In 2013, the freshmen of the SEC were truly fabulous.
Hunter Henry and Alex Collins were impact players at Arkansas. Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche were spectacular for Ole Miss. And who can forget the play of Vernon Hargreaves III, Chris Jones and A'Shawn Robinson?
But standout rookies aren’t easy to come by. More often it takes some time to transition from high school to college, and in Year 2 we generally see the biggest jump in production from players.
With that in mind, we’re taking a team-by-team look at the players who didn’t quite break through as freshmen but could see their stock skyrocket with as sophomores.
Next up: South Carolina
Class recap: The Gamecocks and coach Steve Spurrier hauled in yet another top 25 class in 2013, finishing 18th according to ESPN. Connor Mitch, the No. 18-ranked pocket passer in the country, was the jewel of the class. But more importantly, it was a balanced group as six of its 11 four-star signees were linemen.
Second-year star: WR Pharoh Cooper (5-foot-11, 200 pounds)
Recruiting stock: Cooper wasn’t anywhere near the headliner of his class. A three-star athlete from North Carolina, he had plans on playing cornerback for South Carolina. Spurrier and Co., of course, had other ideas.
2013 in review: His versatility is what made him special as a true freshman. Appearing in 11 of 13 games, he was able to make the SEC All-Freshman team as both an all-purpose back and return specialist. All told, he accumulated 655 yards: 202 rushing, 54 receiving and 399 in the return game.
2014 potential: Spurrier called Cooper a “natural talent” earlier this spring, noting how he will once again serve multiple roles as receiver, return man and Wildcat quarterback. Think of him as the new Bruce Ellington. And like Ellington, the goal is to get him the ball in space by any means necessary. It went well last year as he averaged a first down every time he touched the ball on offense (10.1 yards per carry, 18 yards per reception). With Shaq Roland and Damiere Byrd demanding the attention of the secondary on the outside, Cooper could get some favorable one-on-one matchups in the slot this season.
Also watch out for: David Williams is “ready to go” after redshirting last season, according to Spurrier, who mentioned him among the group of running backs who will relieve Mike Davis throughout the season. The former four-star prospect was described as “electrifying” and someone who can “makes things happen” by Davis. On the other side of the ball, pay close attention to fellow redshirt freshman David Johnson, who came up with a sack in the spring game. His ability to rush the passer could be useful this season as the Gamecocks look to replace the presence of Jadeveon Clowney at defensive end.