Every SEC team’s most important player midway through 2016 season
Now at the midway point of the 2016 season, it’s time to honor those players who have proven to be most important for their respective teams.
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These aren’t necessarily the best players on the team, but they are ones who have played a big role in their school’s wins and losses. Also, there are no offensive linemen included on this list because it’s difficult for any one single player to stand out on the line and have a greater impact than other positions.
Here is each team’s most important player.
Alabama: Jalen Hurts
While it’s tempting to pick one of Alabama’s defensive monsters, Hurts has brought a dynamic quality to the quarterback position that the Crimson Tide haven’t had in Nick Saban’s time with the team. The freshman has passed for 1,385 yards with 9 touchdowns and 3 interceptions, and he’s second on the team with 428 rushing yards and 8 scores.
Arkansas: Rawleigh Williams III
It’s no secret that the Razorbacks want to run the football until their opponent proves they can stop them. Luckily, there are few teams that have been able to slow down Williams. The sophomore running back has been a true workhorse for Arkansas this season, carrying the ball 140 times for 785 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Auburn: Carl Lawson
Montravius Adams has been a great contributor for Auburn’s emerging defense, but Lawson has been a dominant force. The junior defensive lineman has 15 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss, 6 sacks, 11 quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. The Tigers have one of the SEC’s top defenses, and Lawson is a big reason.
Florida: Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson
Choosing between these two lockdown defenders just seems wrong, so both Florida defensive backs make the cut. Notably, Tabor and Wilson each had an interception return for a touchdown against Missouri, but they’ve been making plays all season long. Tabor has 4 interceptions, Wilson has 3. They are two big sources of confidence for one of the top defenses in the country.
Georgia: Isaiah McKenzie
While he’s slowed down of late, McKenzie was Mr. Everything for the Bulldogs at the start of the year. The junior receiver set a blistering pace through the first three weeks and delivered a huge play against North Carolina, Nicholls State and Missouri. McKenzie quickly emerged as Jacob Eason’s favorite target and has 30 catches for 415 yards and 5 touchdowns to go along with 15 carries for 74 yards and another score.
Kentucky: Jordan Jones
Part of a young defense for the Wildcats, Jones is the team’s leading tackler and making plays all over the field. Jones has 56 tackles, an SEC-high 41 of which are solo, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks and 7 quarterback hurries. Kentucky has been up and down, but Jones has been a consistent bright spot.
LSU: Danny Etling
Derrius Guice has been stellar while filling in for Leonard Fournette, but even Fournette struggled at times without the threat of a passing game. Since taking over for Brandon Harris, Etling hasn’t been brilliant, but he’s done enough to take some of the pressure off the running game. Etling has thrown for 925 yards and 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions this year and looks more comfortable each week. Last week, he added a couple of explosive pass plays, something LSU has been sorely lacking.
Ole Miss: Chad Kelly
Evan Engram has been arguably the Rebels’ best player, but Kelly is easily the most important. Ole Miss goes as its quarterback goes. Kelly’s second-half struggles against Florida State and Alabama were well-documented and proved that when its quarterback is on, Ole Miss can beat anyone, but when he isn’t there can be problems.
But before anybody points a finger at Kelly, consider where the Rebels would be without him. Exactly.
Kelly has thrown for 1,849 yards and 14 touchdowns with 5 interceptions this season, showing he is still among the best passers in the country.
Mississippi State: A.J. Jefferson
This season has not gone the way many Mississippi State fans had hoped. Moving on from the Dak Prescott era, the Bulldogs have won only two games and the offense has taken a predictable step back.
This opens the door for Jefferson to stake his claim as Mississippi State’s most important player. His ability to make plays in the opponent’s backfield helps the defense get off the field and stall offenses. Jefferson leads the team with 10 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks 2 quarterback hurries and he has a forced fumble.
Missouri: Drew Lock
The sophomore quarterback has been one of the pleasant surprises in the SEC this season. With Lock behind center, Missouri’s passing attack has become more dangerous, albeit inconsistent. The Tigers’ defense is struggling through scheme changes and personnel losses, meaning the offense needs to put up points to score.
When Lock has been on his game, Missouri can put up points quickly, but he’s struggled against the SEC’s top defenses. Lock has thrown for 1,714 yards with 14 touchdowns and 6 interceptions this season.
South Carolina: Deebo Samuel
Samuel’s importance to the Gamecocks hasn’t been shown so much by his play on the field this season, but rather by the Gamecocks’ struggles while he’s been sidelined with injury.
Without Samuel’s dynamic playmaking ability, South Carolina has scored only 14 points per game – the lowest total in the league. The sophomore receiver returned against Georgia and quickly helped out the passing game by catching 4 passes for 90 yards.
Tennessee: Derek Barnett
There might not be a player more important in Tennessee’s comebacks this season than Barnett. The junior defensive end was critical in the second half against Florida, notching two key sacks on third down. He also came up big in the fourth quarter against Georgia, sacking Jacob Eason in the end zone and forcing a fumble that allowed Tennessee to take the lead.
Granted, Joshua Dobbs still had to direct those game-winning drives, but Barnett is among the best pass rushers in the country and has 11.5 tackles for a loss, 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and an interception.
Texas A&M: Trevor Knight
Myles Garrett might be the star at Texas A&M, but Trevor Knight’s play at quarterback has been crucial for the Aggies’ great start. In his first season with the team, the senior has made big plays with his arm and his legs. Knight has thrown for 1,500 yards with 9 touchdowns and 5 interceptions while also running for 502 yards and 9 more scores.
Vanderbilt: Zach Cunningham
Cunningham is off to a blistering start, recording 81 tackles — including 40 solo — at the midway point. His tackle on fourth down against Georgia secured the victory for Vanderbilt and was a fitting end to his 19-tackle outing.
Cunningham is also adept at getting into the opponent’s backfield and has 13 tackles for a loss this season.