While most SEC starters are in place on campus and have been gaining experience as a backup, some players are going to be coming straight in and expected to start. Some of these players are straight out of high school, while others are transfers from junior colleges or other four year universities. The players on this list may not have the highest star ratings from recruiting services, but will be filling positions of immediate need.
The departure of AJ McCarron from Alabama leaves a massive hole at the quarterback position. After McCarron's production over the last few years, he leaves as arguably the best passing quarterback in Alabama history. Blake Sims exited spring practice atop the Alabama depth chart, but the competition will not truly start until fall camp after the arrival of Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. Redshirt junior Coker attended the same high school as McCarron and, as at St. Paul's, will try to succeed him on the field. Last year, Coker played in seven games at Florida State after losing out on the starting quarterback job to Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. With Alabama's returning stable of running backs including TJ Yeldon, Derrick Henry, and Kenyan Drake, Coker's play should not determine Alabama's success, but if he is as good as the hype, Alabama could be for another very successful season.
D.J. Smith and Al Harris Jr.
When South Carolina released it's pre-camp depth chart at SEC Media Days, the starting cornerbacks listed consisted of a former walk-on (Sidney Rhodes) and a sophomore with two career starts (Rico McWilliams). As a result of the lack of depth at cornerback, South Carolina signed five corners on signing day but as of July 28 only two of the signees have qualified. Four star D.J. Smith from Marietta (GA) Walton and three star Al Harris Jr. from Fort Lauderdale (FL) St. Thomas Aquinas have qualified and will start fall practice on campus for the Gamecocks. Smith and Harris will have many opportunities to stake their claim to a starting place as a freshman.
As Hugh Freeze's reclamation project from the disaster that was Houston Nutt enters year three, expectations have ramped up while the depth of certain positions is not what would be found on most top SEC teams. The weakest position for Ole Miss is at offensive line, which loses three starters from 2013. Left guard Aaron Morris will return after tearing his ACL in the 2013 season opener and Second Team All-SEC (Associated Press) left tackle Laremy Tunsil returns for his sophomore season. Morris and Tunsil will look to make a formidable left side of the line, while Ben Still or Robert Conyers will be relied upon to step in at center. Cooper and another player will have to shore up the right side of the line, and there will not be a multitude of depth behind Cooper. Cooper transferred from College of Dupage (IL) after starting all 13 games at Bowling Green in 2012 (including a 27-14 loss at Florida) and redshirting in 2011.
With the loss of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to the NFL, LSU's leading returning receiver is sophomore Travin Dural (7 receptions, 145 yards, 2 td). Incoming freshman Malachi Dupre will be a likely starter from the first game of 2014 with the lack of returning wideouts at LSU. At 6'3", Dupre follows in the style of tall wide receivers LSU has featured over the last few years like Landry, Rueben Randle and Terrance Tolliver. Fellow freshman Leonard Fournette has more hype than Dupre, but Dupre's standing in a position of major need for LSU should lead to an abundance of opportunities for Dupre to perform early while Fournette can be broken in slower with the return of experienced running backs Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard.
With no returning starters on the offensive line, Tennessee will be counting on Dontavius Blair to step in right away at left tackle. Blair enrolled at Tennessee in January after graduating from Garden City (KS) C.C. as a four star recruit. After spring practice, Blair was listed behind former walk-on, fifth year senior Jacob Gilliam, but Blair is expected to leapfrog Gilliam in the falll. With the importance of the left tackle position, Blair's success could determine Tennessee making forward progress in 2014 or stagnating in Butch Jones' second year in Knoxville.
Matt Elam is considered a crown jewel in Kentucky's 2014 recruiting class, but his recruiting rankings differed drastically. The Elizabethtown, KY native was rated by 247Sports as the 21st ranked prospect in the country and a five star recruit, but Rivals rated him as a three star and not in their top 45 defensive tackles. Regardless of rankings, Elam was recruited heavily by Alabama as a potential nose tackle in their 3-4 with Elam's massive size at 6'7", 325 pounds. With Kentucky replacing both defensive tackles, Elam will likely get an opportunity to prove his potential early.