SEC spring wrap: 14 players to watch in 2023

Alabama coach Nate Oats comes off the ccourt after an NCAA college basketball game against Texas A&M in the finals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Sunday, March 12, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. Alabama won 82-63. (AP Photo/John Amis) (John Amis, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The Southeastern Conference is losing some of its top quarterbacks, but there’s plenty of star power returning, including at running back. Here’s a look at some of the league’s players to watch coming out of spring practice:

ALABAMA: CB/PR Kool-Aid McKinstryis the latest star in Nick Saban’s secondary after playing key roles in his first two seasons. He’s a first-team All-SEC cornerback who also ranked second nationally with a 15.8-yard punt return average. McKinstry is projected as a likely first-round draft pick next year if he turns pro. He had a team-high 15 pass breakups last season.

ARKANSAS: RB Raheim Sanders ran for 1,443 yards last season, fourth-most in program history. The 6-foot-2, 237-pounder also scored 10 touchdowns and caught 28 passes. Sanders’ 6.5 yards per carry was the Razorbacks’ best since Felix Jones set the school record in 2007.

AUBURN: RB Jarquez Hunter has excelled as Tank Bigsby’s backup the past two seasons and now figures to be the Tigers’ lead runner. The 5-foot-10, 210-pounder has run for 1,268 yards and 10 touchdowns over the past two seasons while averaging 6.6 yards per carry. New coach Hugh Freeze has already called him “probably the best running back I’ve ever coached.”

FLORIDA: DL Cam’Ron Jackson was the starting nose tackle at Memphis last season and had 41 tackles. The 6-foot-6, 355-pounder appeared in 34 games over the past three years.

GEORGIA: TE Brock Bowers was a first-team All-SEC pick and finalist for the Lombardi Award as the nation’s top lineman. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder has racked up 119 catches for 1,824 yards and 20 touchdowns through his first two seasons — and two national title rings.

KENTUCKY: WR Barion Brown set school freshman marks last season with 50 catches for 628 yards. Brown also averaged 27.5 yards per kick return.

MISSISSIPPI: RB Quinshon Judkins set the single-season rushing record and led the SEC with 1,567 yards and 16 touchdowns as a freshman. Now, quarterback Jaxson Dart said he’s improved as a receiver as well. Coach Lane Kiffin likened his potential career progression in terms of versatility to former USC star Reggie Bush.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: WR Lideatrick Griffin is a three-year contributor for the Bulldogs. Griffin played slot receiver in the spring and could be featured in the new offense as State transitions away from the late Mike Leach's Air Raid. Griffin had 40 catches for 502 yards last season and led the nation in kick returns with a 32.3-yard average. He briefly entered the transfer portal in January before opting to stay in Starkville.

MISSOURI: WR Luther Burden. The five-star recruit had a solid all-around debut season with 10 starts and 45 catches. He also ran for two touchdowns and scored on a punt return.

SOUTH CAROLINA: RB Dakereon Joyner is back for a sixth season with the Gamecocks and this time he’s working at running back, a depleted position with last year’s leading rusher MarShawn Lloyd gone to Southern California and second-leading rusher Jaheim Bell now at Florida State. Joyner, at 6-foot-1, 216 pounds, has played quarterback, receiver and even a little tight end during his time in Columbia.

TEXAS A&M: DL Walter Nolen was the Aggies’ top recruit in a star-studded 2022 class and had a strong freshman season, starting four games and making 29 tackles with 2.5 for loss, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He could be poised for bigger things in a defensive front loaded with blue-chippers.

VANDERBILT: S De’Rickey Wright is coming off easily his best season and looks to continue a steady progression. Wright has started 16 games over the last two years. He had 55 tackles and three interceptions in 2022. TENNESSEE: WR Bru McCoy's production could jump significantly from last year's 52-catch season with the departure of Biletnikoff Award winner Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman. The 6-foot-3, 221-pounder originally signed with USC as one of the nation’s top prospects.

___ AP Sports Writers Pete Iacobelli and Teresa Walker contributed to this report.


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