Ranking the SEC’s best players in 2015: 20-11
We’re starting to get into some heavyweight players and some even bigger heavyweight matchups as we look at the best suiting up in the SEC this season.
Oh, and did we mention heavyweights? The SEC West is a great place to find those. The division is represented by eight of the 10 players that we’ve ranked at Nos. 20-11:
No. 20: Greg Pyke, Georgia
Size: 6-foot-6, 313 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: at Tennessee, Oct. 10; Pyke and the Bulldogs clash with the pass-rushing tandem of Curt Maggitt and Derek Barnett, arguably the best defensive front in the SEC East, in a game that could go a long way toward settling the division.
Why Pyke: The Georgia offense led the SEC in several categories last season with Greg Pyke emerging as a pleasant surprise to start all 13 games at right guard — having appeared in just two games as a freshman. Pyke is part of a Bulldogs offensive line that returns four starters from last year’s squad that led the SEC in rushing average at 257.8 ypg. With John Theus and Kolton Houston exhausting their eligibility after this year, there has been speculation that the versatile Pyke eventually will slide over into the coveted left tackle slot in their absence next year.
No. 19: D’haquille Williams, Auburn
Size: 6-foot-2, 224 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: at LSU, Sept. 19; Williams and the Auburn offense head into Death Valley for an early-season matchup against a stout LSU secondary that should rank among the conference’s, if not nation’s, elite units.
Why Williams: D’haquille Williams has the potential to be the top receiver in the SEC this season, if he can stay out of Gus Malzahn’s dog house. The senior has missed time this summer to suspension, in addition to the suspension that cost him a shot to play in the Outback Bowl against Wisconsin. Williams flashed a rapport with new Tigers starting quarterback Jeremy Johnson in their limited time on the field together. The duo (along with Nick Marshall in the second half) connected for 154 yards and a touchdown in Auburn’s 2014 season-opening win over Arkansas.
No. 18: Tony Conner, Ole Miss
Size: 6-foot, 215 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: vs. Texas A&M, Oct. 24; Conner and the Rebels secondary have their work cut out for themselves when Josh Reynolds and a loaded Aggies wide receiver corps visit Oxford for a late-December divisional tilt.
Why Conner: Conner made an interception on the first drive of his career and has been tormenting offenses ever since. A member of Ole Miss’ fabled 2013 recruit class, Conner is a physical player at nickelback or the team’s Huskie safety position. Conner made 9 tackles for loss last season, most in the SEC by a defensive back, as Ole Miss led the nation in scoring defense (16.0 ppg).
No. 17: Reggie Ragland, Alabama
Size: 6-foot-2, 252 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: vs. Ole Miss, Sept. 19; Ragland, one of the best linebackers in the SEC, lines up against Laremy Tunsil, a projected high draft pick, and the Rebels offensive line.
Why Ragland: Reggie Ragland has risen from a special teams player as a freshman to arguably the best linebacker in the SEC. He’s at least among the top three, along with Lorenzo Carter and Leonard Floyd of Georgia. Ragland had the unenviable task of replacing C.J. Mosley last year at Will linebacker. All he did was rack up 95 tackles, 10.5 of them for a loss to finish as a Butkus Award semifinalist. Ragland — who returned to Tuscaloosa for his senior season — is experimenting with an outside linebacker-type role in fall camp to showcase his ability to rush from the edge much like former ‘Bama greats Dont’a Hightower, Rolando McClain and Mosley.
No. 16: Cam Sutton, Tennessee
Size: 5-foot-11, 186 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: vs. South Carolina, Nov. 7; this will be a matchup between two of the SEC East’s most-versatile weapons. Sutton looks to shut down Gamecocks WR Pharoh Cooper — two players who also can beat you on special teams.
Why Sutton: The Tennessee defensive front gets all the glory, but the Vols secondary can handle its own quite nicely. That begins with Cam Sutton, who has started all 25 games of his career. Sutton always has owned an impressive stat line, including 76 career tackles and 5 interceptions. This summer the upperclassman is adding “vocal leader” to his résumé. The Tennessee secondary will need the leadership as injuries have hobbled several members of the unit during camp: Evan Berry, Stephen Griffin, Justin Martin and Brian Randolph.
No. 15: Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
Size: 6-foot-2, 210 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: at Florida, Oct.3; it’s only fitting that the SEC’s top wide receiver in Treadwell should square up against its consensus top defensive back in Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III.
Why Treadwell: Laquon Treadwell’s 2014 season came to a painful end with a broken fibula and dislocated ankle against Auburn. With four games left to play, Treadwell essentially had equaled his first-year numbers (632 yards, 5 TDs as a sophomore), which earned him SEC Freshman of the Year honors. The junior is taking it easy on the playing field during fall camp, but is expected to suit up in Week 1 against Tennessee-Martin. Some reports even suggest that Treadwell is better now than he was prior to the injury.
No. 14: Derrick Henry, Alabama
Size: 6-foot-3, 242 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: vs. LSU, Nov. 7; Derrick Henry will put his helmet down and take on what should be one of the better rush defenses in the conference in LSU, headed up by Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture.
Why Henry: Derrick Henry changed his uniform number this season from No. 27 to No. 2, his old high school number. If Henry starts equaling his high school stats out of Alabama’s backfield, the junior is going to lay a lot of hurt on opponents this season. The ‘Bama running back left the high school ranks as the nation’s all-time leading prep rusher with 11,612 yards and 148 touchdowns at Yulee (Fla.) High School. Henry has amassed 1,372 yards and 14 scores in two seasons with the Crimson Tide. The potential is real for Henry to flirt with becoming the first Alabama player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.
No. 13: Jonathan Allen, Alabama
Size: 6-foot-3, 272 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: vs. Arkansas, Oct. 10; Arkansas figures to once again possess a deep, veteran offensive line; the Razorbacks will have their mettle tested, however, when Allen starts applying pressure.
Why Allen: Jonathan Allen lives in opponents’ backfields. The Associated Press first-team All-SEC defensive end finished 2014 with 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. After serving mostly as a backup during his freshman season, Allen put it all together his sophomore year and should be in line for an even bigger campaign in 2015.
No. 12: A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama
Size: 6-foot-4, 312 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: at Georgia, Oct. 3; Robinson versus the veteran Georgia offensive line will make for a potential matchup of the year between the SEC East and West preseason favorites in the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs.
Why Robinson: A’Shawn Robinson is a disruptive force on a loaded Alabama defensive line. The junior is looking to play at a lighter weight this season, down from 320 pounds to about 309. That’s bad news for opposing offensive lines, considering a lighter and faster Robinson only figures to improve upon his 49-tackle, 6.5-TFL sophomore campaign. Look for Robinson to contend for SEC and national honors.
No. 11: Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
Size: 6-foot-5, 262 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: vs. Arkansas, Sept. 26. Pass-rush specialist Myles Garrett against Arkansas’ vaunted offensive line is a nice treat to open SEC play for fans of both the Aggies and Razorbacks.
Why Garrett: Myles Garrett already owns the SEC’s freshman sacks record with 11.5. Expect more accolades to follow as the sophomore enters his second season terrorizing opponents for Texas A&M. Garrett has drawn comparisons to Jadeveon Clowney — the previous owner of the record. Like Clowney, there are early whispers that Garrett could play his way into a high draft pick, if not a No. 1 overall selection, by the time he’s done in College Station. He starts this season looking to add to his 14.0 tackles for loss and 9 quarterback hurries, both tops on the team last year. Unfortunately for Garrett, the Aggies defense wasn’t very strong in ’14, resulting in teams using multiple blockers and any means necessary (cough … holding … cough, cough) to slow him down.