10 players SEC teams can't afford to see injured
Injuries can turn seasons upside down. The Nick Chubb injury was devastating for a Georgia team looking to be a factor in the SEC East last season. Not only did the Bulldogs come up short, but they lost their coach in the process.
That’s the kind of thing SEC teams must avoid as they run the gauntlet through a demanding schedule of games in 2016. Here are 10 players who SEC teams can’t lose in the upcoming season.
Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss: Probably the single most important player to his team in the SEC, Kelly has the experience to lead the Rebels to new heights in the SEC West this season. He’s coming off one of the most prolific years in SEC history. He accounted for 4,542 yards in 2015. His health is critical in that there is little-to-no experience at the quarterback position behind him, although there is talent with the No. 1 pro-style QB in the Class of 2016, Shea Patterson.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: Probably the Heisman frontrunner coming into the season, Fournette must stay upright in the Tigers’ run-heavy offense. Though there are capable backs behind him on the depth chart, keeping a talent like Fournette on the field at full strength is a must if LSU has any hope of challenging for an SEC title. He led the nation last season in rushing yards per game (162.8), totaling 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns. His presence drives the LSU offense.
Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee: The Vols have had many pivotal seasons in their recent history. Most haven’t panned out quite like they’d expected. This is one of those seasons where Tennessee could get over the hump or simply slide back down into mediocrity. It will depend heavily on the health of Dobbs. A full, healthy season could mean big things for the Vols in 2016. Though they’ve heard it all before, this actually could be the one, given a healthy Dobbs.
Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: The Bulldogs need Chubb to return in 2016. If healthy, Chubb has proven to be the difference-maker. He rushed for more than 100 yards in 13 straight games before the knee injury last October in the Tennessee game. A return to that form makes Georgia an instant contender in a jumbled SEC East.
Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama: The most vital cog in a revamped offensive line, Robinson must stay healthy for the Tide to move the football effectively this season. The 6-foot-6, 327-pound stalwart in the Alabama offensive line has had some nagging injuries over the last two seasons. His experience and leadership are paramount to a successful season offensively. His status at the moment is up in the air, not due to injury, but due to off-the-field issues.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama: Bursting onto the scene in 2016, Ridley became Alabama’s big-play receiver in Lane Kiffin’s offense. Piling up 1,045 receiving yards and seven touchdowns on 89 pass receptions, Ridley benefited from a stellar run game with some surprise big plays through the air. He will be targeted for more game-breaking heroics in 2016.
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M: The heart and soul of Texas A&M’s pressure defense, Garrett looks to be among the SEC leaders in sacks for a third consecutive season. He led the conference with 12.5 sacks a year ago and has piled up 24 in two seasons. That’s among 33.5 tackles for loss over the last two campaigns, including an SEC-best 19.5 last season. Needless to say, a healthy Garrett is a must if the Aggies hope to continue to shore up their defense under John Chavis.
Jalen Hurd, RB, Tennessee: A healthy Hurd is as pivotal as a healthy Dobbs. The two go hand-in-hand when it comes to making the Vols offense go. At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Hurd has the size, speed and power to churn up the yardage. He rushed for 1,288 yards and 12 touchdowns last season while averaging 21.3 rushing attempts per game. Keeping him on the field is a must if the Vols hope to finally take that next step.
Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama: Returning for one more season with the Tide, Allen will be a leader up front with pass-rushing abilities and a run-stopping toughness. The 6-foot-3, 283-pounder could have opted for the NFL but will use his talents to make Alabama’s defense feared once again in 2016. His experience will be key in the Tide’s vaunted defense.
Kendell Beckwith, ILB, LSU: A vital component in LSU’s new 3-4 defense under Dave Aranda, Beckwith will look to attack and punish opposing running backs. In his fourth season, Beckwith has the experience to be the quarterback of the defense and has proven to be among the best in the conference at his position. Having him on the playing field vastly improves the Tigers and will be key in the transition.