Players look to fill SEC holes after mass NFL draft exodus
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) After having 53 players drafted to lead all conferences for an 11th straight year, SEC schools have plenty of holes to fill as teams get ready for the upcoming season.
But more than a few players showed this spring they are capable of replacing those departed stars and making names for themselves this fall. With spring practice concluded, here’s a look at potential breakout players for each SEC team:
WR Jerry Jeudy, freshman: Jeudy arrived on campus early enough to participate in spring practice. He caught five passes for 134 yards in the spring game with touchdown catches of 25 and 29 yards. Alabama must replace receiver ArDarius Stewart and tight end O.J. Howard in the passing game, though it still has Calvin Ridley. Howard was drafted in the first round and Stewart in the third round.
DE McTelvin Agim, sophomore: He could emerge as one of the biggest beneficiaries of Arkansas’ move from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme under new coordinator Paul Rhoads . Agim started each of Arkansas’ final five games last season at defensive tackle but likely will be a defensive end this fall. Throughout the spring, Agim showed signs of the potential that had made him a five-star prospect according to 247Sports.
QB Jarrett Stidham, sophomore: Stidham lived up to the hype accompanying the transfer’s arrival with an impressive spring. Stidham, who began his college career at Baylor , went 16 of 20 for 267 yards in the spring game . With returning starter Sean White recovering from a broken right arm, coaches say they won’t pick a starter until preseason camp. Stidham could be hard to beat out. Auburn had an inconsistent passing game the past couple of seasons.
DE Rashard Lawrence, sophomore: Rated as a five-star prospect by multiple services when he arrived on campus, Lawrence recorded just six tackles and one sack as a reserve last season. His performance this spring backed up his lofty recruiting rank and suggests he will have a much bigger role in the fall. He will head into preseason practice as a projected starter.
WR D.K. Metcalf, sophomore: Metcalf could become one of the Rebels’ top offensive players this fall after making an impressive cameo in 2016. The 6-foot-4 Metcalf caught two passes – both for touchdowns – last fall before a foot injury ended his season after just two games. Metcalf is now healthy and caught four passes for 98 yards and a touchdown during the spring game .
CB Cameron Dantzler, redshirt freshman: Dantzler had two interceptions in Mississippi State’s spring game. The Bulldogs hope he can provide more of that big-play ability during the fall. The 6-2 Dantzler is one of many young players that new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will have to count on during his first season.
WR Jhamon Ausbon, freshman: This 6-2 early enrollee garnered plenty of praise throughout spring practice and should make an immediate impact on a receiving corps that lost plenty of talent. Texas A&M must replace departed receivers Josh Reynolds, Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones. Reynolds, a fourth-round draft pick, caught 30 touchdown passes over the last three seasons.
CB Chauncey Gardner, sophomore: A former high school track star, Gardner is poised to be Florida’s next standout defensive back. Gardner was thrust into the starting lineup for the final three games of 2016 and filled in nicely for injured safety Marcus Maye. He ended his freshman year as Outback Bowl MVP after intercepting two passes and returning one for a touchdown in a 30-3 rout of Iowa . Gardner worked solely at cornerback this spring.
TE Charlie Woerner, sophomore: Although he only caught five passes as a freshman last year, he should have a much greater impact this fall. The 6-foot-5 Woerner caught a 36-yard touchdown pass in the spring game and has plenty of receiving ability. Woerner is a nephew of College Football Hall of Famer Scott Woerner, a defensive back on Georgia’s 1980 national championship team.
WR Dorian Baker, senior: After catching a team-high 55 passes in 2015, Baker played 10 games and had just 14 receptions last year while dealing with a hamstring injury. If he can stay healthy, Baker should regain his status as one of Kentucky’s top receivers this fall.
S Kaleb Prewett, junior: Prewett made six starts and had 49 tackles for Kansas State two years ago before sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. Prewett made six tackles to lead all players in Missouri’s spring game and has the versatility to play a variety of roles for the Tigers’ defense.
CB Kaleb Chalmers, sophomore: Chalmers was dismissed from Clemson’s program after a marijuana arrest following the 2015 season. He spent last year at Northwest Mississippi Community College before transferring to South Carolina. Chalmers, who is 5-11, led all players with eight tackles in South Carolina’s spring game. He should fortify the secondary, one of South Carolina’s major concerns.
DE Darrell Taylor, sophomore: Tennessee must find pass rushers after losing first-round draft pick Derek Barnett and Corey Vereen, who combined for 20 sacks and 30 + tackles for loss last season. Taylor won Tennessee’s Al Wilson Award given at the end of spring practice for defensive leadership. He had the only two sacks in Tennessee’s spring game .
RB Jamauri Wakefield, redshirt freshman: Wakefield performed so well in practice while redshirting last season that coach Derek Mason talked about him before the Independence Bowl. It won’t be easy to find carries in a backfield led by Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher. But Wakefield ran for 50 yards and two touchdowns in the scrimmage that closed spring practice.
AP Sports Writers David Brandt, Pete Iacobelli, Mark Long, Brett Martel, Charles Odum, Kurt Voigt, Teresa M. Walker and John Zenor and AP freelance writer Jade Washburn contributed to this report.
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- Alabama Crimson Tide
- Arkansas Razorbacks
- Auburn Tigers
- Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
- D.K. Metcalf
- FBS (I-A)
- Florida Gators
- Jarrett Stidham
- Kaleb Chalmers
- Kaleb Prewett
- Missouri Tigers
- Ole Miss Rebels
- South Carolina Gamecocks
- Tennessee Volunteers
- Texas A&M Aggies
- Vanderbilt Commodores