The SEC is a hotbed for NFL talent, and this year should be no different. Sometimes, it’s hard to find those guys who are ready to take the next step and become one of the premier players in the conference.
This will be the first installment in a series where I will be highlighting some of the guys that I believe will breakout for each SEC team this year. In the interest of keeping the posts somewhat concise, we have divided it up by team. First up, Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky and South Carolina. As always, feel free to agree or disagree and tell us who your breakout candidates are as well:
Evan Berry, Safety:
It’s hard following in the footsteps of one of the SEC’s all-time best safeties, but Evan Berry has made a name for himself since stepping on Tennessee’s campus in May of 2014. The 5’11 207 pound safety/kick returner out of Fairburn, Georgia is one of the most dangerous playmakers in college football.
As a true sophomore, the younger brother of current Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry averaged 38.3 yards per return. That average was good for first in the NCAA, and on top of that, he took three kickoffs back for touchdowns while adding a 100-yard interception for a touchdown in the Outback Bowl against Northwestern. When you consider Berry’s resume, there is little doubt that he has emerged as the best returner in college football.
The next step for Berry is to earn consistent starts on defense and to show that interception against Northwestern wasn’t an anomaly. Expect Berry to take that next step this year and become a household name in the SEC.
Terry Beckner Jr., Defensive Tackle:
Missouri fans were thrilled when they landed the ultra talented defensive tackle from St. Louis, Missouri, but that thrill was quickly turned to doubt when Beckner Jr. followed up a torn ACL/MLC suffered in November with a marijuana-related arrest in January which ended with a suspension.
Beckner Jr. was coming off an impressive freshman campaign that had landed the 6’4 300 pound defensive tackle freshman All-American honors, and he was poised to become the best defensive lineman the Tigers had fielded since Sheldon Richardson back in 2012. Both the injury and the arrest were significant setbacks for Beckner Jr., but after being suspended indefinitely, he was able to work his way back onto the team and back into the coaches’ good graces.
There are only a few defensive linemen in the SEC that have the talent that Beckner Jr. possesses, but he has to continue his development both as a player on the field and as a person off of it. If he can do that, it won’t be long before we hear his named being called on draft day.
Josh Allen, Linebacker:
Allen wasn’t a highly recruited guy coming out of high school, and the only reason he ended up in Lexington is because several other players in Kentucky’s 2015 signing class faltered on their commitment at the last second. Still, that didn’t keep the lanky linebacker out of Montclair, New Jersey from making an immediate impact.
Allen avoided the infamous redshirt in his first year on campus, and he ended up playing in 12 games as a reserve linebacker and on special teams. That’s pretty impressive for a guy who was such a late addition to the signing class. What is even more impressive is that Allen entered fall camp as the starter at strongside linebacker where it is hoped that he can add a spark to a struggling pass rush.
The 6’5 230 pound linebacker isn’t the most physically impressive player on the roster, but he does have the frame to grown into his own. Kentucky is hurting for talent at this point, but there are a couple of players who can turn out to be diamonds in the rough. Allen is one of the guys that highlight that mantra, and he should be monitored as a potential breakout candidate heading into this season.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Bryson Allen-Williams, Linebacker:
It’s been a rough start for Will Muschamp in Columbia. On top of all the controversy surrounding the quarterback competition, the former Florida Gators head coach had to deal with losing his best player on the team: linebacker Skai Moore.
A herniated disc injury has delayed his playing career, but the Gamecocks are expecting a full recovery. Bryson Allen-Williams is expected to step in during Moore’s absence, and he seems ready to rise to that challenge.
Even though Allen-Williams has only started three games over the course of the past two seasons, the 6’0 230 pound weakside linebacker from Ellenwood, Georgia emerged in the spring and is looking poised to breakout for the Gamecocks.
He plays fast. He’s one of the defensive guys that actually does play fast. He’s a bright young man. I’ve been really pleased with his retention practice to practice, his effort, his toughness. He flashes on film.
That’s some pretty high praise from his head coach. Allen-Williams should be one of the few bright spots for South Carolina this year.