The SEC's freshman of the year is ...

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the freshman of the year in the SEC.

Last season, it was pretty clear-cut -- either A.J. Green or Julio Jones.

It won’t be nearly as clear-cut this season because several guys are making strong cases.

Here are my top five candidates in order based on what they’ve done to this point in the season:

1. Vanderbilt running back Warren Norman: He’d get my vote based on the fact that he’s made a big impact on both offense and special teams. Only two players in SEC history have returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in a season, and Norman is one of them.

2. South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore: He’s been a starter at cornerback for the Gamecocks since his first game and has also participated in some coverage units on special teams. Since taking over the punt return duties, he’s averaging 14.8 yards per return.

3. South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery: His 497 receiving yards are the sixth most in the SEC, and he’s also caught a team-leading five touchdown passes. Jeffery has emerged as the Gamecocks’ go-to receiver.

4. Auburn safety Daren Bates: With all the Tigers’ injuries at safety, Bates has been one of the most valuable defenders on that team. His 51 tackles lead all freshman players in the SEC, and he also has an interception and four quarterback hurries.

5. Mississippi State free safety Johnthan Banks: Tim Tebow sure knows who Banks is. Tebow threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns by Banks two weeks ago. Banks is tied for the SEC lead with four interceptions.

Here are five other freshmen (in alphabetical order) who also deserve a look:

  • Tennessee safety Janzen Jackson

  • Auburn running back Onterio McCalebb

  • Alabama running back Trent Richardson

  • Ole Miss linebacker D.T. Shackelford

  • Arkansas defensive end Tenarius Wright