In 2002 the SEC ceased to give out a general Player of the Year award, instead awarding it to an offensive player and defensive player.

For SEC Offensive Player of the Year, the SEC West has completely and utterly dominated the award, with 13 winners in 16 years. The last time an SEC East player won was a decade ago, when Florida’s Tim Tebow took home the hardware.

So, which players from the SEC West are the best bets to win SEC Offensive Player of the Year this fall? Let’s take a look.

10. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU

This is, of course, assuming he wins the starting job. Considering the hoops the Tigers went through to attain his services (and risk losing two talented but raw underclassmen in Lowell Narcisse and Myles Brennan), I’m going out on a limb to say Ed Orgeron will have every excuse possible to play him, much like he did with Brent Schaeffer at Ole Miss in 2006. We don’t truly know what kind of player Burrow is because he’s never had any significant playing time in legitimate situations. Success in mop-up duty against Rutgers and UNLV hardly indicate similar success against defenses like Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State.

SEC OPOY winners by position:
Running backs: 7
Quarterbacks: 7
Receivers: 1

Having said that, there is reason for optimism. It seems like everyone he has met, played for or played alongside rave about his character and intelligence, giving optimism he should be able to learn the playbook and win over the locker room in a short amount of time. The new scheme under Steve Ensminger is believed to hold more spread/RPO principles, much like the scheme he played in at Ohio State — which suits Burrow’s skill set. He doesn’t have a Derrius Guice or Darrell Williams in the backfield and he’ll be working with a freshly constructed offensive line, but he will have a very talented receiving corps and yet another vicious defense backing him.

9. Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama

This could also be either Henry Ruggs or DeVonta Smith, too. The point is, I expect one of the three sophomore receivers to put up a big season. Going back to 2012, if you look at Alabama’s receiving leaders there’s always one guy who is far and away the most targeted receiver (aside from 2013), whether it’s been Amari Cooper or Calvin Ridley. So, history suggests one of these guys will become a go-to target, and my guess is that it’s Jeudy, who was Alabama’s second leading receiver in 2017 as a true freshman.

Jeudy, 6-1, 187 pounds, was one of the top WRs in the country coming out of high school and has shown very good speed and burst with the ability to take the top off a defense. With Alabama poised to take their passing attack up a notch this fall, Jeudy could be in store for a big year statistically and take the torch from Ridley as the latest go-to WR in Tuscaloosa.

8. Devwah Whaley, RB, Arkansas

There’s a common misconception that new HC Chad Morris’ spread offense will be solely centered around a monstrous passing attack, meaning the once potent Razorback rushing attack will be left by the wayside. In reality, Morris runs a very balanced spread attack. Morris’ SMU offense last year was almost a perfect 50/50 split between rushing attempts and passing attempts and their feature back, Xavier Jones — not soon to be confused for Herschel Walker – averaged just under 6 yards per carry on 182 carries with 9 TDs.

Whaley should be an excellent fit in the new scheme Morris is installing as he shows a nice blend of speed, power and vision – with the defense spread out he’ll have larger rushing lanes than he’s been used to. He’s also an underrated receiver out of the backfield, and Morris likes to involve his backs in the passing game, so expect more production from Whaley in that regard, as well.

7. Ryan Davis, WR, Auburn

Obviously, playing alongside the best QB in the SEC is beneficial to Davis’ chances of competing for SEC OPOY. With that said, it’s not like he’s lucked his way into this position, either. This kid set a school record for receptions in a season last year when he hauled in 84 balls for 815 yards and 5 TDs, and with another offseason to develop timing and rapport with QB Jarrett Stidham, I expect even greater numbers in 2018.

Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

He’ll also have the benefit of playing alongside other talented receivers as well, like Darius Slayton, Will Hastings, Eli Stove and Nate Craig-Myers. This means defenses will have to play Davis with more single coverage unless they’re willing to risk giving up big plays from some of the other receivers. At 5-9, 185, Davis isn’t the biggest or most physical WR in the SEC, but he’s one of the more polished route runners and has consistently shown reliable hands with the ability to make plays after the catch. In this offense, with this QB, I expect Davis to again prove to be an explosive offense threat.

6. Trayveon Williams, RB, Texas A&M

I’m really looking forward to seeing Williams in the offense new HC Jimbo Fisher will be installing. Fisher is well known for his ability to develop consistent and effective rushing attacks and has shown the ability to generate high levels of success with both a rotational unit and a feature back. His last five years at Florida State he enjoyed freakishly gifted RBs like Devonta Freeman, Dalvin Cook and Cam Akers and they averaged just over 1,300 rushing yards per season over that time span.

Williams gave glimpses of his potential as a true freshman in 2016 when he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark on just 156 carries, averaging 6.8 yards per carry that season. Last year we saw his numbers dip but it was somewhat of a chaotic year for the Aggies with a revolving door at QB and constant rumors about Kevin Sumlin’s job status. Considering his ability to affect both rushing and passing attacks (39 receptions for 283 yards the past two years) in an offense that relies heavily on workhorse backs, I expect a huge campaign from Williams.

5. A.J. Brown, WR, Ole Miss

Brown is almost inarguably the best WR in the country after a monstrous sophomore campaign that saw him haul in 75 receptions for 1,252 yards and 11 TDs, leading the SEC in receiving yards and receiving TDs. The future first-round pick is built more like a RB than a WR at 6-1, 230 and plays as physically as his size would suggest, outmuscling smaller DBs at the line of scrimmage to gain separation and using his burst to pick up chunk yardage after the catch.

Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Considering he’s playing in an Air Raid offense under OC Phil Longo and is surrounded by what might just be the best receiving unit in the country, assuming Brown stays healthy there’s no reason to suggest he won’t put up equal or better numbers than he did in 2017. Concerns about him playing with QB Jordan Ta’amu instead of Shea Patterson are overblown, as he caught 36 balls for 535 yards and 5 TDs in the 5 games Ta’amu started to end the season.

4. Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State

Fitzgerald (6-5, 230) is coming off a gruesome ankle injury suffered in the Egg Bowl, but all signs are pointing to him being fully healthy and back to normal by the time camp opens up later this summer. With new HC Joe Moorhead, formerly the architect of the high-octane Penn State offense, taking over for Dan Mullen, expectations are high that Fitzgerald will take the next step in his development and become an even more dynamic player. Prior to the injury, Fitzgerald was one of the most explosive offensive threats in the SEC the past two years, throwing for more than 4,200 yards with 36 TDs while also rushing for 2,359 and another 30 scores.

I expect Fitzgerald to become a far more efficient passer under Moorhead with fewer turnovers (21 INTs the past two years) and complete a higher percentage of his passes. I also expect Moorhead to use Fitzgerald less in the running game, which is a good thing because the Bulldogs need to keep him healthy. With that said, as effective of a rushing threat as he is, he’ll still get some designed runs to capitalize on his skill set, particularly near the goal line, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with a healthy number of total TDs this year.

3. Tua Tagovailoa/Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama

It’s still not definite which guy will win the QB1 job, though whoever does will obviously be in a good position to compete for SEC OPOY. Tagovailoa is the hot name after the legendary performance in the second half of the National Championship Game, and is considered the more productive and effective passer. If he’s lined up under center, I expect Alabama’s passing game to reach levels not seen in Tuscaloosa since the AJ McCarron days. With Bama’s talented young receiving corps and a deep stable of RBs to take pressure off the passing attack (all behind another gifted offensive line), Tagovailoa could put up record numbers on a team built to win another championship.

But don’t count out Hurts just yet. He’s more than earned his opportunity to compete for the starting job after what he’s done for the program, going 26-2 as starting QB while passing for 4,861 yards (40/10 TD-to-INT ratio) and rushing for 1,801 yards and 21 TDs. And let’s not forget, he’s already got an SEC OPOY trophy on his mantel, which he won as a true freshman in 2016, so of course he’ll contend for the honor again if he wins the starting job.

2. Damien Harris, RB, Alabama

This should almost go without saying as any starting RB for Alabama should immediately be considered a candidate for OPOY, because you know he’s going to put up big numbers. The 5-11, 225-pound senior is the best RB in the SEC in my opinion, showing an ideal combination of power, speed, vision, patience and burst. His 8.2 yards per carry last year were no accident – the only accident was that he didn’t have more than 110 carries.

Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, he’ll be splitting carries again but that also means he’ll continue to stay fresh throughout games, made even more important considering there’s a good chance he’ll be playing in the postseason. Should Tagovailoa win the starting job, the Tide will throw more than they did in 2017, but a more balanced offense should only benefit Harris even more, forcing defenses to unload the box to respect a vibrant passing attack.

1. Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn

Of course Stidham is high on this list. Not only is he a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, but he’s the best QB in the SEC on a team expected to compete for titles this fall. After transferring in from Baylor in 2016, Stidham started slowly in 2017 while shaking off some rust and developing chemistry with his receivers. As the season progressed, he began to show why he was so highly sought after, and he finished the year completing 66.5 percent of his passes for 3,158 yards and 18 TD passes, with wins over both Alabama and Georgia.

I expect even bigger things from Stidham this fall as he’s continued improving his timing with his receivers and taken full mastery of the playbook. His receiving corps is one of the best in the SEC. Some might worry about the rushing attack after the loss of Kerryon Johnson, but this is Auburn, the next 1,000-yard back is already on the roster, we just don’t know which guy it is yet.

His offensive line is the biggest concern, but Stidham’s quick release and sound footwork will afford him more flexibility there as his line improves. I expect him to produce big numbers and put his team in contention to reach the playoffs going into the Iron Bowl, so naturally he has a great chance to win SEC OPOY.