Ranking the SEC's best players in 2015: 50-41
The SEC has no shortage of talented players from those that excel running the ball to those that are even better at stopping it.
Nos. 50-41 in our preseason player rankings feature several running backs (Kenyan Drake and Jalen Hurd) on the cusp of breaking out this season against a slew of defensive linemen (Marquis Haynes and Montravius Adams) looking to prevent the backs from reaping the glory.
Here’s a look at our top players in the SEC, No.’s 50-41:
No. 50: Jonathan Bullard, Florida
Size: 6-foot-3, 283 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: vs. Georgia, Oct. 31; run-stuffer Bullard vs. run-breaking Bulldogs RB Nick Chubb should be a nice heavyweight battle.
Why Bullard: Jonathan Bullard makes a habit of routinely getting in opponents’ backfields, registering 8.5 tackles-for-loss last season. He, especially, has an affinity for dropping Georgia Bulldogs behind the line of scrimmage (team-high 2.5 TFL last season vs. UGA) and singlehandedly prevented 13 opponents from successfully converting on third downs in 2014. The senior enters the season with 5.5 career sacks. Expect that number to rise with his draft stock.
No. 49: Kenyan Drake, Alabama
Size: 6-foot-1, 210 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: vs. Tennessee, Oct. 24; the explosive Drake goes up against what likely will be one of the best defensive fronts in the SEC this season.
Why Drake: Whether or not Drake can recover from a broken leg that sidelined him after five games last season remains to be seen. Prior to the injury, Drake appeared in 29 games for the Crimson Tide, racking up 1,087 yards and 20 touchdowns. When healthy, Drake gives coach Nick Saban a weapon that’s as explosive running the ball as he is catching it out in the open.
No. 48: Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
Size: 6-foot-3, 230 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: vs. South Carolina, Nov. 7; Hurd posted a career-high 125 rushing yards against the Gamecocks last season.
Why Hurd: He spent the offseason bulking up. Built in the same frame and vein as Eddie George, Hurd burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2014, rushing for a team-leading 899 yards to go along with 5 touchdowns. He also has excellent hands, grabbing two touchdowns and 221 yards. His four 100-yard rushing games in 2014 were the most for a Vols back in one season since Gerald Riggs Jr. in 2004.
No. 47: Kendell Beckwith, LSU
Size: 6-foot-2, 252 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: vs. Auburn, Sept. 19; Beckwith faces an Auburn rushing attack that should contend for tops in the SEC West.
Why Beckwith: According to his LSU bio, off the field, Beckwith raises a quarter horse named Spirit. No coincidence, considering Beckwith runs with the power of a horse and the spirit to match. Beckwith has 8.5 tackles-for-loss and 88 tackles in 25 career games.
No. 46: JK Scott, Alabama
Size: 6-foot-5, 195 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: at Texas A&M, Oct. 17; Scott will be tasked with preventing Aggies punt returner Speedy Noil from breaking any long returns.
Why Scott: A punter? Not just any punter. Scott is considered to have had the best season for a punter in Alabama history in 2014. He led the FBS in punting with a 48.0 average, including a net average of 44.7 yards. A Ray Guy Award finalist last year, expect Scott to challenge for the award against this season.
No. 45: Tre’Davious White, LSU
Size: 5-foot-11, 191 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: at Mississippi State, Sept. 12; If White wants to become his own version of “Revis Island,” he’ll need to shut down potential Heisman Trophy candidate Dak Prescott.
Why White: LSU led the SEC in total and pass defense last year thanks in large part to White. The junior has been a starter in the Tigers secondary since the third game of his freshman year. During that time he’s picked off four passes and wrapped up 88 ball-carriers for tackles. Blessed with speed, White also returns punts for LSU.
No. 44: Alex McCalister, Florida
Size: 6-foot-6, 222 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: at LSU, Oct. 17; The Tigers don’t want to see McCalister again after he picked up 2.5 tackles-for-loss against them in 2014.
Why McAlister: He started his career on the Gators’ practice squad, where he earned defensive scout player of the week honors three times his first year. Before long the weak-side defensive end had accrued eight career tackles-for-loss and six sacks. McCalister and Bryan Cox Jr. will team up to replace Dante Fowler Jr. on the Gators frontline, giving them one of the most formidable groups of pass rushers in the SEC East.
No. 43: Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
Size: 6-foot-4, 190 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: at LSU, Nov. 28; Reynolds will put his receiving skills on the line against what should be the best secondary in the SEC during the 2015 season.
Why Reynolds: Reynolds is the go-to guy, especially in the red zone. That’s within a corps of Texas A&M wide receivers that can challenge any other group in the nation. Reynolds led the Aggies in 2014 with 842 yards and a school-record 13 touchdowns. The Aggies’ offensive MVP was a second-team All-SEC selection last year, according the league’s coaches. Expect him to challenge for a spot on this year’s first team.
No. 42: Montravius Adams, Auburn
Size: 6-foot-4, 296 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: at Alabama, Sept. 19; Adams gets a shot to take down Derrick Henry and the Crimson Tide’s potent rushing attack.
Why Adams: Montravius Adams has been drawing comparisons to former Auburn DT Nick Fairley in size and performance. Adams became the first Tiger to nab an interception and recover a fumble in the same game since Fairley accomplished the feat in 2010. The junior led the Tigers defensive front with 43 tackles and eight tackles-for-loss. A preseason first-team All-SEC pick by Sporting News, expect postseason awards for Adams.
No. 41: Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss
Size: 6-foot-3, 220 pounds
Intriguing Matchup: vs. Vanderbilt, Sept. 26; Vandy posted a paltry 109.3 rushing yards per game in 2014, worst in the SEC and 113th in the nation. Haynes up against a team that doesn’t run well might be fun to watch for everyone except Vanderbilt.
Why Haynes: If Marquis Haynes’ freshman season was any indication, then the Ole Miss DE has a promising future ahead of him. Haynes was selected a Freshman All-American by number of outlets (ESPN, Phil Steele, 24/7 to name a few) after posting an Ole Miss freshman record 7.5 sacks to go along with his nine tackles-for-loss. Many of those same media outlets named Haynes to their preseason third-team All-SEC, which could be a bit of an undersell if Haynes improves upon his freshman campaign.