Top 5 JUCO players from last season in the SEC
1. Alvin Kamara – RB- Hutchinson CC – Tennessee Kamara, the second ranked JUCO RB in the 2015 class, has definitely lived up to his billing as an electric play maker so far. In his first season on Rocky Top, Kamara racked up 698 rushing yards, 6.5 yards per carry, 291 receiving yards, and 11 touchdowns total, all while taking the lesser of the carries to starting RB Jalen Hurd. He made a difference on special teams as well as he averaged 12.5 yards per punt return and also housed one. With the experience Tennessee returns up front on the offensive line, Kamara is expected to play an even bigger role this year. Coaches have talked about increasing his touches in a variety of different ways, including more carries, more catches out of the backfield and slot receiver, and returning punts. Overall, he is a big-time play maker that can change the game in an instant with an explosive play.
2. Chad Kelly – QB – East Mississippi CC- Ole Miss Rated as the top QB from the JUCO ranks in 2015, Kelly has proven he is worthy of that ranking……and then some. After taking over for former Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, Kelly quickly flashed his elite talent last season by throwing for over 4,000 yards, rushing for over 500 yards, and accumulating 41 total touchdowns. Although Kelly did throw 13 interceptions last season (2nd most in the SEC), he apparently learned from his mistakes mid-season as he finished the season on fire scoring 17 total touchdowns to only one interception in the last four games. Kelly is considered the best returning QB in the SEC next season. Although he is losing top receiving target Laquon Treadwell, Kelly should have another outstanding season at Ole Miss, as he has several weapons coming back at the wide receiver position.
3. Tony Bridges – DB–Mississippi Gulf Coast CC-Ole Miss The top DB in JUCO in 2015 did not disappoint in his first season for the Rebels. After enrolling at Ole Miss, Bridges quickly earned the starting role as corner, as he became the starter the first game of the regular season. He ended up starting 11 of the 13 games last season and recorded 36 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions (1 for a touchdown), 12 passes defended, and a blocked field goal. Word around Oxford, Mississippi is that he has really matured this off-season and has learned to play more consistently within the defense instead of trying to make the spectacular play every down, which could mean trouble for opposing team offenses.
4. Justin Evans – S- Mississippi Gulf Coast CC – Texas A&M Evans, the number 2 safety and 35th overall JUCO prospect in the 2015 class, really played like a man- possessed last season, recording 78 tackles (3rd on the team), 1 tackle for loss, and 1 interception. Known more for his crushing licks laid on people than anything else, Evans made a name for himself as one of the hardest hitting safeties in the league. If he can take the next step and become more effective in coverage this upcoming season, he will be in for a huge senior year.
5. Dominique Reed – WR- Coffeyville CC- Arkansas- Listed as the 10th ranked JUCO WR prospect in 2015, Reed may have been a bit underrated. After starting the season slow, Reed blew up after the first month of the season, recording 28 receptions, 535 yards, and 7 touchdowns total in just 6 starts. Reed showed his big-play ability last season by averaging 19 yards per reception and converting 21 first downs on 28 of his receptions. He also scored at least one touchdown in 6 straight games for the Razorbacks. Arkansas did lose former QB Brandon Allen to graduation, but with Reed returning, Brandon’s little brother, Austin, should have an easier time tossing the pig-skin around with Reed’s ability to get open and make plays.
Top 5 JUCO Players to Watch This Upcoming Season In the SEC
1. Martinas Rankin LT – Mississippi Gulf Coast CC- MSU- After signing with Mississippi State as an EE in December of 2014, Rankin was expected by some to nab a starting tackle position last season. Once Rankin enrolled and went through his first spring practice in 2015, coaches decided a redshirt season would help the ultra-talented junior develop a bit more mentally and physically. Now, fast forward to 2016, Rankin has claimed perhaps the most important position on the offensive line, the left tackle spot, for the Bulldogs before the regular season has even started. He will play a pivotal role in this offense since the Bulldogs will have a new QB under center this season. If he can continue the upward trajectory he has been on, I expect Mississippi State to have a very solid left tackle prospect this upcoming season.
2. Jonathan Kongbo DE – Arizona Western CC- TENN Kongbo is a physical specimen. The 6’6, 282 pound defensive end has tremendous athletic ability. Originally weighing 260 pounds after signing with Tennessee in February, the redshirt sophomore has already put on 22 pounds. With his speed and size coming off the edge, Kongbo has all the potential in the world to be the next great defensive end in college football. Can Kongbo live up to those expectations? That remains to be seen. Although he has a loaded defensive line already in front of him at Tennessee (especially at the DE position), his combination of size, speed, and ability to constantly disrupt offenses in the backfield (12 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in JUCO) will give him plenty of opportunity to prove himself at either defensive line position. I expect to see him on the field early and often.
3. Mark Thompson RB – Dodge City CC- FLA- Signing Mark Thompson was the best thing that happened for Florida in the 2016 class. After losing two starting QB’s to transfers, Florida will have an unproven QB under center this season. Thompson should be able to relieve a lot of the pressure the new QB may feel if he can claim the starting spot. Thompson has better size and overall playmaking ability than any other RB on campus currently. Standing at 6’2 and weighing 240 pounds, an overload of carries will also not be a problem for the bruiser. Thompson displayed his abilities all spring long and topped it off with a great spring game performance. If he can overcome his fumbling issues, I expect him to grab the starting role at some point this season and make very significant production .
4. John Franklin – ATH- East Mississippi CC- AUB The electric athlete signed with Auburn as a QB, but do not expect him to stay off the field even if he does not win the starting QB position. Possessing 4.28 speed (something no other skill player has on the offense), head coach Gus Malzahn will find a role for him somewhere in this offense whether that be at wide receiver or wildcat QB. Either way, Franklin III is a dynamite with the ball in his hands, something a starless Auburn offense a season ago needs. If he can get his weight up just a bit (189 lbs.), Franklin III has an opportunity to become that star Auburn has been missing.
5. Travonte Valentine DT- Mississippi Gulf Coast CC- LSU After signing with Les Miles at LSU, then being dismissed for “violation of team rules” during summer last year, Valentine has been given a second chance. The re-recruitment of the big 6’2, 340 pound nose tackle is just what LSU needs for new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda’s 3-4 scheme. LSU currently does not have a set starter at the position so the competition will be wide open. They also do not have a space eating, disruptive big-man with potential like Valentine. Valentine’s biggest hurdle will be staying out of trouble off the field. He has been dismissed from LSU for “violation of team rules” once already, arrested since his dismissal at LSU (although charges were dropped), and been booted from Arizona Western CC 6 games into the season because of the arrest. He has all the tools to be a key playmaker in what LSU wants to do on the defensive side of the ball moving forward. Hopefully, Valentine will use this second chance to highlight his undeniable talent on the field.
Mitch White is a free lance writer who makes contributions to Genespage.com that focus on SEC recruiting. A lifelong fan of SEC football, White passionately follows recruiting year round. You may follow him on Twitter @m_white14null