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SEC: Potential breakout players

[airesizeimg src=”http://ngscsports.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Shaq-Roland.jpg” alt=”Shaq Roland” class=”aligncenter size-full wp-image-4389″ ]
AS HAS BEEN established during this millennium, the Southeastern Conference never rebuilds its cachet of star power. It simply reloads.

While the conference’s choke-hold on the national championship relented this past season, the wealth of talent on display was as solid as ever. Now, many of those stars – Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, two dozen wide receivers and every third offensive lineman – are moving on to their NFL payday, it’s only natural to ask which fresh faces will step into the void for 2014.

For the purposes of this list, we’ll stay away from the obvious breakout candidates, such as Alabama’s Amari Cooper and T.J. Yeldon, Georgia’s Todd Gurley and South Carolina’s Mike Davis. If there is a theme to pick up from the following list, it’s “next man up” … that is, several of these potential stars are quite literally stepping in for players who will be cashing checks next season.

Without further ado:

WR Shaq Roland (South Carolina) – The highly talented speedster played his high school ball 20 minutes from Williams-Brice Stadium but found out the gap was much wider. He struggled to transition during his freshman season but appeared to get comfortable over the last half of the 2013 campaign. Perhaps is six-reception, 112-yard performance against Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl was his coming out party? Dylan Thompson, a more traditional passer than dual-threat Connor Shaw, takes over at quarterback and that will bring an emphasis back to timing routes and five- and seven-step drops. Such a scheme will place a premium on Roland’s game-changing speed. (Keep an eye on teammate Pharoah Cooper as well at WR).

WR C.J. Duncan (Vanderbilt) – It is very difficult to say what we’ll see out of Vanderbilt in Derek Mason’s first season at the helm, but one thing is for certain – he has holes to fill at receiver. Duncan, a redshirt freshman, is listed as a receiver, but can play running back as well. If Mason is imaginative, Duncan will be lining up all over the field for the Commodores. If fellow redshirt freshman receiver Gerald Perry can also make a splash at receiver, Duncan’s versatility should come into play even more.

TE O.J. Howard (Alabama) – Are you kidding? A tight end at Alabama? Howard is the real deal and with Lane Kiffin drawing up plays on offense, expect to see a whole lot more of him. If you doubt this, just flashback to last season’s LSU game, when Howard caught a slant from A.J. McCarron and outraced the LSU secondary to a 52-yard touchdown. That’s right – a 6-6, 240-pound tight end outran an elite SEC secondary. Seems sort of obvious as a breakout candidate now, doesn’t he?

RB Josh Robinson and QB Dak Prescott (Mississippi State) – What we have here is the result of Dan Mullen finally having the pieces in place to run his kind of offense. We saw flashes of that last season, but 2014 should be the year a lot of it falls into place. Prescott is a dual-threat quarterback who showed poise in the recently completed spring game. He completed 7 of 9 passes for 131 yards, ran for a 6-yard score and, most impressively, orchestrated a no-timeout, clock-running, last-second field goal to win the game. If he can make the most of his own skills, then the 5-9, 225 pound Robinson should cause opposing defenses a lot of headaches in 2014.

DE Jonathan Allen (Alabama) – We’ve been staying away from the defensive side of the ball here, for the breakout candidates are blindingly obvious (Robert Nkemdiche, anyone?) while many teams have severe unknowns filling voids (who steps in for Kelcy Quarles and Clowney at South Carolina?). So with a nod to Auburn DT Montravius Adams and Ole Miss corner Derrick Jones, we’ll let Allen be the standard-bearer for now. Moreso than in recent seasons, Alabama will have a defensive line that can put serous pressure on the quarterback. Saban calls Allen a “quick-twitch” pass-rusher, which is the mercurial coach’s way of saying he has enormous potential. With massive defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson returning to steal the focus of opposing offensive lines, Allen should see a lot of one-on-one matchups, at least early on.

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