10 SEC players who will outperform their 2020 numbers
Everyone is susceptible to a bad year, and football players are no exception, particularly during a pandemic-altered season as maturing young men.
There may not be a better face in college football for the type of sudden drop-off that can be had year to year than what unfolded last season in Baton Rouge, so it shouldn’t be surprising that a few of their players found their way onto this list.
With that said, one bad season isn’t the nail in the coffin. Plenty of players have rebounded from slumps and went on to have successful careers in college and the NFL.
Who are the 10 likeliest candidates in the SEC to play much better in 2021 than their numbers a year prior? Let’s find out…
Kayshon Boutte, WR, LSU
You’re probably thinking I can’t be serious having Boutte on this list because his 2020 season was fantastic, but I think his per-game numbers could hit an entire different level in 2021. Boutte finished 5th in the SEC averaging 73.5 yards a game on 16.3 yards per catch.
But when you dig into his game logs, the first 7 games of the season he topped out at 49 receiving yards once and only caught more than 3 passes once. It wasn’t until the last 3 games when he began to eat, putting the cherry on top of the sundae in the season-finale with 308 yards against Ole Miss. With LSU more cemented at the quarterback position and the loss of Arik Gilbert and Terrace Marshall, 2020 is going to look like a quiet season from Boutte in the scheme of things.
Jordan Burch, Edge, South Carolina
This may be scooting the rules a little, as Burch, like Boutte, was a freshman in 2020, so it’s not like he regressed from any college experience, but his numbers this season should see quite a spike in comparison to his modest freshman season. The 5-star prospect played in 8 of South Carolina’s 10 games and recorded 19 tackles with 2.5 for loss.
This should be a breakout year, however, for Burch, as offensive lines will be spread thin with the amount of pass-rushing depth the Gamecocks have. Opposite Burch is Kingsley Enagbare, who will garner a lion’s share of attention, not to mention the addition of Jordan Strachan from Georgia State, who led the nation in sacks in 2020. With so much potential upside with Burch’s raw talent, combined with his surroundings, Burch’s 2021 are going to dwarf his 2020 season.
Damone Clark, LB, LSU
What a surprise that there will be multiple LSU defenders on this list, speaking to the type of substandard season in Baton Rouge. Clark was expected to be one of the leaders among the Tigers’ linebacker group, but instead found himself benched and replaced by Micah Baskerville for 5 of LSU’s final 6 games.
There’s a reason Clark was expected to be the next guy in a position that produced Devin White and Patrick Queen in successive seasons, and in that one game that Clark did start over Baskerville in the final stretch of the season, he finished with a team-high 9 tackles as the Tigers upset Florida in a game no one will soon forget.
Arik Gilbert, WR, Georgia
Georgia has been bitten by the injury bug at the receiver position the last year or so, which makes adding Gilbert all the more important. While 46 yards a game on 10.5 yards a catch is definitely nothing to sneeze over as a freshman, most people can agree that Gilbert’s ceiling is considerably higher than what played out in 2020.
Throw in the fact that the Peach State-native is closer to home, he won’t have to deal with the circus of a quarterback revolving door and the potential that George Pickens is gone for most, if not all, of the season, and Gilbert should be the beneficiary of a huge portion of JT Daniels’ throws.
Jalen Green, DB, Mississippi State
Even with a relentless pass rush in 2020, the Bulldogs’ coverage struggled to say the least, and Oxford fans will hope the transfer from Texas can finally live up to his 4-star billing. Last season, while playing in the same amount of games as 2019, Green’s tackles dropped from 30 to 14 and his defended passes fell from 5 to 2.
The biggest reason for Green’s 2020 decline was the fact the Longhorns were ushering in a new defensive scheme under new DC Chris Ash, and as a result, Texas changed its personnel, leaving Green as the third cornerback, before an ankle injury further limited his time. With the Bulldogs in need of improvement in the secondary this season, look for Green to be one of the leaders of that charge.
Jalen Knox, WR, Ole Miss
Newly acquired from Missouri, Knox’s pass-catching numbers dropped last season with the Tigers, as his yards per reception fell from 16.2 in 2019 to 9.8 in 2020, and he failed to catch a touchdown. Instead Knox became primarily used on short, underneath routes out of the slot, while also being used as a ball-carrier to the tune of 95 yards on 12 carries.
His move to Oxford should be great for his career, as Lane Kiffin is in search of a dynamic slot weapon to fill the void left by All-American Elijah Moore. With Matt Corral as the best returning QB in the SEC, Knox should find himself in a much better fit for a numbers sake at Ole Miss.
Bo Nix, QB, Auburn
Long live the idea of Nix improving. Last season was supposed to be the year, but instead Nix’s mechanics regressed and most of his stats either stayed the same, or only marginally increased, notably his completion percentage staying below 60%.
Now, while his receiving corps is not ideal for a remarkable improvement, a veteran offensive line and one of the best running backs in America certainly help, as does the coaching acumen of Bryan Harsin. One potential X-factor in Nix’s development is the presence of transfer TJ Finley. Will pressure from competition create diamonds or burst pipes?
Otis Reese, S, Ole Miss
Everyone can agree the Rebels would like to improve their pass defense from a year ago, one that finished 13th in the SEC, allowing 312.1 yards a game. Reese was there for only the last 3 games as he battled eligibility issues related to his transfer from Georgia.
In thos games, Reese recorded 23 tackles and 1 interception, while the defense finally started to stiffen up a tad. The Rebels’ secondary should be its most improved unit in 2021, and a full season with Reese on the field will be one of the biggest components of that success.
Wan’Dale Robinson, WR/Utility, Kentucky
Robinson was already a guy at Nebraska as the team’s leading receiver in 2020, but as the Cornhuskers struggled to get a passing game going and ultimately had a nightmare season, Robinson kind of got lost in the national shuffle. Bottom line: He still is one of the most dynamic players in college football, able to produce on both the ground and as a receiver.
With his transfer to his home state of Kentucky playing for Mark Stoops, Robinson has the potential to be Lynn Bowden and then some. In 2020, Robinson had 240 rushing yards and 41 carries and 461 receiving yards on 51 catches, but with no limit to how new OC Liam Coen will use the Swiss Army Knife, Robinson could easily see 12 carries and 5 catches a game as he quickly claws his way into the national discussion as one of the best utility players out there.
Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Maybe the biggest surprise to find himself on this list after the sensational freshman season he had during LSU’s title run, picking off an SEC-high 6 passes while most quarterbacks just avoided his general vicinity in entirety.
Last year was a different story for Stingley and the LSU defense, as the Tigers finished last in the SEC in passing defense. Stingley frequently failed to wrap up tackles as he was clearly hobbled by injury, and quarterbacks became less hesitant to target his area of the field. With the talent he displayed all of 2019, there is no question that a healthy Stingley can prove that he’s worthy of a top-5 pick in the NFL Draft.