Anyone can name midseason All-Americans.
Most lists end up looking the same. Maybe there’s a little variance from the big-time publications, but for the most part, you know what you’re going to get.
I thought I’d put a different spin on that.
Instead of just naming the best SEC players through 6 weeks, I came up with an “All-Didn’t See That Coming” Team. Call it a surprise team, or whatever you want. Players who made this list were not on my preseason All-SEC teams, and as far as I know, they didn’t appear on many others. That means guys like Josh Allen and Benny Snell are exempt.
So with that in mind, here are the SEC players who have both surprised and impressed me through 6 weeks:
QB: Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
In Year 1 of the Jimbo Fisher era, Mond already is an elite SEC quarterback. In 3 games against top-13 teams, he’s averaging 333 yards from scrimmage. He ranks fourth in the SEC in passing yards and he’s completing 61 percent of his passes.
RB: Nick Brossette, LSU
You assumed that someone was going to emerge from the LSU backfield, but for the first time in a while, there was uncertainty who that’d be. Brossette has been that guy. Here’s my favorite stat on Brossette, who ranks No. 21 in FBS in rushing yards.
Nick Brossette has more yards after contact this year (364) in six games than he had total rushing yards his first three seasons (306).
— Cody Worsham (@CodyWorsham) October 8, 2018
RB: Scottie Phillips, Ole Miss
Quick question: Did you know that Phillips ranks No. 11 nationally in rushing? It’s easy to get swept up in NWO, but in the first year without the underrated Jordan Wilkins, Phillips has done more than enough to fill his shoes.
WR: Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
OK, we knew that Jeudy was crazy talented. But did we know that he’d be a lock for first-team SEC honors after he averaged a catch per game last year? I didn’t. He’s been Tua Tagovailoa’s favorite deep target with an absurd 24.3 yards per catch (third in FBS), and Jeudy is also No. 12 in receiving yards and tied for second nationally with 8 receiving touchdowns. The sophomore already doubled his entire 2017 receiving yards total, and he has 4 times as many receiving touchdowns as last year.
WR: Kalija Lipscomb, Vanderbilt
Lipscomb was actually Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded SEC receiver through 5 weeks. He struggled to get open against Georgia, which was why the Commodores’ offense struggled. Still, the guy has an SEC-best 26 combined first downs and touchdowns.
TE: Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M
Texas A&M using a tight end? What year is this? The former Kansas transfer has been Mond’s favorite target, and he leads the Aggies in catches (22), receiving yards (351) and receiving touchdowns (5). Not too shabby for someone who entered the year with 1 career catch for 5 yards.
OL: Cade Mays, Georgia
The 5-star true freshman has been huge for a Georgia offensive line that’s been banged up early. He filled in for Andrew Thomas at left tackle against South Carolina and dominated, then Mays got his first career start at guard for Ben Cleveland against Tennessee. Needless to say, Mays isn’t getting pushed around as a true freshman.
— Dayne Young (@dayneyoung) September 8, 2018
OL: George Asafo-Adjei, Kentucky
Lost in the shuffle of Kentucky’s incredible start is the fact that the Wildcats have been able to impose their will on teams. Asafo-Adjei earned Week 5 SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors for the job he did paving the way for Benny Snell and Co. against South Carolina. Asafo-Adjei, AKA “Big George,” has been huge at tackle for a unit that averages more rushing yards per game than Alabama.
OL: Lamont Gaillard, Georgia
The Georgia center has done a solid job paving the way for the SEC’s top rushing attack. Gaillard has been a key reason that the Dawgs have overcome so many injuries up front. Even though he was probably the most experienced player on this list, I don’t think anyone expected him to be this valuable.
OL: Erik McCoy, Texas A&M
McCoy is on here because he’s been the Aggies’ best offensive lineman and at a new position. The Aggies rank third in the SEC and 24th nationally with 226 rushing yards per game. He’s benefitted a ton from the switch to Jimbo Fisher’s system, and as a result, the Aggies are more competitive in the trenches than they’ve been in years past.
OL: Jervontius “Bunchy” Stallings, Kentucky
The aforementioned dominant Kentucky ground game has had more than one star. In fact, Stallings actually earned SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors for his efforts against Mississippi State, which was a week before Asafo-Adjei joined the club. He’s played multiple positions and been everything the Cats could have hoped for in providing help for Snell … in more ways than one.
Bunchy Stallings will NOT let you mess with Benny Snell. pic.twitter.com/LbSHdD4q2P
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) September 30, 2018
AP: Kylin Hill, Mississippi State
It has been a roller-coaster year for Hill so far, but consider this: He has already topped his 2017 rushing yards total, and through 6 games, he’s averaging 95 yards from scrimmage and nearly a touchdown per contest. Hill and Phillips are the only SEC backs with multiple rushing and receiving touchdowns this year. After seeing what he’s capable of in Joe Moorhead’s system, it wouldn’t surprise me if Hill finished the year with 1,500 yards from scrimmage with double-digit scores.
DL: Quinnen Williams, Alabama DL
There might not be a better defensive tackle in America right now. Heading into Saturday, he had the highest grade among interior linemen (Pro Football Focus). That was because Williams had the third-highest rated pass-rush grade among interior defensive linemen, and he was the best defensive player in the country against the run. The first-year starter has been an absolute force for the Tide.
DL: Jachai Polite, Florida
Polite has looked unblockable at many points this season, especially on Saturday against LSU. Nobody had an answer for the Florida EDGE. College Football Film Room already has Polite for 22 pressures on the season, to go with 10 hurries and 5 sacks. It’s usually a good sign when your offensive-minded coach is comparing you to some of the most dominant defensive linemen of the 21st century.
Mullen says he doesn't know if he's had an edge rusher than can bend and has the burst like Jachai Polite does. Mentions Carlos Dunlap and Preston Smith. "But not the pure quickness and the burst (that Polite has). Then brings up a freshman Dwight Freeney when he was at Syracuse.
— Nick de la Torre (@NickdelaTorreGC) October 8, 2018
DL: Armon Watts, Arkansas
Arkansas’ defense struggled against Alabama, but Watts and Co. have held their own better than some thought they would. Watts has been a big part of shutting down running games on the interior. He’s having a breakout year with 19 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 4 sacks.
DL: Jabari Zuniga, Florida
Cole Cubelic threw this out there and I’m not sure he’s wrong. Between Cece Jefferson, Polite and Zuniga, does Florida have the best edge rushers in the country? It’s hard to argue against that after how Zuniga and the Gators played against LSU. Zuniga has a sack in 3 of his past 4 games with 6.5 tackles for loss during that stretch.
LB: Erroll Thompson, Mississippi State
We knew that Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat were going to be great, but did we expect Thompson to be this good? The sophomore is third on the team in tackles (37), he’s got 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks, and not to mention one of the more insane interceptions I’ve ever seen from a linebacker:
Erroll Thompson, woah. pic.twitter.com/ORhuFc9OSO
— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) September 8, 2018
By the way, Thompson is helping lead the No. 1 scoring defense in America.
LB: Bryson Allen-Williams, South Carolina
A guy who got an extra year of eligibility after suffering a season-ending injury last year is making the most of his opportunity. He has been a force in backfields with 8 tackles for loss in 5 games, including 3 in Saturday’s victory against Mizzou. Oh, and Allen-Williams is also responsible for one of the best GIFs of the 2018 season.
Sliding outta Willy B with that W like pic.twitter.com/ZOLBzak387
— BrentH (@HJhughes79) October 6, 2018
LB: Christian Miller, Alabama
That’s sort of a trend of this list is guys who are having bounce-back seasons after suffering injuries last year. Miller is having a breakout year for the Tide with 5.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance against Ole Miss, and he’s coming off a game in which he had 3 hurries.
CB: Rashad Fenton, South Carolina
Fenton might have felt like he should have been a first-team All-SEC corner to start the season, but he’s on this list now because he has more interceptions in 5 games than he had in his previous 35. “Fenton Island” actually has as many interceptions (3) as South Carolina has touchdown passes allowed. That’s not bad for the 12th-ranked pass defense in the country.
CB: Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
Horn was already a familiar name for Gamecock fans as a 4-star recruit and the son of former NFL receiver Joe Horn. But did they expect the freshman to be this good already? He earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors for breaking up 4 passes and helping the Gamecocks hold Drew Lock without a touchdown pass. Will Muschamp compared Horn’s high-motor style of play to Earl Thomas.
S: Grant Delpit, LSU
Delpit was more well-known than most on this list, though the year he’s having has certainly surpassed expectations. How valuable has Delpit been? He’s tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (6.5) and sacks (3) while leading the team in interceptions (3). He’s been an All-American so far.
S: Deionte Thompson, Alabama
I’m just gonna leave this here …
Thompson, Alabama’s safety is the best college safety I’ve seen in since Sean Taylor (Rest his soul). Don’t @ me.
— shannon sharpe (@ShannonSharpe) September 16, 2018
(More than 2,400 people @ Shannon Sharpe, by the way)
Whether that’s true or not, that says a lot about how good Thompson has been. Even though Alabama’s secondary is coming off its worst showing of the season, Thompson and Williams were still Alabama’s top defensive players. All Thompson does is make plays. In 6 games this year, he has 7 passes defensed, 5 pass breakups, 2 interceptions, 1.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Few have risen up draft boards faster than Thompson.
K: Cole Tracy, LSU
The Auburn game hero has been money in the bank for the Tigers after transferring from Division II Assumption College for his final year of eligibility. He’s 12-of-14 on the year — including 2 from 50-plus yards — without an extra point miss. Tracy is tied for third in FBS with 2 field goals made per game. Not bad for someone who last year was playing games at Assumption College.
P: Braden Mann, Texas A&M
Mann leads the nation in yards per punt (54.9), and he actually averages 7 more yards per punt than any Power 5 punter. He just earned his second consecutive SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honor after booming an 82-yarder. He also had a 69-yarder and a 73-yarder against Clemson. That’s a weapon right there.
RET: Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
I’m not sure that there’s a more slippery player in the country than the true freshman. Sure, he was a top-40 recruit nationally and there was a lot of preseason buzz about him, but he wasn’t showing up on preseason All-SEC ballots. Something tells me this will be the last year that happens:
Jaylen Waddle: He's a freshman.
— SI College Football (@si_ncaafb) September 29, 2018
Waddle is fourth nationally in average punt return yards (19.9) and he’s got teammates saying that he already might be the fastest player on the team. In addition to his return exploits, Waddle has 313 receiving yards and 2 scores.
You know, just in case Alabama didn’t have enough weapons already.