10 best SEC players still in NFL playoffs
Eli and Peyton Manning are the two most recent former SEC stars to win a Super Bowl MVP. It’s been awhile, though. Eli won his second award in the 2011 season.
It remains to be seen whether the SEC will produce the Super Bowl MVP this season, but there is no shortage of stars still in the playoff hunt.
Here are the 10 best former SEC standouts playing in Sunday’s AFC and NFC championship games.
10. Cordarrelle Patterson (Tennessee/New England)
The numbers won’t blow you away, but this deep in the season, with so much film revealing traits, Patterson has the potential to become the Patriots’ X-factor against Kansas City.
He’s a do-it-all type, and what better time than the AFC Championship to unleash a surprise play or two.
Remember, Patterson is a two-time Pro Bowler. He’s not Tom Brady’s first or even second option, but his speed makes him a threat in the receiving, running and return game.
9. Reggie Ragland (Alabama/Kansas City)
Bleacher Report recently named Ragland the worst Kansas City Chiefs player in 2018.
Suffice it to say, this isn’t the first time I’ve disagreed with something that outlet has written.
Ragland finished second on the Chiefs with 86 tackles in the regular season. If you want to say that’s expected of an inside linebacker, fine, but also note that it wasn’t necessarily expected out of Ragland. Remember, he has battled injuries and been traded since coming out of Alabama as a second-round pick in 2016.
He made a telling play against Oakland in the regular season finale, where he jumped an underneath route for his first career interception. We know he can stop the run. Given all the underneath routes the Patriots run, Kansas City needs him to be a force in the passing game Sunday.
8. Dante Fowler Jr. (Florida/L.A. Rams)
Everybody gushed over the midseason trades Dallas made to acquire Amari Cooper and Philadelphia did to land Golden Tate, but don’t sleep on the Rams stealing the talented-but-troubled Fowler from Jacksonville.
The Rams’ defensive line is the best in the NFL and Fowler has added a playmaking ability off the edge. Remember his forced-fumble-recovery last year in the AFC title game against New England? Fowler has that kind of game-changing ability, and it’s clear in his play he’s relishing a reboot with the Rams.
He added a sack last week, too, as if the Rams’ defense needed another quarterback crusher.
7. Trey Flowers (Arkansas/New England)
The Patriots’ front seven doesn’t include a Pro Bowl player in 2018. No surprise. It didn’t last year, either. Dont’a Hightower, in 2016, was the last Patriot to claim that honor. He’s eligible for this list, too. But he has a teammate more deserving.
Flowers was a nondescript 4th-round pick in 2015. At Arkansas, he made second-team All-SEC once. So, a household name he is not. Which makes him the perfect Patriot.
He enjoyed a breakout year in 2018, registering a career-high 7.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles.
He had 2.5 sacks in the Patriots’ 2016 playoff run to the Super Bowl title and has 4.5 in 7 career playoff games.
Sunday, he faces one of the most elusive QBs in the NFL in Pat Mahomes. The Patriots will need him to be at his playoff best.
6. Sony Michel (Georgia/New England)
When Michel was drafted, it seemed like the perfect marriage. A hybrid running back to a team and QB who rely on such skills.
It’s worked about as well as anyone could have hoped.
Michel led the Patriots with 931 rushing yards and 6 rushing TDs, despite starting just 8 games. He still hasn’t been targeted quite as frequently in the passing game, but he showed at Georgia that those skills are there.
Most encouraging to the Patriots, he was unstoppable in his first career playoff game. He gashed the Chargers for 129 yards and 3 TDs last weekend, just missing a career-high in yards and establishing one for scores.
5. Chris Jones (Mississippi State/Kansas City)
Jones finished third in the NFL with 15.5 sacks in the regular season but found another way to disrupt the passing game in last weekend’s playoff victory over Indianapolis.
He rejected 3 of Andrew Luck’s passes at the line of scrimmage.
Getting to Tom Brady is always a challenge. If Jones can be as disruptive as he was last week, the Chiefs have a chance to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 1969.
4. Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina/New England)
How did Gilmore recover after losing his individual battle and Super Bowl title to former roommate Alshon Jeffery?
With a Pro Bowl performance in 2018, his second such nod, and was named first-team All-Pro.
Pro Football Focus consistently graded Gilmore as the best cover corner in the league in 2018. He finished the regular season with 2 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles, then added his first career playoff interception last week against San Diego.
Gilmore vs. Tyreek Hill figures to be one of the most entertaining matchups of conference championship game weekend.
3. Dee Ford (Auburn/Kansas City)
Kansas City’s offense generates most of the headlines, but Tom Brady’s biggest concern Sunday isn’t matching Pat Mahomes. It’s staying away from Ford.
A first-round pick in 2014, Ford earned his first Pro Bowl nod this season after registering 13.0 sacks. He shared the NFL lead with 7 forced fumbles. He added a strip sack in the Chiefs’ playoff victory over Indianapolis last weekend.
2. Alvin Kamara (Tennessee/New Orleans)
Arguably the biggest X-factor in the playoffs. Certainly, along with Tyreek Hill, the most diverse and dangerous offensive player.
Butch Jones might still be at Tennessee had he figured out any of that while Kamara was still in college.
It certainly didn’t take the Saints long. Kamara is listed as a running back but is equally dangerous lined up out wide. His 81 receptions prove that. He finished second in the NFL this season with 18 touchdowns.
Only one guy had more …
1. Todd Gurley (Georgia/L.A. Rams)
Can the Rams win the Super Bowl?
Todd Gurley very likely holds the key to that answer.
Recently selected to his third Pro Bowl, Gurley finished the regular season with 1,251 yards and a career-high 17 touchdowns. He again led the NFL in total touchdowns, finishing with 21.
He added 115 yards and another score in the Rams’ playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys last weekend.
He wasn’t at his Pro Bowl best in a regular season loss at New Orleans, but the scoreboard dictated some of that. Still, he averaged 5.23 yards per carry that game and found the end zone once.
If the Rams have any hope of upsetting New Orleans and returning to the Super Bowl as an L.A.-based franchise for the first time since 1979, they’ll need another 100+ yard effort from their best offensive player.