When the subject of SEC instant-impact early enrollees arises, Georgia quarterback Jacob Eason’s name is typically one of the first to come up in the conversation.
That’s completely understandable, as the Bulldogs struggled at the position for much of last season and Eason was one of the most heavily recruited prospects in the 2016 recruiting class.
There are plenty of directions we could go in discussing the conference’s most intriguing early enrollee, however. We’ll soon learn where Eason stands in the Bulldogs’ quarterback competition, but will remove him from the conversation for now.
Here are two of our SEC writers’ takes on other key SEC early enrollees to watch this spring and beyond:
David Ching: The SEC is loaded with interesting early enrollees this year, so this is a tough call. I almost went with South Carolina quarterback Brandon McIlwain, but I can’t get past the boatload of potential stars who arrived at Auburn in January – starting with quarterback John Franklin III.
Four of Auburn’s six highest-rated signees – defensive tackle Antwuan Jackson, defensive end Marlon Davidson, receiver Kyle Davis and cornerback John Broussard – are early enrollees, but junior college transfer Franklin is the one who intrigues me most.
Auburn’s disappointing quarterback play was one of the top storylines of the 2015 SEC season, and many Tigers fans believe dual-threat prospect Franklin might be the guy who brings life back to Gus Malzahn’s offense. The former Florida State signee certainly can add the running threat that Auburn lacked at the position last year.
The Tigers return Jeremy Johnson, Sean White and Tyler Queen from last year and will add signee Woody Barrett to the mix this summer – creating a competition that Malzahn has described as “wide open.”
Malzahn’s offense has typically functioned most effectively when the Tigers have a running threat at quarterback – think the Cam Newton and Nick Marshall eras – so fans’ excitement over Franklin is understandable. Now he has to prove he deserves the starting job more than a group of quarterbacks with a considerable experience advantage in the Tigers’ offense.
Edward Aschoff: Everyone always talks about offense when it comes to early enrollees, but I'm going in a different direction. How about Ole Miss defensive tackle Benito Jones?
The 275-pound, five-star prospect is going to be immediately molded into Robert Nkemdiche's replacement in the center of Ole Miss' defensive line. While he didn't receive the same sort of fanfare Nkemdiche earned in high school, there's no denying his potential. He capped his senior season with four tackles for loss and a sack in the Under Armour All-America Game and had 14 sacks as a senior.
With Chris Kiffin's help this spring, Jones will get a head start on his development and challenging sophomore Breeland Speaks for the starting spot up front. Regardless of if Jones wins that job outright or not, he'll make an impact for the Rebels from Day 1, and having him on campus now is a major win for Ole Miss.