With an 8-month offseason, you’d think that everyone would be talked about ad nauseam. But somehow, that doesn’t happen. Instead, we (myself included) manage to overlook players heading into every season.

That’s what I hope to identify today.

To be clear, this is slightly different than a breakout a player. For example, Nakobe Dean entered 2021 as everyone’s breakout candidate. You couldn’t talk about that Georgia defense without hearing about Dean’s potential, which was justified. Dean wouldn’t be a candidate for this list because he had plenty of attention.

The guys we’ll reference today are mostly players who didn’t receive All-SEC love (with 1 exception). But they flashed major ability in 2021 but didn’t quite get the attention they deserved. That could be playing for a struggling team, or perhaps they were lost in the shuffle at their position league-wide.

These 7 SEC players are worthy of more attention than they’ll probably get heading into 2022:

Jaheim Bell, South Carolina TE

Wait a minute. Aren’t dudes who go off in bowl games the ones who get too much offseason love? Usually, yes. And to be clear, South Carolina fans are well aware of Bell. But outside of the Palmetto State, you’re gonna see more people reference Oklahoma transfer Austin Stogner than Bell. I get it. Stogner has the Spencer Rattler connection. What does Bell have? More 2021 receiving yards than any returning SEC tight end not named “Brock Bowers.” In fact, Bowers is the only returning Power 5 tight end with a higher overall PFF grade than Bell.

The reason South Carolina could have a realistic pitch for someone like Stogner was because of Bell’s versatility as someone who is essentially a receiver with size. You can play both at the same time because about 46% of his offensive snaps, Bell wasn’t used inline. Marcus Satterfield has options with Bell, who will force teams into some ugly mismatches. Then again, if he can beat safeties over the top as a “tight end,” there’s really not a whole lot a defense can do:

Isheem Young, Ole Miss DB

There’s a ton of turnover on Ole Miss’ defense. Chance Campbell and Sam Williams are gone, as is DJ Durkin, who left to take the same job at Texas A&M. It’s a good thing that Lane Kiffin got Young from Iowa State. The former Big 12 co-defensive freshman of the year is excellent against the run (No. 4 on Iowa State in tackles) and can also cover well in the slot. Did I mention he can protect over the top, too?

Young was a quiet transfer portal addition because he came from Iowa State and not, say, Georgia like former transfer Otis Reese. But Young has the ability to become a household name as a versatile defender with 2 years of experience as a reliable starter at the Power 5 level.

Dominique Johnson, Arkansas RB

I don’t expect to see Johnson on any preseason All-SEC teams, and I’m not necessarily saying he’s on that level. At least not yet. The guy wasn’t even a top-3 rusher on his own team. But Johnson’s emergence led to the transfer of 2021 starter Trelon Smith. When he got run in that crowded backfield, Johnson was excellent. He averaged 6 yards per carry and PFF had him with the No. 7 run grade among SEC backs. Devon Achane is the only returning SEC back with a higher 2021 grade.

Johnson can make people miss in the backfield, but he’s certainly a big enough back at 235 pounds to wear a defense down in the second half like he did in the Outback Bowl. Johnson and Rocket Sanders will be one of the league’s better 1-2 punches in the backfield, especially running behind an offensive line that returns 4 of 5 starters in Kendal Briles’ offense. Johnson will get more work, and he could easily turn into a surprise 1,000-yard back.

Tayvion Robinson, Kentucky WR

We spent a lot of time in the past few months discussing a Robinson who transferred from a Power 5 program and became a revelation in 1 year at Kentucky. That, of course, was Wan’Dale Robinson, who rewrote the record books in his 1 year in Lexington. So who will replace him in the slot? Tayvion Robinson, AKA Virginia Tech’s leading receiver who has 1,585 career receiving yards and 113 catches in 3 seasons at the Power 5 level. Robinson is a slot guy, but he can (and will) win 1-on-1 battles on the outside:

So Robinson will replace Robinson and catch passes from one of the better returning quarterbacks in the country in Will Levis. The Virginia Tech transfer will play in a much more pass friendly offense than what we saw before Liam Coen arrived in 2021. There might be more buzz around Alabama transfer Javon Baker, but it’s Robinson who figures to step into the lead role.

Princely Umanmielen, Florida DE

It might be easy to think that Florida’s edge rushers will take a step back with Todd Grantham gone. That might happen, but it won’t be because of Umanmielen’s doing. The underused defensive end finally got some run in the bowl game, where he played 50 snaps after he only had 2 regular season games with 30 snaps. He won’t get attention because so far through 2 seasons, he has just 20 tackles. But JJ Enagbare and Sam Williams were the only SEC edge defenders with better pass-rushing grades than Umanmielen in 2021.

Brenton Cox is the guy who will get more preseason accolades for Florida, and much will be made of the transfer of Mohamoud Diabate because we’ve got the revenge game in the opener with Utah. Just don’t sleep on Umanmielen. He’s a prime candidate to thrive with more regular reps.

Javon Foster, Mizzou OT

You know that Tyler Badie was a workhorse in 2021. One of the big reasons Badie was able to find running lanes was because of Foster, who solidified the left tackle position. Foster had the No. 4 PFF grade among all SEC tackles behind just Darian Kinnard, Evan Neal and Charles Cross, all of whom figure to be early-round draft picks in a few months (Kinnard at least should be). Foster actually had a better run-blocking grade than Neal. And Connor Bazelak, who was criticized for his lack of mobility, only took 13 sacks all season with Foster protecting his blind side.

It’s never a bad thing when this is said by your head coach:

Straight out of the Michael Oher playbook.

Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M DB

I wanted to include Johnson here because while I think he’ll get second-team All-SEC love, I think he deserves to be in the All-America discussion. Outside of Will Anderson and Jalen Carter, there’s not a better returning defensive player in the SEC. What do I like about Johnson? He covers extremely well, especially in the slot, where he played over 600 snaps and received a PFF coverage grade that ranked No. 5 among all Power 5 corners. PFF had him for 14 slot corner stops, which ranked No. 3 Power 5.

Oh, and Johnson can take a quarterback’s head off if unaccounted for blitzing off the edge, which Mike Elko liked to have him do a handful of times per game:

Johnson isn’t your typical slot corner. I’m not saying he’s on a Tyrann Mathieu level in terms of game-changing ability, but Johnson’s inner Honey Badger comes out more than the casual fan probably realizes. Even with Elko gone, I’d expect Johnson to be the most valuable player on DJ Durkin’s defense.

Don’t be surprised when Johnson is an All-American getting first-round NFL Draft buzz by season’s end.