We know all about Jadeveon Clowney and Jarvis Jones, to go along with Johnny Manziel and Mike Gillislee. All those guys light up the box scores and give material to the talking heads every Saturday. But often times guys who are under-the-radar performers don’t get enough ink or street cred. That’s why I’m here.
Here are five of the most underappreciated and underrated SEC football players for 2012:
AJ Johnson, LB, Tennessee (SO): You want to talk about the guy who is doing it all for his team? AJ Johnson is not only the second-leading tackler in the SEC with 84 total, but he’s Tennessee’s short-yard uber-back in the Wildcat. He has 10 carries for 16 yards and four touchdowns, accounting for one-third of the Vols’ 12 total rushing touchdowns. How’s that for an all-purpose animal? Johnson is the heart and soul of a terrible Tennessee defense, but he’ll be the centerpiece for a ‘13 squad that must be better, whether it’s under Derek Dooley or some other coach.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt (JR): Don’t look now, but Vanderbilt will get six wins and a bowl berth. A huge part of that resurgence has been wide receiver Jordan Matthews. Matthews is currently second in the SEC with 56 catches for 775 yards and three touchdowns. He’s averaging 13.8 yards per catch, and he’s Jordan Rodgers’ primary receiver in the passing game. Matthews doesn’t get the ink he deserves in Nashville, and he’s quietly putting together a very good season.
Kevin Minter, LB, LSU (JR): When you think LSU defense, you think Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo or Eric Reid, but Kevin Minter is outplaying all three of them. He’s the heart and soul of the defense and the only returning starter at linebacker. But he still doesn’t get talked about too much even now. Against Florida alone, Minter had 20 tackles and recorded two sacks and a forced fumble. He’s fourth in the SEC in tackles with 75 and fifth in the SEC in tackles for loss with 9.5. He’s having an All-American year in a league of All-American defensive players.
Tyler Russell, QB, Miss State (JR): While the Bulldogs’ secondary gets the most hype in Starkville, junior Tyler Russell is the key reason State is sitting 7-1 and ranked in the top 20. Dan Mullen turned the keys over to Russell this season after Chris Relf’s eligibility finally ran out, and Russell is at the head of the resurgence for the Bulldogs. Russell is the reason LaDarius Perkins is the leading rusher in the SEC; he’s the reason for Chad Bumphis’ emergence as a senior. He’s thrown for 1,742 yards with 15 touchdowns and two interceptions. While his completion percentage probably isn’t where he wants it at 58.8 percent, Russell could be the central ingredient to a 10-win season.
Jeff Scott, RB, Ole Miss (JR): Jeff Scott and his bond with Hugh Freeze is a story within itself. Freeze has been public about his and Scott’s heart-to-heart talks this season. The result of those talks has been the emergence of Scott as the lifeblood of Ole Miss’ offensive success. Scott has tallied 113 carries for 612 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He was primarily recruited to replace Dexter McCluster in Houston Nutt’s offense, but the switch has finally flipped on for the speedy junior from South Florida. He’ll be the focal point of the attack Saturday against Georgia.