I’ll be honest.
It’s June. My opinions about preseason All-SEC teams are by no means etched in stone. That’s why I’ll probably wait to make my predictions at Media Days in July.
These are 5 guys who I thought should’ve earned preseason first-team honors.
Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi State DL
I get that Todd Grantham is no longer in Starkville, but leaving Simmons off this list was the most obvious omission in my eyes. The guy already earned first-team All-SEC honors last year as a sophomore. He and Montez Sweat, who did receive the preseason nod, were arguably the top defensive line duo in the country last year. I question how many double teams Simmons will see with Sweat wreaking so much havoc on the edge.
Simmons is, for my money, the best defensive tackle in the SEC heading into 2018. I mean, the guy even blocked 3 kicks last year. He finds ways to make an impact that few guys in his position can, and I don’t expect that to change with a new coaching staff in town.
Trey Smith, Tennessee OL
I know, I know. We don’t know Smith’s future in football. The sophomore-to-be has a non-orthopedic medical condition that sidelined him for the spring and temporarily put his future on hold. That likely scared off at least a few SEC SIDs from putting him on their ballots.
But if he’s cleared, Smith is certainly an All-American candidate.
Say what you want about the Tennessee offense last year, so long as it doesn’t include anything negative about Smith. As a true freshman, the 5-star recruit was a force. Not many guys can step in immediately and play four positions, much less do so successfully like Smith did.
Pro Football Focus had Smith as one of the top 10 highest-graded freshmen in America last year. SEC Network’s Cole Cubelic said if healthy, Smith is the conference’s top returning offensive lineman.
I’m buying the upside in a healthy Smith.
Mack Wilson, Alabama LB
Rare it seems that Alabama players don’t get enough preseason love, but I was surprised that Wilson didn’t get one of the linebacker spots. With all due respect to Texas A&M’s Tyrel Dodson, I thought Wilson should’ve gotten the nod here. The potential for that breakout season is certainly sky high, especially considering Alabama lost Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton to the NFL Draft.
The former 5-star recruit has exceptional range, and his ability to play in coverage and get into the backfield on run-pass options is going to make him a game-changer. I don’t think it was a coincidence that as a linebacker who started in just 2 games, Wilson managed to lead the Tide with 4 interceptions. Oh, and he did that despite missing 2 games with a foot injury.
After he returned from his foot injury, we saw in the Playoff why Wilson was being dubbed the next great Alabama linebacker. He had that dagger pick-6 vs. Clemson and then he recorded a career-high 12 tackles to help Alabama come back against Georgia.
If that’s the player we see in 2018, I have no doubt that Wilson will wind up earning first-team All-SEC honors.
J.R. Reed, Georgia S
So I realized that the three aforementioned players were all 5-star recruits. How about showing some love to a guy who was ranked No. 1,856 in the class of 2015?
The former Tulsa transfer proved to be a diamond in the rough last year with 79 tackles (second on the team), 5 tackles for loss and 2 interceptions in 15 starts for the national runners-up. The 6-2 safety is going to be one of the key leaders of what figures to still be one of the nation’s top defenses.
I also have this theory about the Georgia secondary this year, and this is just a gut call. Something tells me that after 2nd-and-26 happened, Kirby Smart (the former defensive back) is going to have that unit on a different level this season. I thought they were the unit that benefitted the most from some extraordinary play in the front seven last year, but I think the Dawgs back end is going to fuel the defense in 2018. Reed will be leading the charge en route to a huge individual year.
D’Andre Swift, Georgia RB
Let me preface this by saying I already advocated for Damien Harris to finally start getting more work in 2018 with Bo Scarbrough gone. Will Harris become a 20-carry guy, though? I question that. I think it winds up being more of a shared workload with Najee Harris and the senior won’t finish with one of those 1,300-yard seasons that it often takes to earn first-team honors as a tailback.
Swift, on the other hand, will. It’s hard not to be impressed with a true freshman who rushes for 618 yards when 379 carries (!) went to the two backs above him on the depth chart. Without Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, Swift will get a whole lot of that work. Yes, so will Zamir White and Elijah Holyfield. But Swift has the do-it-all ability that’s going to make him lethal in this offense.
Shoot, the guy was lethal last year. You won’t find a lot of true freshmen tailbacks who average 7.9 yards per touch. As tough as it is for Georgia fans to face life after Chubb and Michel, the thought of getting to see significantly more of Swift has to be the ultimate silver lining.
I guess as someone who put Swift in his way-too-early 2018 Heisman Trophy candidates column back in December, I’m plenty excited for that silver lining, too.