The rage this season in college football has been the young guys, the fresh faces, the stars of the future.
My colleague at ESPN.com, Ivan Maisel, wrote about the youth movement this week, and Bruce Feldman of ESPN The Magazine selected the 10 most exciting young stars (freshmen or sophomores) in college football.
If I were picking the SEC’s most exciting and/or promising young stars two weeks into the season, here’s what my top 10 list would look like. I only considered players who’d been on campus for two years or less, which rules out third-year sophomores:
1. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama: Simply, he’s the best first- or second-year player in the league with an equal blend of explosion and power that all the great running backs have. If he were getting the ball 20 times a game, he’d be a 1,600-yard rusher.
2. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina: “ … driving and running with those big thighs. My God, a freshman!” OK, maybe it is a little early for the Herschel Walker comparisons, but it’s hard to find a better SEC debut for a true freshman running back than what we saw from Lattimore last week against Georgia.
3. Russell Shepard, WR, LSU: He’s touched the ball 16 times in the Tigers’ first two games and has three touchdowns, two of those touchdown runs of 30 yards or longer. When you get him the ball in space, few players in this league are any more dynamic.
4. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina: While he might not be quite as fast as Julio Jones, Jeffery is even bigger at 6-4 and nearly 230 pounds and is a tackle-breaking machine when he catches it. He’s averaging 104.5 receiving yards per game, which ranks him second among the SEC leaders.
5. Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee: It’s still early, but the 6-7, 313-pound true freshman is the best young offensive line prospect in the league. He’s been a starter at right tackle basically from the time he walked onto campus and is the kind player you build an entire offensive line around.
6. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina: Even though he’s yet to put up big numbers, Gilmore has already established himself as one of the elite cornerbacks in the SEC. He’s also going to get a few more chances in the Wildcat package at quarterback, and here’s betting he breaks a punt return for a touchdown, too.
7. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama: Physically, the 6-3, 190-pound Kirkpatrick is exactly what you’re looking for in a cornerback. He also has the speed, ball skills and confidence to go with that size. It’s hard to imagine him not being the next great corner at Alabama.
8. Mike Dyer, RB, Auburn: We might see the Tigers fully unleash Dyer against Clemson on Saturday. We’ve seen the prized true freshman in doses the first two games, and his talent is obvious. Dyer has carried it 23 times and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. He’s only going to get better the more he gets the football.
9. Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: He was the guy they couldn’t quit talking about on the Bayou during spring practice, and the redshirt freshman has delivered so far this season. He has two sacks in his first two games and is a blur when it comes to getting to the quarterback.
10. Jon Bostic, LB, Florida: There’s a ton of young talent on this Florida defense, and Bostic is right there at the top. The Gators’ sophomore middle linebacker is second on the team with 11 tackles and also has an interception through two games. He was the leading freshman tackler on the team a year ago.
Five more to watch the rest of this season, in alphabetical order: