Freshmen most likely to see early playing time in SEC West

Ben Cook

February 18, 2013 at 1:31 pm.

Robert Nkemdiche, one of the nation's top players, was a huge get for Ole Miss. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Unless you are a recruiting fanatic, and are already keeping your lists and checking them twice for 2014 recruits, you are probably getting tired of hearing about the 2013 recruiting classes.

Southeastern Conference fans are aware of how well its teams did in the 2013 recruiting game. But to be honest, nobody really knows how well his favorite team did for probably at least two or three years down the road. When you have all the facts complete, with academic progress and injuries factored in, then you can make a reasonable evaluation of a recruiting class.

But there are guesses that can be made now in regard to a certain player’s chance at getting on the field quickly this fall. It might not be the most talented player in a class, but it might have a lot to do with a team’s need. Trying to take all things into consideration, here is a list of the recently signed players in the SEC West who might have the best shot at early playing time.

Alabama has a need at tight end with the graduation of tight end Michael Williams leaving Brian Vogler as the most likely player to move into the starting position. But Alabama signee O.J. Howard, a 6-5, 225-pound tight end and outside linebacker from Prattville, AL, has a chance to battle for the starting spot this fall. He got a head start by enrolling early and will go through spring practice. If he doesn’t win the starting job in the spring or fall you can bet he will see plenty of playing time for the defending national champions.

Arkansas’ new coach Bret Bielema brings a hard-nosed mentality to Fayetteville and quarterback Austin Allen fits the bill perfectly. He is a Fayetteville native who stands 6-2, 205 pounds and has a strong arm and is an accurate passer. He was All-State as a senior at Fayetteville High, finishing with 233-of-366 passing for 3,593 yards and 29 touchdowns and added 200 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing. With Tyler Wilson heading off to the NFL, the quarterback position is up for grabs at Arkansas with Austin Allen scheduled to battle with returning quarterback Brandon Allen for the starting position.

Auburn’s defensive line returns all of its starters but Gus Malzahn needed somebody big to help shore up the Tigers defense. He got him in five-star defensive tackle recruit Montravius Adams, 6-3, 300, from Vienna, Ga. He is explosive at the snap especially for someone of his size and should be in line for playing time despite the experienced linemen returning for the Tigers.

No team in America took more hits through graduation and underclassmen who defected early for the NFL Draft than LSU. The Tigers lost only four position starters to graduation but then 10 more (or 11 if you count Tyrann Mathieu who was suspended from the team this past season) elected to bypass the rest of their collegiate eligibility. That left plenty of holes for Les Miles to fill for the 2013 season and Ethan Pocic is one of the top players Miles chose in filling out the 2013 recruiting class.

Pocic is a 5-7, 285-pound offensive tackle from Lemont, Illinois who was rated as a four-star player. LSU lost two offensive linemen who were keys to helping establish the famed LSU running game, which means Pocic has a great chance to contribute this fall for the Tigers.

Mississippi State landed one of the top players in Mississippi in 6-6, 255-pound defensive end Chris Jones from Houston, Mississippi. Jones is quick off the ball and has a nose for finding quarterbacks trying to pass. Although Kaleb Eulls and Denico Autry, both defensive end starters from last year return, Jones is expected to push them for playing time this fall for Dan Mullen’s team.

Ole Miss landed what most experts thought was the top player in America in Robert Dkemdiche, a 6-5, 265-pound defensive end from Loganville, Georgia. The Rebels return both their starters at defensive end but expect Dkemdiche to push for a starting job. Dkemdiche’s brother Denzel is a starting linebacker for the Rebels and it should not be a surprise if Robert joins Denzel in the starting lineup.

If there is a stronger case for winning a starting job prior to the start of the 2013 season than Ricky Seals-Jones at Texas A&M, it would probably only be Dkemdiche at Ole Miss. Seals-Jones played quarterback, wide receiver, safety and special teams in high school but Kevin Sumlin will use the versatile Seals-Jones as a receiver. Texas A&M lost receivers Uzoma Nwachukwu, Ryan Swope and Kenric McNeal so the path is clear for Seals-Jones to an early starting job. With Seals-Jones should be paired with Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel to give the Aggies one of the most potent passing duos in the Southeastern Conference.