Alabama Team News

A look at the SEC’s top 10 true freshmen

Christian Kirk

We’re at the midway point of the SEC football season, which means it’s time to take an in-depth look at the league’s true freshmen.

Here are the 10 true freshmen who have played the best thus far.

10. LB Darrin Kirkland Jr., Tennessee

High school: Indianapolis Lawrence Central
The skinny: Kirkland (6 feet 1, 224 pounds) has worked his way into the starting lineup for a Vols team that lacks depth at linebacker. He has started three times, including each o the past two contests, and should be the starter int he middle going forward. Kirkland has 25 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.

9. CB Kevin Toliver II, LSU

High school: Jacksonville Trinity Christian
The skinny: Toliver (6-2, 197) has started four games in one of the nation’s most talented secondaries. He is a physical presence who has been in run support, and his skills would seem to indicate he will be the next in a long line of top-flight coverage corners at LSU. With junior Tre’Davious White likely leaving for the NFL after this season, Toliver should be LSU’s No. 1 corner next fall.

Antonio Callaway

Antonio Callaway has become Florida’s big-play guy. KIM KLEMENT/USA TODAY SPORTS

8. WR Antonio Callaway, Florida

High school: Miami Booker T. Washington
The skinny: Callaway (5-11, 198) scored perhaps the SEC’s most memorable touchdown of the season’s first half when he took a pass 63 yards to the end zone for the winning score in the final minute of the Gators’ victory over Tennessee. He also had a punt-return TD in a loss to LSU. Callaway might already be Florida’s most dangerous offensive player; he is averaging 19.3 yards on his 16 receptions.

7. DT Trenton Thompson, Georgia

High school: Albany (Ga.) Westover
The skinny: Thompson (6-4, 307) was the consensus top recrcuit in the nation and he has made three starts for the Bulldogs, who run a 3-4 set. Thompson has been stout against the run and has 21 tackles. He hasn’t made quite as many “big” plays as expected; he has 2.5 tackles for loss.

6. DT Daylon Mack, Texas A&M

High school: Gladewater (Texas) High
The skinny: Mack (6-1, 335) was a consensus top-15 recruit, and he has adapted well to coordinator John Chavis’ aggressive style of play. Mack, who has yet to start a game, has made 18 tackles and has six tackles for loss.

5. LB Dre Greenlaw, Arkansas

High school: Fayetteville (Ark.) High
The skinny: Greenlaw (6-0, 222) was a safety in high school, but the linebacker-shy Hogs needed him to switch positions and he has thrived. He is second on the team with 37 tackles and has started the past four games. Greenlaw leads all SEC freshmen in tackles.

4. CB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

High school: Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter’s Prep
The skinny: Fitzpatrick (6-1, 195) had two picks-sixes Saturday in the Tide’s victory at Texas A&M, but observant fans had noticed his strong play before that. He has started five games as the Tide’s nickelback and has the two interceptions to go along with six pass breakups. Fitzpatrick was a consensus national top-30 recruit.

3. G Maea Teuhema, LSU

High school: Keller (Texas) High

Calvin Ridley

Calvin Ridley has become Alabama’s go-to receiver and is fourth in the league with 38 receptions. MARVIN GENTRY/USA TODAY SPORTS

The skinny: Teuhema (6-5, 327) became a starter in the second game of the season, and there’s no reason to think he won’t start every game the rest of his career. Teuhema was a consensus national top-40 recruit, and has lived up to billing as a physical run blocker. He is one of two new starting guards for LSU, which leads the league and is fourth nationally in rushing at 325.5 yards per game.

2. WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama

High school: Coconut Creek (Fla.) Monarch
The skinny: It took him a few games to truly get going (or maybe it just took coaches a while to realize what they hand), but Ridley has become Alabama’s go-to receiver. He has 38 receptions for 437 yards and three TDs. He is a definite deep threat, but also is comfortable on crossing routes and on intermediate routes. Like the guy he placed, Amari Cooper, as the Tid’s go-to receiver, Ridley is from south Florida. Ridley was a consensus national top-15 recruit and the top wide receiver in the 2015 signing class.

1. WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

High school: Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro
The skinny: Kirk (5-11, 200) is third in the SEC in receptions with 39, second in receiving yards with 609 and tied for the lead with four TD receptions. Kirk joined a team that was returing six of its top seven wide receivers, but he has become the go-to guy anyway. He is averaging 15.6 yards per catch, which is the highest average among the nine league receivers with at least 30 receptions. Kirk also has scored twice on punt returns, in the opener against Arizona State and against Alabama; he leads the nation by averaging 25.1 yards per return.

(You can follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @MikeHuguenin)

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