Greeson: Brown likely one of SEC's new Fab 4

Greeson: Brown likely one of SEC's new Fab 4

June 23rd, 2009 by Jay Greeson in Sports - College

Recruits hear it. Programs sell it. Fans love it.

And coaches understandably hope to avoid it at all costs.

Meet the impact newcomer, college football's current big thing. Or its next biggest disappointment.

There's little wiggle room for those anointed with such lavish preceding praise. For every Andre Smith and Darren McFadden, there are matching stories of James Banks and Tray Blackmon.

Five stars from a recruiting service can be four years of three-and-outs for those too burdened by being the "One."

But when they hit, when those precious five recruiting stars align, they can affect almost every aspect of a program.

Alabama's Julio Jones and Georgia's A.J. Green -- the dynamite receivers who took the SEC by storm as true freshmen last year -- did it. Eric Berry, UT's wonderful defensive back who should be on the short list of this year's Heisman Trophy candidates, did it the previous fall.

It's a trend not likely to change any time soon. With players able to declare for the NFL draft after three years on campus, superstar recruits will see a red shirt only if they are injured or that happens to be the color of the no-contact practice jersey.

You think Georgia coach Mark Richt would elect to redshirt Knowshon Moreno again if Richt knew that year of preparation was going to cost the Bulldogs a season of Moreno's production?

No, the next wave of stars is going to be today's wave of stars before the end of the year. That's a certainty.

What remains a mystery is which of the SEC newcomers will blossom sooner than the rest. Less than 80 days from the start of the season, here's a guess:

* Bryce Brown, Tennessee: The nation's top-ranked overall prospect by several services and the top-ranked running back by everyone with a stopwatch and a pencil, Brown's late decision to be a Volunteer is the high-water mark in Lane Kiffin's short time in Knoxville.

Yes, Montario Hardesty figures to be the starter at the dawn of the season, but Brown's big-play ability could be critical for a Vols offense starving for it. Brown will get a lot of early looks, and if he can pick up a few of the blocking assignments that normally slow a running back's transition to the college game, he will be hard to keep off the field.

* Russell Shepard, LSU: His quarterback numbers as a senior at Cypress Ridge High in Houston were staggering. Shepard ran for more than 1,900 yards and 28 touchdowns and passed for better than 1,800 yards and 20 scores.

Jordan Jefferson secured the starting job at the end of last season and was outstanding in the Tigers' impressive bowl rout of Georgia Tech. That said, Shepard graduated early from high school and was among five LSU players tabbed most improved in spring practice. He attempted 12 passes in the spring game -- two fewer than Jefferson -- completing seven for 70 yards.

* DJ Fluker, Alabama: The massive offensive lineman moved his way toward the front of the recruiting rankings by dominating the all-star games he attended. He's a freak -- at 6-foot-7 and 350 pounds, he was timed at 4.9 seconds in the 40-yard dash -- and there is a rather large opening in Tuscaloosa for a talented tackle after Smith left for the NFL.

The transition from facing high school defensive linemen to facing SEC defensive linemen is arguably the most difficult, but if anyone is up to that huge challenge it's Fluker.

* Eltoro Freeman, Auburn: After spending a year playing at a junior college and another season redshirting there, Freeman will be a sophomore this fall. He will be a much-welcomed addition for the Tigers.

Freeman almost immediately moved into the starting lineup, taking the top spot at weakside linebacker after spring practice, and his passion and pursuit earned raves.

About the only bad thing about Freeman for Auburn fans is that his stay could be short: He's eligible for the draft after the season.

That, and of course he's not a quarterback.