Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
Who are the players who will emerge from the shadows?
You know, those guys who've shown flashes, but either haven't been on the big stage consistently or haven't reached star status ... yet.
Here are five guys I think may break out next season in the SEC:
Vanderbilt cornerback Myron Lewis: Talk to newly promoted Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Jamie Bryant very long, and it's obvious what the coaches think of Lewis. There's no question that he was overshadowed by D.J. Moore last season, but the 6-foot-3, 202-pound Lewis may end up being an even better NFL prospect. He'll be the Commodores' lockdown cover guy this season and he has the versatility to play a number of different roles. He was tied for fourth on the team last season with 76 tackles, finished among the league leaders with five interceptions and is one of the better blitzers on the team as evidenced by his five sacks. He's the kind of player you can build your defense around.
Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez: Much like Lewis, Hernandez was a full-time starter for Florida last season. He took over the lead role at tight end after Cornelius Ingram went down in the preseason with a knee injury. But in a league laden with quality tight ends, the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Hernandez flew under the radar. He didn't even receive honorable mention on the Associated Press' All-SEC team last season despite leading all tight ends with five touchdown catches. In 2009, Hernandez will be at the top of everybody's list. He has great hands. He's a physical blocker and can be utilized in a number of different ways. The Gators love to use him on the shovel pass, and they run it better than anybody.
Georgia tailback Caleb King: One of the most intriguing position battles next season in the SEC will be the Georgia starting tailback job. The front-runner is King, although Richard Samuel will also be a big part of the rotation. But with Knowshon Moreno gone and after so much hype about his potential, this is the 5-foot-11, 212-pound King's time to shine and he knows it. He rushed for just 247 yards on 61 carries last season, but Moreno was the centerpiece of the Georgia running game. Here's betting that King seizes this opportunity during his junior season and showcases what kind of back he really is behind an offensive line that should be one of the strengths of the team in 2009.
LSU safety Chad Jones: He's one of the more versatile athletes in the SEC, and 2009 is the season that Jones becomes one of the better football players in the SEC. The 6-foot-3, 214-pound Jones has shown just enough during his first two years that you know he has greatness written all over him. But with a new defensive coordinator (John Chavis) and new position coach (Ron Cooper), look for Jones to not only be a full-time starter, but much more consistent. The other thing that should help him is that he won't miss any spring practice to play baseball for the Tigers this spring. Despite starting in just six games last season, Jones still tied for sixth on the team with 50 total tackles and also forced two fumbles. Those numbers will only climb next season.
Ole Miss linebacker Patrick Trahan: If there were any questions about Trahan, they were erased at the end of last season when he played lights out for the Rebels. He had a sack and forced a fumble in the Cotton Bowl win over Texas Tech and finished the season 11th on the team in total tackles. Despite starting in just two games, he recorded 4.5 tackles for loss. It sometimes takes a year or part of a year for a junior college transfer to fully adjust, but Trahan will be an integral part of the Rebels' defense in 2009. He goes in as the starter at weakside linebacker and has all the tools to be one of the best big-play defenders in the league. Remember, the Ole Miss defense under Tyrone Nix last season had a staggering 111 tackles for loss.