SEC playmakers we're excited to watch in 2016
Limiting the most exciting playmakers to just five (OK, and a bonus two) is one of the most difficult thought exercises one could undertake this offseason.
Every SEC team claims a running back, receiver, quarterback or returner that received heavy consideration. But if we could only watch the highlights of five players in 2016, these are the handful that we’d choose.
1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: Entering November, Fournette probably was the consensus favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. Alabama remains on the schedule. But there’s an argument to be made that Fournette will be the single-most exciting player in all of college football in 2016. He scored 23 touchdowns in 12 games last season and nearly rushed for 2,000 yards despite a canceled game against McNeese State.
2. Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss: The Rebels quarterback has an opportunity to become the first player in SEC history with two 4,000-yard passing seasons. He’s got enough playmakers left at receiver and tight end to challenge for that figure, and if Kelly can eliminate some of his interceptions, Ole Miss will get a real opportunity at an SEC championship. He’s clearly the most exciting signal-caller in the conference in 2016.
3. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M: Although he impressed as a true freshman receiver, Kirk is listed at 5-foot-11. Long-term, he may have an even more exciting future as a returner. The bottom line is that seeing Kirk in the open field is not good for your defense. He made 15 catches of at least 20 yards in 2015, in addition to tying for the SEC lead with four punt returns of at least 30 yards.
4. O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama: Sure, his teammate Calvin Ridley returns as a 1,000-yard receiver in a Lane Kiffin offense, which usually force-feeds one star player. But Howard’s national championship game performance (5 catches, 208 yards, 2 TDs) left us wanting more. Alabama coach Nick Saban promised to try to get Howard the ball more often in 2016, and at 6-foot-6 and 242 pounds, Howard is a complete mismatch even for SEC linebackers.
5. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: This depends on Chubb’s recovery from a nasty knee injury. But players like Todd Gurley, Laquon Treadwell and Kenyan Drake have overcome similar injuries in terms of rehab and recovery in recent seasons, so the assumption here is that Chubb will be more or less the same player. If that’s the case, he could challenge Fournette for the SEC rushing title and make an argument that he’s a first-round talent.
Evan Berry, KR, Tennessee
Isaiah McKenzie, PR, Georgia
McKenzie, “The Human Joystick,” has returned four punts for touchdowns in two seasons. Berry returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in 2015, averaging an unheard-of 38.3 yards per kickoff return.
If you’re looking for a reason that UGA or UT will end the SEC East’s title game losing streak, include those two players in your opening statement.
The SEC is full of electric special teams players, but these are the two most exciting entering 2016.