10 unpredictable players entering the 2016 season
Being labeled “unpredictable” does not carry the same negative connotation as being labeled “inconsistent.” In fact, being unpredictable often presents a strategic advantage for players, coaches and even teams. The SEC boasts a few legitimate Heisman hopefuls this year, including the favorite Leonard Fournette. In response to the offseason hype surrounding Fournette, SDS investigated predictability for him and nine other players.
TE Evan Engram, Ole Miss
Engram earned offseason honors after a sophomore campaign in 2014 in which he made spectacular grabs and dominated matchups with linebackers and safeties. However, teams knew to be prepared for Engram last season, and his numbers fell sharply as a result. Many think Engram could be among the top four or five TEs drafted and one of the best in the SEC. The key is his role in the offense and his ability to come down with the ball.
QB Brandon Harris, LSU
LSU head coach Les Miles escaped the ax last year following losses to Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss in which the Tigers were handled easily. The biggest question surrounded the offense and why they leaned on Fournette too much when the Tigers had a signal-caller as talented and experienced as Harris. Harris has the ability and weapons to finish among the league’s top passers in efficiency. The questions surround the offensive scheme.
QB Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
Butch Jones’ Vols have been knocking on the door for a few years now. Despite good recruiting and favorable schedules, they always seem to find a way to lose one or two each year that would make a huge difference. Last year, the Vols allowed eventual playoff-bound Baker Mayfield and company to come back in the fourth quarter and fell apart late against a reeling Florida. Dobbs remains one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the league. For Dobbs and the Vols, the next step is from good to great.
RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
The injury to Nick Chubb last season was a bummer, plain and simple. No one doubts his ability, but coming off an injury requires focus and mental toughness as well as good rehab. All eyes will be on Kirby Smart and the defense with mild expectations. Chubb could be prime for a solid or even great senior year. However, there is really no way to tell quite yet.
DL Carl Lawson, Auburn
The Auburn defense relies on strength in the front seven. Going back to the days of Nick Fairley, the Auburn defensive line has disrupted opponents with pressure to the quarterback and has been equally stingy for running attacks. That, of course, wasn’t the case for a Will Muschamp-led unit that struggled in both areas. Lawson is highly regarded on many draft boards and will have quite the opportunity to strut his abilities against the likes of Fournette and Chubb on the ground and Chad Kelly in the passing game. Will he be elite or just good?
WR Fred Ross, Mississippi State
After being a part of the magical 2014 season, Fred Ross and company dropped off in 2015. Specifically, a game against Alabama saw him and teammates drop catchable passes from Dak Prescott when the game was still competitive. Ross has speed and ability, but he needs to come down with the football more often. If he does that, he could build on last season’s 1,007-yard performance and turn even more heads.
QB Cooper Bateman, Alabama
For all of the Nick Saban wisdom, giving Bateman his first career start against Ole Miss in primetime did not appear fair or the right call. Based on previous quarterback competitions, Bateman will likely get a good long look from Saban before a decision is made. Previous comments about Bateman praise his athleticism and work ethic, but some still question accuracy downfield. The Alabama QB position is alway the source of conversation. Who will Bateman be? The athletic game manager like Blake Sims or a passing star like Jake Coker or AJ McCarron?
RB Stanley “Boom” Williams, Kentucky
After the coaching change that brought Mark Stoops to Lexington, the Wildcats have been competitive in the SEC. In 2015, the ‘Cats probably should have taken care of Florida and been more of a threat in the East. Williams could be UK’s best offensive player. Should Williams live up to his potential, the UK running game could relieve pressure on the offense and give the defense more rest throughout the season. However, it does not appear likely that Williams will be able to carry a team the way a Chubb or Fournette can, but he could be the answer to getting the ‘Cats over the hump and into relevance in the SEC East.
TE Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas
It’s difficult to tell how good Jeremy Sprinkle really is. There’s no doubt he can be a massive mismatch for coordinators and make a difference on the ground. The question for Sprinkle will be his ability to make difficult catches for a new QB. Brandon Allen was magnificent at looking off safeties and selling the play-action pass. Just like Engram at Ole Miss, teams can scheme around good tight ends and shut them down. If Sprinkle can replicate past success, which included 6 TD catches in 2015, the Hogs may have a better-than-expected campaign.
RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
It’s not that he’s up and down. It’s that he’s good or great or freaky. Fournette could wind up with a solid 1,000 rushing yards with a dozen or so touchdowns and still be considered the No. 1 overall selection. Or he could demolish records and dominate highlight reels for weeks in a row. The questions for Fournette are 100 percent schematic. How should he be used? What about Brandon Harris? If Fournette we asked about his junior year, many think he’d take the smaller numbers for a trip to the final four. Regardless, Fournette’s ceiling is difficult to pin down.