Five impact newcomers to watch in the SEC
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
It's always a shot in the dark to try and pick the top impact newcomers in the SEC before spring practice even gets underway.
But I'll give it the old college try, keeping in mind that newcomers would encompass redshirt freshmen, prep school players, junior college transfers and transfers from other four-year schools.
I won't go as far as to label these the top 5 impact newcomers, but they are definitely five players to watch in the fall:
Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett: The most talented quarterback on Arkansas' roster last season was relegated to the scout team. That didn't keep the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Mallett from showing off his rifle arm on the practice field. After sitting out the year following his transfer from Michigan, Mallett is ready to go, and Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino is ready to expand his playbook with a guy who has the arm strength and accuracy to make any offense more potent. Petrino's not going to just hand the starting job over to Mallett and will make him earn it during the spring. But make no mistake: Mallett is the guy. He also has experience, having played as a true freshman at Michigan in 2007 while filling in for the injured Chad Henne and going unbeaten in three starts.
South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore: The Gamecocks have three high school players from the 2009 signing class already on campus and set to go through spring practice, and they're counting on all three to play early. The 6-2, 180-pound Gilmore is one of those rare athletes who could play just about anywhere. He'll get his first shot at cornerback, mainly because the Gamecocks lost their three top cornerbacks from a year ago. He also has the size to play safety, and don't be surprised if you see him in there at quarterback some, too. He's an explosive player who led his South Pointe High School team in Rock Hill, S.C., to a state championship as a quarterback. The Gamecocks would like to put his vast talents to use in a special package at quarterback.
Vanderbilt receiver Terence Jeffers: The Commodores needed a go-to receiver in the worst way last season. Their passing game was non-existent. With senior receivers Sean Walker and George Smith gone, they're going to need one even worse next season. Jeffers, a transfer from Connecticut, should help alleviate a lot of their problems. He was Connecticut's leading receiver two years ago, catching 44 passes for 582 yards and five touchdowns. The 6-2, 210-pound Jeffers was also the Huskies' top deep threat and started in 21 of 25 games during his two-year career there. He's built a lot like Vanderbilt's all-time leading receiver, Earl Bennett, maybe even a little bigger, and attacks the football. Whoever wins the Vanderbilt starting quarterback job will look for Jeffers often and early in 2009.
Alabama running back Trent Richardson: Here's the first giveaway: Alabama coach Nick Saban called Richardson a "great player" on national signing day, and Saban doesn't loosely throw around such compliments unless he means it. The 5-11, 220-pound Richardson is a punishing runner inside and also has very good speed. He ran a 10.5 in the 100 meters in high school. Glen Coffee rushed for 1,383 yards last season, and now that he's gone, somebody is going to have to step into his spot. Mark Ingram will remain a big part of the rotation, but Roy Upchurch's injury status makes him iffy. Richardson has 20-plus carries per game written all over him and is a perfect fit for Alabama's offense.
Georgia receiver Marlon Brown: The Bulldogs need a complement to A.J. Green on the other side, and Brown has everything it takes to be that player. He's already 6-5 and 205 pounds with the strength, speed and toughness that will serve him well in the SEC. Rated by Scouts Inc. as the No. 3 receiver prospect in the country, the Memphis product arrives on campus this summer and will be an inviting target for Georgia quarterback Joe Cox right away. For a guy his size, Brown is especially good after the catch. He'll go over the middle, break tackles like a running back and is the kind of receiver who should excel in the red zone. Georgia fans are going to like this guy.