Picking the best breakout candidate for every SEC team in 2017
With the NFL Draft deadline past and signing day on the horizon, we take a quick look around the SEC and pick out a player from each team who might emerge as a star in 2017.
Alabama: Mack Wilson, LB
It’s not whether, it’s just when Wilson will become an absolute destroyer for the Tide. Wilson had eight tackles, a quarterback hurry, and a fumble recovery in 2016. He also caught a touchdown pass, just because he’s that good of an athlete.
Who doesn’t remember this hit Wilson delivered on special teams?
Everytime I think of Speedy Noil, reminds me of when Mack Wilson knocked his tooth out. pic.twitter.com/q7FsS7XXew
— Trillogist (@JassyBravo) December 20, 2016
With Alabama’s linebacker corps heading to the NFL, watch for Wilson in ’17.
Arkansas: McTelvin Agim, DL
Agim will become a force for the Razorbacks, after showing flashes of his skills in 2016. He finished the year with 27 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss (2.5 sacks). Look for Agim to be perhaps the best defensive player on the Arkansas team next season.
Auburn: Marlon Davidson, DL
Like Agim, Davidson is a physical specimen who will terrorize SEC quarterbacks for two more seasons. As a freshman, he 38 tackles, with 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He also broke up four passes and was credited with six QB hurries. Davidson will fill the void Carl Lawson left by going pro.
LSU: Saivion Smith, DB
Smith was stuck behind a tremendously talented secondary, and saw the field only very occasionally in 2016. He had four tackles and broke up two passes. But given his speed and ball skills, Smith will contribute in a big way for the Tigers in 2017.
Mississippi State: Jeffery Simmons, DL
Simmons was a controversial recruit at State, but when the dust settles and State replaces a senior-dominated defensive line next year, his on-field play will make the rest of the situation a distant memory. In 2016, Simmons ended up with 40 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss, as well as four QB hurries. He could well lead State in sacks in 2017.
Ole Miss: Shea Patterson, QB
Sure, this one is smack-you-over-the-head obvious, but Patterson will immediately rise toward the top of the class of SEC QBs. In his comeback win over Texas A&M, Patterson showed all the skills that will make him the next Rebel star QB. Starting in 2017, his time is now.
Texas A&M: Kinglsey Keke, DL
A giant defensive tackle, Keke will fill in some of the lost pass-rush production from NFL Draft entrant Myles Garrett. He went from eight tackles as a true freshman in 2015 to 37 tackles and four sacks in 2016. Keke will provide some serious push up front for the Aggies in 2017.
Florida: Tyrie Cleveland, WR
Cleveland had an up-and-down freshman campaign, but you can’t short a guy with big-play ability. He ended up with 14 catches for 298 yards and two touchdowns, including a 98-yarder in the huge win at LSU. With pressure on Jim McElwain to ramp up his offense, don’t be surprised if Cleveland triples those stats in 2017.
Georgia: Julian Rochester, DL
The true freshman showed flashes of brilliance in 2016. He started six games and ended up with 36 tackles and two sacks. While many of Georgia’s other star defenders elected to return, Rochester will be too good to keep off the field.
Kentucky: Adrian Middleton, DL
Middleton was a lightly-recruited in-state player who was counted on to add depth to the defensive line. But when Kentucky suffered a rash of injuries and attrition, he went from eight tackles in 2015 to 35 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss in 2016. Kentucky will need a big season from the junior in 2017.
Missouri: Marcell Frazier, DL
Charles Harris went pro early, so Mizzou has a vacuum in its pass-rushing spot. Frazier will be a senior and has steadily improved, from 18 tackles and two sacks in 2015 to 34 tackles and 8.5 sacks in 2016. It’s a good bet that he’ll have a superb senior season.
South Carolina: K.C. Crosby, WR/TE
Hayden Hurst is the guy who will be All-SEC, but Crosby is a similarly talented big target. The junior playmaker caught 23 passes for 217 yards and four touchdowns in 2017. With Carolina’s passing game likely to be better next year, Crosby could be the beneficiary of perhaps twice as many passes from Jake Bentley.
Tennessee: Tyler Byrd, WR
Tennessee returns only one player who had more than 21 catches in 2016, so there is opportunity in the receiving corps. Enter Byrd, whose explosiveness resulted in him playing in every game as a true freshman, catching 15 passes for 209 yards, and carrying the ball eight times for 63 more yards. He also averaged 26.3 yards per kickoff return in ten tries, and will see the ball much more in 2017.
Vanderbilt: Khari Blasingame, RB
Sure, Ralph Webb is staying for his senior year. But the development of Blasingame, who was a linebacker in 2015, into a player who provided 449 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2016 should encourage the Commodores. Vandy could copy Kentucky’s success with Stanley Boom Williams and Benny Snell, and develop Blasingame as a second option and not just a backup to Webb.