the most important Bulldogs on the roster and a potential breakout star in 2020
Cross saw action in three games in 2019 (against Southern Miss, Kansas State and Texas A&M), and now appears set to try and take over the left tackle job full time. Though much of the focus offensively for MSU will be on Costello, running back Kylin Hill and the State receivers in head coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense, Cross will be as critical as anyone as the Bulldogs try to rack up yards this season.
Others to note: RB Jo'Quavious Marks, WR Malik Heath
Greg Arias (Commodore Country): Vanderbilt DE Dayo Odeyingbo
The Commodores have multiple contenders to be the breakout player, and while this player won't be a surprise to Vanderbilt fans he might be others across the conference. Defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo is coming off a solid junior campaign, and at 6-6, 260 pounds will be playing in a new scheme in Ted Roof's defense. He could end up a household name heading into the NFL Draft process.
Others to note: WR Cam Johnson, QB Ken Seals
Chaunte'l Powell (Gamecock Digest): South Carolina DL Zacch Pickens and Rick Sandidge
Defensively, the Gamecocks saw defensive linemen Javon Kinlaw, Kobe Smith and DJ Wonnum all go pro so their replacements have an opportunity to step up and have a break out year. Earlier this year after spring practice, defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson said he had high expectations for defensive linemen Zacch Pickens and Rick Sandidge.
Pro Football Network released its two-round mock draft of 2021 with cornerback projected to be taken in the second round. Look for him to try and improve that position. Junior defensive back Israel Mukuamu was named to the preseason watch list for the Paycom Jim Thorpe Award and should contend.
Others to note: DB Israel Mukuamu, RB MarShawn Lloyd