August 6, 2014 12:49:28 PM
Who saw Dak Prescott and Jameon Lewis coming? Entering Mississippi State's 2013 football season, Prescott was the backup quarterback behind starter Tyler Russell and Lewis had amassed just 251 career receiving yards through two seasons. At the end of the year, however, the two were among MSU's top playmakers, with Prescott exploding for nearly 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns while Lewis scored touchdowns in three different ways wile topping the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career. So who are the candidates to emerge from nowhere and become breakout players in 2014?
1. Josh Robinson, RB, Junior
After waiting his turn behind Ladarius Perkins, Robinson is positioned as a starter for the first time.The Franklinton, Louisiana product rushed for 459 yards in 2013, good for third on the team, but he averaged six yards per carry. Now lining up beside Prescott in MSU's run-oriented spread offense, Robinson should get plenty of opportunities to be the Bulldogs' go-to guy.
2. Justin Cox, Safety, Senior
A former All-American at safety at East Mississippi Community College, Cox filled in ably at cornerback during his first season at MSU as he recorded 31 tackles with one interception. Now a senior, the West Point High grad will move back to his natural position of safety.
"Guys as athletic as Justin, guys like a Johnthan Banks, they are so athletic and so gifted that they can adapt to either position," said MSU safeties coach Tony Hughes.
3. Will Redmond, CB, Junior
After sitting out the first 18 games of his career, Redmond, a former 4-star prospect out of Memphis East High, joined the cornerbacks rotation in Starkville midway through last season. The 6-1, 182-pounded collected two pass breakups and 23 tackles while fighting for playing time in nickel situations. Now entrenched as MSU's No. 3 corner, Redmond's playing time and production should each see substantial gains.
4. Fred Ross, WR, Sophomore
Suddenly, it's a crowded house at receiver for the Bulldogs, as head coach Dan Mullen has the most depth at WR that he's had in his six seasons. With playmakers like Jameon Lewis in the lot and DeRunnya Wilson out wide, the fight for production as MSU's No. 3 wideout will be intense. Betting on Ross, a former prep all-american out of Tyler, Texas, would not be a bad idea. Ross had nine catches for 115 yards as a freshman.
5. Beniquez Brown, LB, Sophomore
By the end of 2013, Brown was rising fast within the MSU defense. Replacing former MSU LB Deontae Skinner, Brown started the final three games of the season and recorded a season-high nine tackles against Arkansas. The former 4-star prospect out of Florence, Alabama posted 39 tackles as a redshirt freshman. Now entrenched as a starter alongside Benardrick McKinney and Matthew Wells, Brown projects as one of MSU's leading tackles in 2014.
6. AJ Jefferson, DE, Sophomore
Senior Preston Smith is the unquestioned leader at defensive end, but defensive line coach David Turner is looking for four ends to fill out a solid rotation. Solidly in that group is Jefferson, a redshirt sophomore from North Pike High School. At 6-3, 265, Jefferson will likely build on a freshman season that included 19 total tackles and two sacks.
7. Jamaal Clayborn, OL, Sophomore
One of MSU's biggest offensive questions revolves around replacing former All-SEC guard Gabe Jackson, now an Oakland Raider. The answer could begin with Clayborn, a 6-4, 315-pound offensive lineman who played in the final seven games of 2013.
8. Darrion Hutcherson, TE, Junior
His numbers at Copiah-Lincoln Community College were not eye-popping, but at 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, the junior college transfer could give Prescott a big, physical target at tight end.
9. Nick James, DT, Junior
The Nick James watch continues. A highly recruited prep prospect out of Long Beach in 2011, James has tantalizing size and strength at 6-5, 325, but he hasn't yet made an impact in Starkville. But his fellow players are raving about his effort in fall camp, adding credence to the belief that James is finally poised to make a difference in a crowded rotation at defensive tackle.
10. DeRunnya Wilson, WR, Sophomore
By the end of his freshman season, Wilson was becoming one of Prescott's top targets. The 6-5, 215-pounder hauled in a season-best seven catches at Texas A&M and gave Miss. State a chance to win the Egg Bowl with a reception on 4th-and-10 late in the fourth quarter. Wilson, who still only has a few competitive seasons under his belt, hauled in 26 catches for 331 yards as a freshman.