Story time!

Recently, one of our SDS Podcast listeners reached out and asked if I wanted to join his All-SEC fantasy league for 2020. I thought about it for a minute because while I’m 8 years into an NFL keeper league, I’ve never done a college fantasy league. But I figured, hey, it’s 2020. Why not?

I quickly realized that it forced me to think about individual stats more than I’m used to with SEC players. Like, how massive is Jalen Wydermyer’s target share about to be with Kellen Mond? Am I worried at all that Jerrion Ealy’s workload will be limited by the fact that Snoop Conner is really good, too? And am I an idiot for drafting Mac Jones if I think he has a short leash as a starter as long as Bryce Young is healthy?

Even when there’s not any sort of money on the line, the added element of competition forced me to make actual projections about their production in a way that differed from simply picking a preseason All-SEC team.

That’s why I decided to make some bold predictions based on individual performances. Remember, these are based on the information that we have. These can obviously be shaped by quarantines/injuries.

For now, though, here are 10 bold individual predictions I have for 2020:

1. The SEC leader in carries is … Eric Gray

Najee Harris? Rakeem Boyd? Nah. Give me the sophomore who only had 62 carries heading into late-November last year. Gray, who earned Gator Bowl MVP honors after his 120-yard performance fueled Tennessee’s comeback, is the most exciting returning player in that Tennessee offense by a long shot. Jeremy Pruitt’s praised his development after he hit a midseason wall last year, and Jim Chaney recognized the need to feed him the rock down the stretch. Even with the veteran Ty Chandler back, it’s Gray who should emerge as the bell-cow back for an offense built around that vastly improved line. In a 10-game slate, Gray has the skill and durability to have a 200-carry season.

2. LSU’s Racey McMath has most receiving touchdowns in the SEC

One of the stars of the offseason has been McMath, who was already going to be in for a major uptick in targets after replacing Justin Jefferson. The freakish wideout (he benches nearly 400 pounds and runs a 4.39 40) might only have 3 career touchdowns, but I have to think first-year starter Myles Brennan is going to target his new slot receiver a whole lot, especially now that Ja’Marr Chase isn’t suiting up. Terrace Marshall will draw the top corners and LSU will want to capitalize on McMath being a mismatch in the red zone. Or, well, anywhere.

3. Kylin Hill and Tyler Badie finish in the top 10 in the SEC in … receptions?

This admittedly isn’t that bold because there will be less separation with a 10-game regular season. But still, it’s at least somewhat bold considering that Clyde Edwards-Helaire was the first running back to rank in the top 10 in the SEC in catches since Orson Charles did it at Georgia in 2011. But Hill in the Air Raid offense is going to get a ton of catches just like Max Borghi, who hauled in 86 (!) passes for Mike Leach at Washington State last year. And people don’t realize that Badie actually led Mizzou in catches in 2019. This year, don’t be surprised if he plays the Jaylen Samuels role in Eli Drinkwitz’s offense (Samuels had 75 catches at NC State in 2017). Both Hill and Badie could flirt with 50 catches in this shortened season.

4. Jalen Wydermyer, not Kyle Pitts, leads SEC tight ends in all 3 major statistical categories

And that’s coming from someone who believes Pitts is as unique of matchup as there is in the SEC. I think Pitts is the best receiving tight end in America. But think about this. With all of those mouths to feed in Gainesville and the fact that Dan Mullen had just 1 1,000-yard receiver in 11 years as a head coach, Pitts might not have a massive difference in his numbers from a year ago. Compare that to Wydermyer, who is returning to an A&M offense that lost its top 3 receivers from a year ago and the Aggies already lost 2 tight ends to season-ending injuries in fall camp. I think we’ll see a more diverse route tree from Wydermyer, and he’ll easily be Mond’s go-to target. Wydermyer will be the best returning tight end in America by the time 2021 rolls around.

5. Elijah Moore leads the SEC in receiving

In 2019, Elijah Moore had 850 receiving yards and ranked 7th in the SEC in an offense who ranked 12th in the SEC in pass attempts. By the way, he did that with only 12 games. In steps Lane Kiffin, who runs a much more balanced offense than Rich Rodriguez. I don’t care who’s throwing to Moore. He’s a pass-catching machine. Lost in the shuffle of his unfortunate Egg Bowl penalty was a breakout season that included plays like this:

Moore might not get a 2014 Amari Cooper-like bump from Kiffin, but that volume is going up for the proven junior.

6. Henry To’o To’o is the only SEC player to eclipse 100 tackles

I know Tennessee fans know how great To’o To’o already is. Nationally, though, I think he becomes a much bigger household name. How many true freshmen lead good defenses in tackles? Those instincts are already there. In Year 2 in Jeremy Pruitt’s defense now having put on a bit of muscle, I expect To’o To’o and Nick Bolton to be the best tacklers in the league. Reaching 100 tackles against All-SEC competition in just 10 games would likely make To’o To’o’s 2021 preseason All-America argument for him.

7. D’Wan Mathis starts more games than JT Daniels

There’s still uncertainty about the health of Daniels coming off that torn ACL. Besides showing up to camp over the summer, we’re talking about someone who wasn’t cleared for contact even into the middle of September. I think that leads to Mathis getting the job from the jump and battling through some ups and downs, but ultimately holding onto it for longer than just a game or 2. I’m bracing for a quarterback debate to last through the regular season. Mathis, so far, has earned a lot of praise in camp coming off a wild true freshman season that included emergency brain surgery. Now back and healthy, I think we see the big arm and the mobility needed to run Todd Monken’s offense. Mathis might not start every game, but I expect him to have a major say in what this new-look offense ultimately does.

8. Terry Wilson has more scrimmage yards than Bo Nix

This is assuming Wilson stays healthy and starts every game, which I believe he can. I’ve been clear that I have major concerns about Nix with Chad Morris running an offense with 1 returning starter on the offensive line. Compare that to Wilson, who will play behind 3 established All-SEC candidates on the offensive line. While some are tabbing Nix as a Heisman Trophy candidate, I think the efficiency numbers are an issue. I bet the casual fan would be surprised to see the breakdown of Wilson’s 2018 compared to Nix’s 2019:

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And Wilson achieved those rushing numbers despite the fact that he played through a knee injury in the middle of the season. Now back to 100% after his season-ending injury last September, Wilson is going to have more volume in the 2020 version of Eddie Gran’s offense. That, I believe, leads to the breakout year some were expecting in 2019 while Nix has some growing pains with a new offensive line and a new play-caller.

9. Damon Hazelton has more receiving touchdowns than Jaylen Waddle

To be clear, I have Waddle as a top-5 offensive SEC player coming into the year. He’ll be fantastic. If there’s a leader in the clubhouse for the Paul Hornung Award as the most versatile player in college football, it’s him. But notice the caveat there. “Receiving touchdowns” is the key. Half of Waddle’s receiving touchdowns came in the Iron Bowl last year. He’s more likely to take a 15-yard route and squeeze through a pair of safeties than he is to be a major red-zone target.

Compare that to Hazelton, who came to Mizzou as a grad transfer from Virginia Tech after hauling in 8 touchdowns in each of the last 2 seasons. All the 6-3 wideout does is catch touchdowns. Mizzou needs a red-zone replacement for Albert Okwuegbunam, and while Daniel Parker has a lot of potential at the tight end position, it’s Hazelton who has the proven route-running experience to get separation in the red zone. There’s plenty of optimism surrounding Hazelton and Angelo State (Division II) transfer Keke Chism, both of whom should have major roles in this passing game. That’ll be especially true if Mizzou finds itself trailing often in this conference-only schedule.

10. KJ Costello leads the SEC in passing by at least 800 yards

I almost went with 1,000. I really did. But then I was like, nah, that’s basically saying he’ll average 100 more passing yards per game than the next-closest SEC quarterback. If there’s ever a quarterback who could do it, it’s one who Mike Leach hand-plucked to throw 50 passes per game. By the way, that’s happening. That, combined with Costello staying healthy and showing the skills that made him a second-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2018, will fuel big numbers for him. While I have questions about MSU’s offensive line protecting Costello running that offense and I’m not entirely sure the MSU pass-catchers are on that level yet, Costello can average 8.5 yards per attempt and still throw for 3,000 yards in this condensed, conference-only slate.