Best current NFL player from each SEC school
All Dak Prescott has done is go from fourth-round afterthought to star quarterback on what might be the NFL’s best team in the Dallas Cowboys.
The rookie from Mississippi State has taken the league by storm with his poise and skill, unseating veteran Tony Romo to earn his first Pro Bowl berth and become the face of the country’s most storied franchise in less than a full season.
It likewise speaks volumes of Julio Jones’ big-play ability that the Atlanta Falcons wide receiver and former Alabama star still leads the NFL with 1,253 receiving yards despite missing the last two games with a toe injury.
The soon-to-be four-time Pro Bowler and the former No. 6 overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft has been a big reason why Atlanta paces the league in scoring at 33.5 points per game.
And they’re hardly alone in reppin’ the SEC on Sundays. Yep, the league has a lot for which to be proud as the NFL’s regular season nears completion in the first year without legendary former Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning.
Young stars such as Prescott and Jones are among the slew of former SEC players assuming the reins from the previous generation and playing at a Pro Bowl level, joining the likes of Von Miller, Mike Evans, Patrick Petersen, Casey Heyward, Janoris Jenkins and many others.
Here’s a look at the best current NFL players from every SEC program.
WR Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
Why: Fifty-five of Jones’ 72 catches have resulted in first downs, while 29 have gone for at least 20 yards, including five that covered at least 40.
QB Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
Why: The 2010 Heisman Trophy winner was last year’s NFL MVP and led the Panthers to the Super Bowl. A threat with his feet as much as his big right arm, Newton can single-handedly change the outcome of any game.
QB Eli Manning, NY Giants
Why: The No. 1 overall pick of the 2004 NFL Draft, Manning is a two-time Super Bowl MVP and four-time Pro Bowler who has the Giants again peaking at the right time of the year. Manning guided the G-Men to Super Bowl victories in 2007 and 2011.
QB Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Why: He has teamed with fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliot to fuel the Cowboys’ run to the best record in the NFL by completing 68 percent of his passes for 3,418 yards and 20 touchdowns with just four interceptions through 14 games. Prescott has also rushed for 238 yards and six more scores. Most recently, he was spectacular in leading Dallas to a win over Tampa Bay, completing a staggering 32 of 36 attempts for 279 yards and running for a touchdown. His potential appears limitless.
OLB Von Miller, Denver Broncos
Why: He cemented his status as perhaps the game’s best defensive player last season after earning Super Bowl MVP honors in leading the Broncos past the Carolina Panthers in Super Bowl 50. Miller is just 27 years old, but is already a five-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time first-team All-Pro selection. His 13.5 sacks so far this season is tops on the team and ranks second in the NFL.
WR Odell Beckham, Jr., NY Giants
Why: In his third NFL season, Beckham has already established himself as perhaps the most dynamic receiver in all of football with his array of highlight-reel catches. Beckham, who boasts 85 catches for 1,173 yards and 10 touchdowns so far this season, has earned Pro Bowl accolades in each of his first three seasons. As a rookie in 2014, he set the league on fire with 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns to earn Rookie of the Year honors. OBJ followed that up in 2015 by totaling 96 catches for 1,450 yards and 13 scores.
TE Hunter Henry, San Diego Chargers
Why: A second-round pick by the Chargers in the 2016 NFL Draft, Henry has quickly proven himself effective with his soft hands and ability to run well. He’s played in all 13 of his team’s games – starting 10 – and has 32 catches for 435 yards and seven touchdowns.
QB Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Why: The former No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, Stafford has blossomed this year to fuel the Lions’ resurgence. Stafford, who was selected to his only previous Pro Bowl in 2014, has started all 14 games for Detroit this season, completing 336 of 507 passes for 3,720 yards and 22 touchdowns with eight interceptions. He’s started 80 consecutive regular season games for the Lions, a franchise record for quarterbacks, and been the catalyst behind the team’s eight victories this season in which they came from behind in the fourth quarter.
C Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers
Why: Considered perhaps the best center in football, Pouncey earned Pro Bowl selections in five of his first seven years in the NFL, the exceptions coming in 2013 when he suffered a severe knee injury and played just one game and in 2015 when he missed the entire season with a broken leg. His cerebral approach to protection schemes has been the key behind a Steelers’ offensive line that consistently ranks among the NFL’s best. Pouncey earned first-team All-Pro accolades in 2011 and 2014.
SS Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs
Why: A five-time Pro Bowl pick and two-time first-team All-Pro, Berry beat cancer and has regained his previous form with an outstanding 2016 season. Berry recently enjoyed his best game of the season against Atlanta, returning an interception for a touchdown and then picking off and returning a 2-point conversion attempt for the deciding points in a 29-28 victory. Berry has three interceptions so far this season, two of which he returned for scores.
WR Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
Why: Jeffery has been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise moribund Bears offense because he makes an inviting target at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. Opportunities, however, have been limited, as Jeffery has 46 catches for 719 yards and two touchdowns so far this season. He enjoyed his best year in 2013, recording 89 receptions for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns to warrant a Pro Bowl selection.
CB Casey Heyward, San Diego Chargers
Why: His seven interceptions pace the NFL and are the most by a Chargers player since 2011. The fifth-year pro has added 19 passes defensed and 51 tackles in 14 games, including 12 starts. Heyward was named to his first Pro Bowl this week.
WR Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers
Why: The sixth-year pro has become a key cog in a potent Packers offense. Cobb currently has 60 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns this season. He enjoyed his best year in 2014, totaling 91 receptions for 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns to earn his lone Pro Bowl selection.
OLB Shane Ray, Denver Broncos
Why: The second-year pass rusher is enjoying a solid coming-out season after emerging as a starter and responding with seven sacks, including three over the past four games. His sack total ranks second on the team behind only Von Miller’s 13.5.