- Greg Ostendorf, SEC reporter
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In about a month’s time, the rest of the 2015 recruiting class, the ones not yet on campus, will graduate high school and enroll at various SEC schools. On Wednesday, we looked at the top summer enrollees from the SEC East. Today, it’s time to examine the West.
Which newcomer will make the most impact for each school?
Alabama: RB Damien Harris
Three months ago, some might have seen Harris as a candidate to redshirt. That was before Altee Tenpenny transferred, Tyren Jones was dismissed from the team, and Bo Scarbrough tore his ACL. Now Alabama is down to Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake with the latter still recovering from a serious leg injury he suffered last fall. The Crimson Tide need Harris to come in and make a contribution. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time a freshman running back has made an impact under Nick Saban.
Arkansas: WR Dominique Reed
This spring, new offensive coordinator Dan Enos was hoping to find playmakers at the wide receiver position. After 91 yards receiving and two touchdowns in the spring game, it looks like he found one in Keon Hatcher. He might have himself another one in Reed, a junior college transfer who was ranked No. 25 overall in the ESPN JC50. On national signing day, head coach Bret Bielema called Reed the team’s No. 1 target at wide receiver and a player that could change the game for them instantly.
Auburn: DE Byron Cowart
What do Jadeveon Clowney, Robert Nkemdiche and Leonard Fournette have in common? They were all ranked No. 1 in the ESPN 300. The same goes for Cowart, and the Auburn coaches are counting on him to make a similar impact as the others in Year 1. It remains to be seen whether he’ll play defensive end or Buck linebacker in Will Muschamp’s defense, but whatever he plays, he’ll be asked to get to the quarterback and make plays in the backfield, something lacking from this defense a season ago.
LSU: DE Arden Key
Ed Orgeron, LSU’s new defensive line coach, was brought in to fix a pass-rush that finished 13th in the SEC with just 19 sacks last season. He’s already made progress with some of the current defensive linemen, but he’ll receive a boost this summer when Key arrives on campus. The ESPN 300 star might be a tad under-sized (6-foot-5, 225 pounds), but he more than makes up for it with his quickness and athleticism. He likely won’t start right away, but even as a situational pass-rusher, Key can help the Tigers.
Mississippi State: S Jamal Peters
Preston Smith is gone. Benardrick McKinney is gone. The same goes for Jay Hughes and Justin Cox on the back end. In all, Mississippi State is losing seven starters from last season’s defense, and the coaches are anticipating a handful of newcomers to play early. Peters might be the most likely candidate. He’s the No. 2 safety prospect in the country, and assistant coach Tony Hughes has already said that they plan to start him out at free safety and are projecting him to come in play right away.
Ole Miss: RB Eric Swinney
Hugh Freeze and his staff only wanted to take one running back in the 2015 class, so they set their sights on Swinney, an ESPN 300 prospect from Georgia. He was their guy, and that loyalty paid off on signing day. Now, Swinney has a chance to come in and help a running game that finished in the bottom half of the SEC last season. Jaylen Walton is back and Jordan Wilkins ran well in the spring game, but the coaches can’t wait to get Swinney on campus and work him into that mix.
Texas A&M: DT Daylon Mack
Last year Myles Garrett came in and took the SEC by storm with 11.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. This year the Aggies are hoping Mack, another five-star defensive lineman, can do the same. The two are very different players. Garrett is as quick as there is in the SEC off the edge, and Mack has the strength to dominate inside. Don’t believe me? Just watch this video of the 6-foot-1, 330-pound "Mack Truck" pushing a Chevy Suburban SUV as part of his training regimen this spring.
Running backs, pass-rushers could provide immediate impact for contenders.