We’ve already determined the most underrated player in the SEC is Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy. With back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and bowl game berths, Stacy has meant so much to the Commodores’ program during his career.
But who are the other underrated players in the SEC who had huge seasons but never get their due respect?
Here are six of them:
AJ Johnson, LB, Tennessee (SO): Lost in the massive unraveling of Derek Dooley’s 5-7 season that ultimately led to his demise, linebacker and short yardage extraordinaire AJ Johnson was one of the few bright spots – maybe the only bright spot on defense – for the Vols. Johnson led the SEC in tackles with 138 total, averaging 11.5 per game. Johnson also toted the rock 12 times on offense in Wildcat formations, scoring six touchdowns. Johnson will be the nucleus of the defense for the next lucky Tennessee coach.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt (JR): Don’t look now, but former ‘lowly’ Vanderbilt has some impact playmakers on offense. Matthews finished second in the SEC with 87 catches for 1,262 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 7.25 receptions per game and 14.5 yards per catch. While Zac Stacy was the heart and soul of the Dores’ offense, Matthews’ play this season was just as important to the #7 offense in the SEC. The best receiver in the state of Tennessee may live in Nashville.
Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M (JR): Lost in the massive seasons Jarvis Jones and Jadeveon Clowney had yet once again, TAMU’s Damontre Moore killed it at Texas A&M. If not for Clowney’s 4.5 sacks against Clemson, Moore would have been the SEC leader in sacks. Moore was a hybrid player in the Aggies’ 3-4 defense last season. He led the Big 12 in tackles for loss, and he had a lot to prove and a ton to shoulder as one of the leaders of the defense. Moore wound up getting 12.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. But many aren’t quick to call him an elite defensive player. Moore should be considered with Jones and Clowney in the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award.
Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia (JR): Jarvis Jones gets the pub on Georgia’s defense, and rightfully so, but I’m not so sure Alec Ogletree isn’t the best linebacker on the team. He’s certainly the most athletic. Ogletree moves like a wide receiver with 235 pounds of muscle. He was suspended for the first four games of the season, but he still managed to lead the team in tackles and nab two sacks. He’ll be an impact player early in his career in the NFL.
Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina (JR): South Carolina finished 10-2 during the regular season, and a big part of that was wide receiver/punt returner Ace Sanders. Carolina needed a receiver to emerge with the loss of Alshon Jeffery, and Sanders rose to the challenge. He caught 36 passes for 439 yards and seven touchdowns, but his punt returns were in key situations. He returned one against Georgia that turned the lights out on the Dawgs’ perfect season, and he had another big one against Missouri that put them to bed, too. He led the SEC with 14.5 yards per return. While Clowney, Marcus Lattimore, Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson will get the pub, Sanders needs some respect, too.
Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas (JR): One player I thought was arguably the most improved player over the course of 2012 was Chris Smith. Smith was a projected starter entering ‘12, especially after Tenarius Wright was moved to linebacker. He was the one guy on Arkansas’ defense who progressively improved throughout the year, and he had a big game against LSU to close it out. Smith finished with 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. It was an impressive season for a team that lost the will to live somewhere around week four.
Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE