There are once again a host of playmakers in the Southeastern Conference. While there is going to be several quarterback competitions to keep an eye on heading into preseason camps, here’s a look at non-quarterbacks players in the Southeastern Conference this spring who are poised to have standout seasons this fall:
No one expected Florida defensive end Zachary Carter to return for a fifth year. His decision even shocked position coach David Turner. “My prayers had been answered,” Turner said. Carter notched 16½ tackles for loss the past two seasons, including a team-high five sacks in 2020. After being one of the few bright spots on a defense that was historically bad in Gainesville, the 6-foot-4, 277-pound lineman will be the centerpiece of a revamped unit.
The biggest story of the spring was the serious knee injury suffered by top wide receiver George Pickens early on. He’ll miss most, and probably all, of the 2021 season. Freshman Adonai Mitchell might be in line to help fill the void. Mitchell ran with the first-team in the spring game and had seven catches for 105 yards, including a 24-yard TD catch.
WR Wan’Dale Robinson transferred from Nebraska, where he caught 91 passes in two seasons before heading back to his home state. The Wildcats are in need of playmakers, particularly in the passing game, and the speedy 5-11, 185-pounder could make a big impact.
WR Mookie Cooper transferred after one season at Ohio State and could give Connor Bazelak another target in the passing game. He was a four-star recruit out of high school.
Defensive end Jordan Burch was a five-star freshman who was South Carolina’s highest rated recruit since Jadeveon Clowney nine years earlier. The 6-6, 270-pound Burch hopes to show similar dominance in his sophomore season
LB Byron Young. The 6-3, 240-pound linebacker lined up in a lot of places in the Vols’ new defensive scheme, but the 23-year-old junior college transfer from Georgia Military College had seven sacks in 11 games in 2019. Tennessee coach Josh Heupel had offered him while still at UCF and got Young to commit to follow him. Young showed a lot of speed during spring practice.
WR Will Sheppard. The sophomore wide receiver caught three TD passes in the Commodores’ spring game after having only two catches as a freshman. But Vanderbilt has plenty of experience ahead of the 6-3 Sheppard led by Cam Johnson, Chris Pierce and Amir Abdur-Rahman.
LB Will Anderson started every game as a freshman and showed signs of being the Crimson Tide’s next great pass rusher. The 6-4, 235-pounder, a freakish athlete, ranked third in the SEC with seven sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Anderson even blocked a field goal in the College Football Playoff semifinal game against Notre Dame.
WR Treylon Burks. The 6-3, 225-pound junior was a second-team All-SEC performer last season after catching 51 passes for 820 yards and seven touchdowns. He finished third in the SEC with 91.1 yards receiving per game. He caught two passes for 67 yards in the Spring Game, including a 31-yard touchdown. He has 80 catches for 1,295 yards in two seasons.
RB Tank Bigsby was one of the Tigers’ best playmakers as a freshman, earning second-team All-SEC honors. With several top wide receivers gone, Bigsby could play an even bigger role. He ran for 834 yards, second-most by an Auburn freshman, and also returned kicks.
CB Derek Stingley was an immediate star and a first-team AP All-American as a freshman. He went from six interceptions then to none in seven games last season when the Tigers had the nation’s worst pass defense. But LSU is counting on him — and the defense — to return to form.
DB Jake Springer, who sat out last season after transferring from Navy, should help bolster a defense that was among the nation’s worst at stopping the pass. Springer had 69 tackles in 2019 and led Navy with 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks, the third-most sacks by a Midshipmen in a season.
LB Nathaniel Watson could step into a bigger role after making 40 tackles last season. He figures to step into the starting job at middle linebacker, with the Bulldogs trying to replace defensive standout Erroll Thompson.
Running back Devon Achane, a former four-star recruit who has sprinter’s speed, only got limited chances last season with several upperclassmen ahead of him. But he still produced 364 yards and four touchdowns on just 43 attempts.
AP Sports Writers Teresa Walker, Brett Martel, Kristie Rieken, Mark Long, Pete Iacobelli, Charles Odum and Cliff Brunt contributed to this report.
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