Both SEC championship game participants were loaded with upperclassmen — especially on defense — who made big impacts as the season unfolded. But each also relied heavily on a true freshman wide receiver, and those two receivers are part of the gridironnow.com SEC All-Freshman team.
Florida’s Antonio Callaway and Alabama’s Calvin Ridley — both from south Florida, with Callway from Miami and Ridley from the Fort Lauderdale suburbs — became important cogs in their respective team’s passing attack early on. Callaway burst on the scene with his game-winning TD catch against Tennessee; Ridley did so with his five-catch, 120-yard performance against Georgia.
And as good as those two were, neither was the best freshman receiver in the league. Those honors go to Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk, like Ridley a five-star recruit. Kirk emerged as the Aggies’ best receiver and also was a dangerous return man.
Here is the entire all-freshman team. Asterisks designate true freshmen.
QB Drew Lock*, Missouri (4-star recruit)
RB Derrius Guice*, LSU (4-star recruit)
RB Rawleigh Williams III*, Arkansas (3-star recruit)
The skinny on the backfield: Let’s be honest — the freshmen quarterbacks in the league underwhelmed. Lock got the most action, so we went with him. He has potential and a good upside, but he also has miles to go, as his play showed. The tailback group wasn’t scintillating, either. One year after Nick Chubb and Leonard Fournette ran wild as true freshmen, we picked two guys who were backups for their teams.
WR Antonio Callaway*, Florida (3-star recruit)
WR Christian Kirk*, Texas A&M (5-star recruit)
WR Calvin Ridley*, Alabama (5-star recruit)
The skinny on the receivers: Unlike the running backs, freshman receivers made a huge splash in the SEC this season. Kirk became the Aggies’ best receiver despite a handful of established veterans already being on hand. Ridley is the go-to receiver for the best team in the league. And Callaway became the best receiver — and top big-play threat — for Florida, which won the East title.
T Chance Hall*, Tennessee (3-star recruit)
T Sean Rawlings, Ole Miss (3-star recruit)
G Will Clapp, LSU (4-star recruit)
G Ross Pierschbacher, Alabama (4-star recruit)
C Zack Bailey*, South Carolina (4-star recruit)
The skinny on the linemen: Clapp and Pierschbacher (an Iowa native) were important interior linemen on teams that want to run the ball between the tackles. Hall was a steady performer on a line that was better than expected. Rawlings spent half the season as a starter when Laremy Tunsil was suspended. Bailey started at guard and center, and looks like a future building block for the Gamecocks up front.
E Walter Brady, Missouri (2-star recruit)
T Terry Beckner Jr.*, Missouri (5-star recruit)
T Trenton Thompson*, Georgia (5-star recruit)
E Arden Key*, LSU (4-star recruit)
The skinny on the linemen: The SEC was loaded with upperclass talent along the defensive line this season; the league was loaded with freshman talent, too. Beckner and Thompson were mega-recruits who lived up to the hype; both have All-America potential — and as soon as next season. Key flashed serious pass-rush skills, and once he gets stronger, he’s going to be a real terror off the edge. Brady is yet another off the Mizzou defensive end assembly line; he had seven sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss, and seems primed to follow in the footsteps of guys like Markus Golden and Shane Ray.
LB Dre Greenlaw*, Arkansas (3-star recruit)
LB Darrin Kirkland Jr.*, Tennessee (4-star recruit)
LB Denzil Ware, Kentucky (4-star recruit)
The skinny on the linebackers: Greenlaw was an unheralded recruit who is the Hogs’ leading tackler. Kirkland lined up alongside Jalen Reeves-Maybin and played consistent football. Ware plays a hybrid end/linebacker role and was steady; he needs to make more big plays, though.
CB Minkah Fitzpatrick*, Alabama (5-star recruit)
CB Kevin Toliver*, LSU (5-star recruit)
S Johnathan Abram*, Georgia (3-star recruit)
S Brandon Bryant, Mississippi State (3-star recruit)
The skinny on the secondary: Fitzpatrick and Toliver were highly hyped recruits, and they lived up to billing. Fitzpatrick was one of the better players in the Tide’s secondary all season; Toliver had some peaks and valleys, but he showed enough to make folks believe he will indeed be LSU’s next star cornerback. Abram was a part-time starter for the Bulldogs, who lead the nation in pass defense; if Quincy Mauger remains in school, he, Abram and Dominick Sanders will team to give the Bulldogs the best safety trio in the nation next fall. Bryant is one of the fastest Bulldogs; he was playing anyway, but he moved into the starting lineup once Kendrick Market was lost for the season with an injury in Game 4.
K Cole Hedlund, Arkansas (3-star recruit)
P Corey Fatony*, Missouri (2-star recruit)
R Christian Kirk*, Texas A&M (5-star recruit)
The skinny on the specialists: Hedlund unfortunately probably is best-known for having a 29-yard attempt blocked in the waning seconds of a loss to Mississippi State; he had two other attempts blocked, as well, but he did make eight field goals, including a 45-yarder. Fatony was one of the better punters in a league filled with solid players at the position. He led the league with 81 attempts — he had six games with at least seven attempts and three with nine — and averaged 42.9 yards per boot. Kirk averaged 24.4 yards on 14 punt returns and took two back for scores.
(You can follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @MikeHuguenin)
(Feature photo by THOMAS SHEA/USA TODAY SPORTS)
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