The 5 most versatile players in the SEC in 2016
To be versatile is to be valuable, and this fall in the SEC the following five players have a chance to make a big difference in their team’s season with their ability to multi-task.
A list like this could go on for a pretty long time, but we’ve narrowed it down to a quintet of players whose versatility is off the charts, making them a coach’s dream.
Isaiah McKenzie, WR, Georgia
In his two seasons in Athens, McKenzie has proven to be special on special teams. As a freshman, he tied the school record for most punt returns for a touchdown with two and the most touchdown returns in a season with three. He took home the Georgia Newcomer of the Year Award. He made Phil Steele’s All-SEC Third Team as a punt returner.
His specialty continued to be special teams as a sophomore. Despite missing three games because of injuries, McKenzie had 17 punt returns for 217 yards and two touchdowns. He made Steele’s All-SEC First Team as a punt returner and his All-SEC Third Team as a kick returner.
Clearly, McKenzie is a star on special teams, but his versatility is enhanced by the strongest of wills. In the spring of 2015 and this spring, McKenzie received the Coffee County Hustle Award for “exhibiting the most desire during spring drills.”
But McKenzie is capable of so much more, and this could be his fall to fully blossom as a star in Kirby Smart’s first season in Athens. “McKenzie doesn’t have eye-popping offensive stats, but he’s a guy who can do just about anything on the field,” wrote ESPN.com’s Edward Aschoff.
He can carry the ball, too. McKenzie has compiled 195 yards rushing on only 18 carries and two touchdowns. And while he hasn’t been asked to catch it a lot — McKenzie has just 16 receptions for 190 yards and zero TDs in two seasons — that is due to change this fall. McKenzie could develop into a weapon as a slot receiver.
Add in his “hustle factor” with the extreme versatility, and McKenzie could be key in getting the Smart era off to a strong start.
Donte Jackson, CB, LSU
This is a tricky one, since a few months ago Jackson was reportedly ruled academically ineligible for the rest of the spring semester. But the same sources who reported that in early April in The Advocate (Baton Rouge, La.) also said that the speedy Jackson was expected to qualify academically over the summer and be present for preseason camp in August.
LSU coach Les Miles had expressed “concern” about Jackson juggling his academics, football and track, his other sporting passion that helps put him on this list in the first place. According to Tigers secondary coach Corey Raymond, Jackson is considered one of three starting cornerbacks. He was practicing with the starters during spring drills before his academic issues were brought to light, and he started in LSU’s bowl game last season to cap his freshman year.
But, of course, there’s more to Jackson than just being a starting corner. “Jackson’s role extends well beyond defense,” Ross Dellenger wrote in The Advocate. “He is expected to compete to return kicks and punts as well, and he plays in spot roles on LSU’s offense.
Assuming Jackson is ready this fall, David Ching on ESPN.com wrote that “the speedy sophomore is easily one of the most dynamic athletes on LSU’s roster.”
LSU fans just hope this speed demon with great ball skills doesn’t fumble away his chances to make a big impact.
Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
Kamara is more than the backfield sidekick to star running back Jalen Hurd. Yes, Kamara ran for 698 yards and seven touchdowns last year to give the Volunteers one of the nation’s top duos. Yes, he averaged a robust 6.5 yards per carry in 2015, ranking third in the SEC.
But he also caught 34 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns. Look even closer at the fine print and you’ll see Kamara had eight punt returns for 100 yards, a 12.5-yard average — pretty good in the SEC or anywhere — and a TD.
“Kamara is a dynamic player with the ball in his hands, and Tennessee’s coaching staff will make sure he touches the rock as much as possible in as many ways as possible,” Aschoff wrote.
Kamara is determined to make 2016 a special season, in whatever way he can. Kamara, who flirted with entering the NFL Draft, spent his spring break training with a top NFL talent — a wide receiver, no less — joining Miami native and Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro Antonio Brown in South Florida. Vols coach Butch Jones said Kamara and Brown had been scheduled to meet up again in May.
“Kamara has the ability to be a true triple threat,” Aschoff wrote.
Robert Conyers, OL, Ole Miss
On an offensive line in transition, having someone who can play multiple positions is a huge asset. That someone this fall should be Conyers, who can fill in and be solid at center and tackle.
“Conyers could even play guard if need be,” wrote Aschoff of the senior-to-be who was recently named to the Spring Watch List for the Rimington Trophy, given to the nation’s top center.
Conyers started five games at center last season, but a torn ACL suffered against Memphis limited him to six games overall. Conyers missed part of spring drills but should be ready to roll this fall and provide the Rebels with a versatile piece — an experienced, versatile piece.
Marcus Maye, S, Florida
Maye was mulling whether to leave for the NFL with one year of eligibility left, but he’s back in Gainesville and the coaching staff should be thrilled.
ESPN.com lists Maye as a safety, but floridagators.com just calls Maye a “defensive back” in his bio, which is just about right, since Maye has worked at safety, cornerback and in the nickel spot in what should be a talented and deep secondary. Gators defensive coordinator Geoff Collins could very well use Maye at all three positions this fall.
“Maye is at his best at safety, but he has the speed and athleticism to make plays in the slot or outside for the Gators,” Aschoff wrote of Maye, who was named a First Team All-American by USA Today and Pro Football Focus last season.
Added Gridiron Now’s Frank Frangie of Maye’s superb 2015 and no doubt what he promises in 2016: “Maye was so versatile that at times coordinator Geoff Collins actually played him at middle linebacker in passing situations.”