According to Pro Football Focus, LSU has the best two returning SEC players in 2017
Don’t expect LSU to lack for star power in 2017, as the Tigers could have the best one-two punch in the entire SEC next season according to Pro Football Focus.
Linebacker Arden Key tops all SEC defenders and running back Derrius Guice tops all SEC offensive players in a list of Top 25 returning college football players put together by Steve Palazzolo. Both rising juniors had breakout campaigns in 2016 and could be among the select few to hear their names called in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft if they continue to improve stock in the upcoming season.
After showcasing his ability to get to the passer as a freshman, Key further developed his game as he became a more all-around performer as a sophomore. Here’s what Palazzolo had to say regarding Key:
After grading as the top true freshman edge defender in 2015, Key made a big leap in year two to finish at 88.9 as a pass-rusher, good for eighth in the nation. He finished with 12 sacks, 13 QB hits and 29 hurries while playing sound against the run. Key will enter 2017 as a potential first-round pick and perhaps the best pass-rusher in the country.
Those around the LSU program had been lauding Guice for some time, however, with Leonard Fournette being the No. 1 option for obvious reasons, few outside the program were able to witness how good of a player he already was. Inserting a healthy Guice into the lineup proved to be more effective than an injured Fournette for LSU’s offense in 2016.
After piling up 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground (in essentially eight games worth of production), Guice showed off the talent LSU insiders already knew was there. Palazzolo cites Guice’s impressive statistics to suggest he is the SEC’s top returning offensive player for 2017:
Once RB Leonard Fournette went down the injury, Guice picked right up where he left off as an incredible big-play threat for LSU’s offense. He tied for 10th in the nation at 82.9 overall and 59.7 percent of his yards came on breakaway (15-plus yard) runs, third-highest in the nation. Guice averaged 7.6 yards/carry while posting an elusive rating of 112.3 that ranked third among backs with at least 180 carries. Guice enters 2017 as one of the nation’s best big-play threats.
While the majority of the offseason at LSU will be spent pondering how new offensive coordinator Matt Canada will improve quarterback play and the overall passing game heading into 2017, how the OC utilizes Guice moving forward will likely be more critical to the team’s success next season. There’s no hiding from opponents what the talented back is capable of, so finding ways to help him succeed as the No. 1 option on offense won’t be as easy this year.
If LSU is to make a run at the SEC West title, both of these players are likely going to need to continue their upward trajectory with tough challenges at Florida, at Ole Miss, at Alabama, and at Tennessee in the season to come.