At the midway point, this is the SEC's 'dudes who deserve better' team
For the past few weeks, there’s a growing list of SEC players that I find myself feeling sorry for. Their teams won’t be competing for a division title, and in all likelihood, they won’t be playing in a New Year’s 6 bowl.
But that’s not their fault. If anything, they’re keeping their team from tanking.
These are the players who deserve better. Whether that’s better coaches, better surroundings, better blocking or just an overall better 2022 experience, it doesn’t matter. In a team sport like football, there’s only so much an individual — or an entire position group — can do to help their teams.
Players on SEC teams with 1 or fewer losses are exempt. Sorry, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Tennessee fans. I don’t feel sorry for your actually competitive teams that are loaded with All-SEC candidates.
These are the SEC dudes who deserve better:
Rocket Sanders, Arkansas RB
Why he deserves better — Sanders has been a revelation in the Arkansas backfield after he was in a timeshare as a true freshman in Kendal Briles’ offense. But Sanders could be heading toward 2021 Tyler Badie levels of reliance with the KJ Jefferson head injury. If Jefferson is out or limited as a runner moving forward, the SEC’s leader in rushing (by 114 yards) and scrimmage touches is about to get even more work for an even more limited Arkansas offense, which could face a bunch of loaded fronts. Only 4 Power 5 running backs have played more snaps than Sanders (303), and go figure that one of them is also on this list. I worry about someone like Sanders breaking down because he’s never been in this type of role as a featured back even when he was a Swiss Army Knife at Rockledge High School (Fla.).
The Rocket Man might have to grind his way to an All-SEC season.
Tank Bigsby, Auburn RB
Why he deserves better — I present to you, reader of this column, everything you need to know about the Tank Bigsby experience in 2022:
according to PFF, Auburn RB Tank Bigsby had 62 yards after contact against Missouri
he recorded 44 rushing yards in total
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) September 25, 2022
How is that possible, you ask? It’s simple. When you’re getting hit behind the line of scrimmage because your offensive line can’t block a soul, you can have more yards after contact than total rushing yards. Remember that getting hit 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage and somehow gaining 1 yard would mean Bigsby gained 4 yards after contact and 1 yard toward his rushing total. That’s life for Bigsby. He’s in an offense that doesn’t scare anyone in the passing game, and he’s got a bad offensive line that rolled out its 4th starting center on Saturday against Georgia. On top of not having any running lanes, Bryan Harsin also will go an entire quarter without giving him the football. How that makes sense is beyond me, and I say that as a Jarquez Hunter supporter.
As a fan of Bigsby’s hard-nosed running style, I find myself wishing he had sought other options after he was rumored to be in the transfer portal following last season’s disappointing finish. Now, I’ll just hope he goes to the right situation in the NFL.
Derick Hall, Auburn DE
Why he deserves better — Hall is an absolute game-wrecker off the edge. We knew that coming into the year, and despite Auburn’s horrendous start to 2022, Hall only confirmed that. He’s 4th in the SEC with 7 tackles for loss, he’s got 4 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception on a tipped pass against Mizzou. You can build a defense around Hall. The problem is that Auburn’s defensive line depth is extremely limited, especially after the season-ending pec injury to fellow disruptive edge rusher Eku Leota. Also hurting Hall is the fact that Auburn’s offense is a dumpster fire and it can’t stay on the field. As a result, Hall has played the most snaps of any SEC edge defender (350).
Hall returned for his senior season on The Plains instead of leaving for the NFL, and he’s being put in a brutal spot in every way.
Ventrell Miller, Florida LB
Why he deserves better — We saw last year what Florida’s defense looked like when Miller was lost for the season to a torn bicep. This year, we’re seeing exactly why he’s so valuable on a team with major defensive depth issues. Miller is everywhere. Through Week 6, he’s PFF’s highest-graded Power 5 linebacker. He’s the SEC’s highest-graded linebacker against the run by a mile (90.2 compared to Henry To’o To’o at 85.6) and even though he’s battling through an injured foot — he takes a painkilling shot every game day — he had 10 solo tackles in a victory against Mizzou on Saturday.
Miller is the exact type of guy that a Year 1 coach prays he can inherit. The concern with Miller moving forward is what he’s been asked to do at less than 100%. He doesn’t leave the field, and it feels like he’s the glue that’s barely holding this middle-of-the-pack defense together. Miller’s got some Nick Bolton vibes to his game. Hopefully, like Bolton going to the Chiefs and becoming a staple in Kansas City, Miller’s NFL home will allow him to be a key contributor for a Super Bowl contender.
Why they deserve better — Arguably the strength of LSU’s team is being wildly underutilized. Some of that is scheme and some of that is having a 1-read quarterback like Jayden Daniels. As a result, Kayshon Boutte, Jack Bech and Brian Thomas Jr. are all having quiet seasons. Boutte and Bech are really the ones who have become total non-factors who almost look surprised when the ball actually does come their way. They have a combined 27 catches for 211 yards and 2 receiving touchdowns. That lone touchdown for Boutte came in Game No. 6 when LSU was trailing 37-7. That’s not what you like to see from your preseason All-American, who has had drops but also hasn’t been featured in the offense nearly as much as he was with the previous regime.
Jayden Daniels consoled a visibly frustrated Kayshon Boutte, who doesn’t have a catch midway through the 3rd quarter. pic.twitter.com/c0y5aHSFH0
— Connor O’Gara (@cjogara) September 5, 2022
Malik Nabers appears to be the only guy that Daniels truly trusts, which is a troubling thought at the midway point of the season for a team who just suffered that all-important second loss. Before the Tennessee game, Daniels had a players’ only meeting and admitted he needed to trust his wideouts more. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that yielded anything besides more passing game frustration.
Why it deserves better — Last year, Mizzou’s defense was a disaster. They were the worst run defense in America for most of the season and the defensive line coach was fired midseason. This year, though? Mizzou’s defensive line is a huge reason they’re only -14 in SEC play after games against Georgia, Florida and Auburn. By the way, those offenses averaged just 20 points (I’m taking the Florida pick-6 off the board because that wasn’t on Mizzou’s defense). The Tigers rank in the top 1/3 in FBS in yards/play allowed thanks to some vastly improved play led by new defensive coordinator Blake Baker. Will Anderson is the only SEC player with more TFLs than Ty’Ron Hopper, and Isaiah McGuire and Martez Manuel are both on pace for double-digit TFLs.
Even without future early-round NFL corner Kris Abrams-Draine against Florida — he got injured when 6-7, 270-pound Darnell Washington attempted to hurdle him a week earlier — we saw Mizzou’s defense stymie Anthony Richardson in The Swamp. If not for Brady Cook’s costly turnovers, Mizzou’s defense would’ve been able to fuel a road upset as a double-digit underdog. It’s too bad that Mizzou’s offense is averaging just 16 points per game against Power 5 competition.
Jaheim Bell, South Carolina TE
Why he deserves better — He’s so versatile and he plays in a passing offense that’s beyond frustrating. Spencer Rattler either doesn’t get time to throw or he does and he drifts to his right to force an off-target throw. Marcus Satterfield was so desperate to manufacture touches for Bell that he had him getting actual work as a tailback to start the season. Hence, why he has more carries (17) than catches (11). Look at Bell’s snap count through 6 games:
- Slot WR: 54
- Inline: 36
- RB: 23
- Wide WR: 12
Unfortunately, Bell hasn’t had 20 snaps in a game since the Arkansas game. Shane Beamer gave Bell a nice little nod after the Kentucky game by naming him a co-offensive player of the week, which was because of his blocking. But as dangerous as he’s been over the course of his career — he’s still actually PFF’s No. 3 graded tight end in the SEC behind Darnell Washington and Brock Bowers — he’s in an offense in which he’s rarely targeted. Bell’s Mayo Bowl dominance feels like a distant memory.
JAHEIM BELL HOUSE CALL
“Pour some mayo on me, baby!” ? pic.twitter.com/Z2jfGrFRHi
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) December 30, 2021
DK Joyner, South Carolina WR
Why he deserves better — Speaking of Mayo Bowl dominance that feels like ages ago, remember Joyner? Like, the guy who was so good playing his former position of quarterback in the Mayo Bowl that Shane Beamer said he had transfer portal interest to play the position full-time elsewhere? Well, Joyner stayed at South Carolina because he’s a loyal dude. But like with Bell, snaps and touches have been few and far between. Through 6 games, he played a total of 50 snaps and got 2 scrimmage touches for 2 yards. That’s it.
Despite all of Rattler’s struggles, we’ve only seen 1 snap from Joyner at quarterback. I’m not saying South Carolina needs a 2-quarterback system, but it’s an offense that averaged just 20.3 points in 3 games against Power 5 competition. Surely Joyner, who has dedicated himself to becoming a more complete receiver for the last 3 seasons, would offer some juice … right? Apparently not. Too bad. We were promised a creative South Carolina offense and instead, it feels like MarShawn Lloyd is the only skill player who has been what Gamecock fans hoped.
Devon Achane, Texas A&M
Why he deserves better — I don’t think A&M fans would have any reason to watch this offense if not for Achane, especially with Ainias Smith out for the year. Achane is phenomenal. He’s somehow 4th in the SEC in rushing even though he plays on a team who doesn’t have a passing game to speak of. It’s not just that he’s got world-class speed. It’s that he’s tough, and he runs through contact better than he gets credit for. As a result, he never leaves the field. At 185 pounds, he’s No. 4 among FBS running backs in snaps played (337) and he’s got 97 carries compared to 14 for the rest of A&M’s running backs.
Achane is also 2nd on the team in catches (19) and he’s responsible for 6 of A&M’s 24 scrimmage plays of 20 yards. Just in case that wasn’t enough, he’s the team’s primary kick returner, and he’s a darn good one. The entire A&M offense is basically Achane and the occasional flash from true freshman receiver Evan Stewart. If God forbid, Achane were to get hurt, Aggie fans will have lost their last remaining reason to watch Jimbo Fisher’s stagnant offense.
Will Sheppard, Vanderbilt WR
Why he deserves better — Be honest. Did you realize that Sheppard has a decent shot at finishing the SEC’s receiving triple crown in 2022? Probably not, right? Through Week 6, he ranks No. 1 in the SEC in catches (35), he’s No. 3 in yards (452) and he’s No. 1 in receiving touchdowns (8). Unlike many on this list, Sheppard deserves better attention on what he’s doing. He and AJ Swann have developed a nice connection, which was evident when he hauled in 10 catches for 171 yards in the true freshman quarterback’s first career start. His lone game without a touchdown this year was against Alabama, and even when he spent part of the day banged up with an ankle injury against Ole Miss, he still finished with 9 catches for 87 yards and a score.
Sheppard continues to be a force for a Vandy program that has been severely lacking a reliable outside target. Sheppard clearly checks that box, whether rest of the college football world acknowledges it or not.