Take a look at the offensive side of the Freshman All-Southeastern Conference team from a year ago, and it reads a lot more like the All-SEC first team than anything else. With Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at quarteback, Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon as the top newcomers at running back, and wide receivers like Amari Cooper and Mike Evans impressing right away, some the league's veteran offensive stars were quickly relegated to the side stage.
On the defensive side of the ball? A much different story.
But two linebackers from the Magnolia State, Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney and Ole Miss' Denzel Nkemdiche, did more than their part to reach stardom early.
As clarionledger.com reports, McKinney is primed to be a major force in the Bulldogs' defense as a sophomore. Last year, he made 102 tackles, second-most among freshmen in the entire NCAA. He had 4.5 tackles for loss, broke up four passes and notched a 13-yard sack of Alabama's A.J. McCarron. And at 6-5, 235 pounds, he has the physical frame to make evaluators salivate when his scouting time comes for the NFL draft.
Nkemdiche made 82 stops for the Rebels with a whopping 13 tackles behind the line, becoming an instant playmaker in his first season in the Ole Miss lineup. Throw in three sacks, three interceptions and four caused fumbles, and it's little wonder he was named to various preseason All-SEC teams.
Unlike McKinney, however, Nkemdiche doesn't have prototypical size for an NFL linebacker. His measurements (5-11, 207 pounds) may make him more of an NFL consideration in a hybrid safety role, or perhaps as a nickel back or dime back.