Football is the ultimate team sport. Eleven guys working together, each man having to do his job so the team can succeed. From the quarterback’s timing with his receivers, to the offensive line’s continuity, to the linebackers filling the gaps. A football team must often function as one. That being said, individual talents still shine, and one player can still take over any game. The Georgia Bulldogs are the clear cut favorites in the SEC East after last year’s conference title. While they have the most talent laden roster in the division, they are not the only team with play-makers. We take a look at the potential star players on offense for each SEC East team.
SEC East Preview; Potential Star Players On Offense
You Do Run Run Run
D’Andre Swift – Tailback – Georgia Bulldogs
The defending SEC champs seem to always have a potential star waiting to take over at tailback. With the NCAA’s all-time leading rushing yardage duo now gone to the NFL, that burden falls to D’Andre Swift. As a change of pace to Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, the speedy freshman averaged seven-and-a-half yards per carry. He is an explosive runner, with true breakaway speed. He totaled 771 yards and four touchdowns on 98 carries last season. That number will increase immensely as Swift will be the focal point of this year’s rushing attack. His 17 catches also show how diverse a weapon he can be out of the backfield.
The sophomore will have big shoes to fill, but has already shown he has the talent to make special things happen on the field. Georgia will likely try to get him at least 20 touches, rushing and receiving, each game. They know that at any moment he can break a big play and change a game.
Benny Snell Jr – Tailback – Kentucky Wildcats
Snell Jr. burst on to the scene as a freshman, spearheading the Wildcats offense with 1,333 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground. The 5’11” 233lb tailback did not need an adjustment period moving from high school to college. He literally hit the ground running when he arrived in Lexington. He broke Moe Williams’ school record for rushing yards as a freshman. Starting quarterback Stephon Johnson and leading receiver Garrett Johnson are both graduated from last year’s team. This means Snell Jr. could carry an even heavier load as the 2018 season begins. The sophomore power back is known for breaking tackles and fighting for tough yards. He also has good enough speed to break a big run when the space opens up. Kentucky will rely on him as they groom a new QB and figure out who their other play-makers are on offense.
Albert Okwuegbunam – Tight End – Missouri
As a freshman last season, the Springfield, Il native was a big part of the Missouri offense. He totaled 29 catches and 415 yards, averaging a solid 14.3 yards per reception. Okwuegbunam made his biggest impact in the red zone. The 6’5” 260 lb tight end caught 11 touchdown passes in his first college season. A big man with the rare combo of speed, size and soft hands, he has the ability to really excel this season. Missouri runs a fast paced, pass heavy offense. The Tigers have quarterback Drew Lock returning for another year. That tandem could lead this offense to big numbers, and put the Tigers back on a winning track after two straight sub par seasons. Albert Okwuegbunam could be the most productive tight end in the SEC, going from solid freshman to potential star in his second season.
Kalija Lipscomb – Wide Receiver – Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt has never been known for its explosive offenses, but they do have a good recent history of productive receivers. Kalija Lipscomb has a chance to be the next in line to carry on that mantle. Through two seasons in Nashville, the junior has 929 yards and 10 touchdowns. With Kyle Shurmur returning under center, their chemistry will be key to the Commodores offense taking the next step. Coach Derek Mason has had the Vandy defense playing well during his tenure, and if they want to return to a bowl game, the offense needs to step up. Lipscomb gives them a solid weapon to utilize. His 16.5 yards per catch show he can provide them with big plays. Ralph Webb, the school’s all-time leading rusher, is gone. Vandy will lean on the Shurmur to Lipscomb connection early in the season as they try to sort out the tailback position.
Marquez Callaway – Wide Receiver – Tennessee
The junior wide-out was billed as a potential star after his breakout performance in last season’s opener. He had four catches for 115 yards and two scores leading the Volunteers to a fourth quarter comeback over Georgia Tech. Marquez Callaway’s production did not sustain as he only had four catches in a game one more time all year. He also never topped 100 yards again. The dysfunction and turmoil that surrounded last season’s team had a lot to do with that. The quarterback position was in constant flux, and Callaway’s numbers suffered because of it. He finished with 406 yards and five touchdowns. The Warner Robins, Ga native has shown he can be an explosive offensive weapon. It will be up to Tennessee’s new offensive staff to find ways to utilize this potential star better moving forward.
A Little Bit of Everything
Kadarius Toney – Wide Receiver – Florida
Coach Dan Mullen has taken over the Gators’ program, and the hopes are that he can bring some offensive fireworks back to Gainesville. Kadarius Toney will be a key cog in whatever offensive plan takes shape for Florida. As a freshman he had modest numbers, but showed flashes of ability that have Gator fans excited about what he can do. Toney caught 15 passes for 152 yards, and also ran the ball 14 times for 120 yards. While those totals aren’t eye popping, his 9.4 yards per touch lead to some optimism.
The Gators have struggled mightily on offense in the past few seasons. They have not had a versatile play maker since Percy Harvin. Toney has the skill to become that type of explosive player. Shifty and quick, he can both make defenders miss and run away from them. Mullen will no doubt be giddy at the prospects of unleashing Toney’s versatile abilities on SEC defenses this fall.
Deebo Samuel – Wide Receiver – South Carolina
Having him in the potential star category may be a bit misleading. Deebo Samuel returns for his senior season after missing most of last year with injury. He is a proven commodity in SEC circles, but if he can stay healthy, Samuel will be a household name nationwide by season’s end. In just over two and a half games last year, Deebo accounted for 280 yards from scrimmage and 4 touchdowns. He also had a kickoff return for a score in each of the first two games. He has 1194 yards receiving for his career, to go along with his seven rushing touchdowns. The bulk of his carries on jet sweeps come in the red zone, where he has shown a knack for finding the end zone.
His 59 catches and 783 yards receiving as a sophomore showed what he can do when he is healthy all season. The Gamecocks will have a new offensive identity in 2018, and return most of last season’s production. They struggled to score in many games last year, but with their star Deebo back in the fold, the points should come much easier. If he can stay healthy and sustain the pace he started 2017 with, Samuel could work his way into All-American or even Heisman contention.