Every SEC team's biggest recruiting overachiever
It’s no secret that college football is an arms race for talent, and despite what some may lead you to believe, recruiting stars do matter.
While there’s always a diamond in the rough to be had, 4- and 5-star prospects usually go on to have better careers. Of the 23 players named to the All-SEC First Team on offense and defense, 20 received 4- or 5-star grades by 247Sports, and none was worse than a 3-star. That’s worth remembering as we approach the traditional Signing Day on Wednesday, where all of the focus will be on the blue-chip recruits.
That said, every team this season received major contributions from lesser-heralded players.
Who was each team’s biggest overachiever in 2020?
To establish some sort of rules, none of the players on the ensuing list could have been a 4- or 5-star recruit during their high school careers, and JUCO transfers were considered.
Some had many more options than others, but these were the best recruiting finds for each team:
Alabama: Mac Jones
National Rank: 399; 3-star
Jones may be the most obvious on the list. The Davey O’Brien Award winner may have been surrounded by some of the best weapons in football, but Jones had to wait for his time behind 4- and 5-star quarterbacks and even beat out 5-star Bryce Young just to win the starting job this year.
Jones was 1 of only 3 QBs to average north of 340 passing yards a game this year and finished 2nd in the FBS with 41 touchdowns. He’s was one of the brightest stars at the Reese’s Senior Bowl practices and will hear his name called on Day 1 of the NFL Draft.
Arkansas: Grant Morgan
National Rank: NR; 3-star
Morgan wrapped up this past season with First Team All-SEC honors. The linebacker was a tackling machine in 2020, finishing 2nd in the league and 3rd in the nation with 111. The former walk-on delivered Razorbacks fans some stellar news at the end of December, announcing that he will be returning for a 6th season of play.
Auburn: Roger McCreary
National Rank: 989; 3-star
McCreary had a breakout season in 2020, finishing with 45 tackles, the 5th-most on Auburn. The ball-hawking cornerback’s 3 interceptions were tied for 5th in the SEC. He could have declared early for the NFL, but he opted to return for his senior season under new coach Bryan Harsin and defensive coordinator Derek Mason.
Florida: Kyle Trask
National Rank: 2,123; 3-star
The Heisman finalist’s circuitous route to becoming Florida’s starting quarterback has been well-documented, but the journey was worth the wait. Trask set numerous program records in 2020, including the single-season marks for passing yardage (4,283) and passing touchdowns (43), as well as career completion percentage (67.9%). Trask’s 356.9 passing yards a game trailed only UCF’s Dillon Gabriel.
Georgia: Jordan Davis
National Rank: 424; 3-star
Despite missing 3 games with an elbow injury, the defensive tackle still played well enough to earn Second Team All-Sec honors. The junior finished with 16 tackles in 7 games but saved his best work for last when he recorded a sack and a blocked field goal in the Bulldogs’ Peach Bowl victory over Cincinnati. Davis will be back in 2021.
Kentucky: Chris Rodriguez Jr.
National Rank: 1,156; 3-star
There was no sophomore slump for Rodriguez, who led the SEC with 6.6 yards per carry (minimum 100 carries). Rodriguez split reps with Asim Rose but still led the Wildcats with 785 yards rushing and 11 scores on the ground. The best may still be yet to come as PFF named him the best returning running back in college football.
Top RBs returning in College Football⚡️ pic.twitter.com/bbStDZECxw
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 15, 2021
LSU: Ali Gaye
National Rank: 627; 3-star
Gaye was a late addition to the Tigers’ 2020 roster after transferring from Garden City Community College, but his impact was felt immediately. Originally a Washington pledge in the Class of 2017, Gaye finished his first FBS season this past year with Second Team All-SEC honors. The defensive end recorded 32 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss and 2 sacks and will be back in 2021.
Mississippi State: Jaden Walley
National Rank: 568; 3-star
Walley had quite the freshman season in Starkville, leading the team with 52 receptions for 718 yards. While his receiving yards were already the 10th most in the league, Walley is likely in for an even better season in 2021 with most of Mississippi State’s starting offense set to return for another year under Mike Leach.
Missouri: Trajan Jeffcoat
National Rank: 875; 3-star
Jeffcoat had a breakout 2020 campaign, finishing with 6 sacks, tied for 5th in the SEC. The defensive end dismissed from the team in 2019 but clearly made the most of his second chance in 2020 with 23 total tackles and the 3rd-most tackles for loss (6) on the team. He received First Team All-SEC honors.
Ole Miss: A.J. Finley
National Rank: 761; 3-star
Another ball-hawking defensive back, Finley joins Auburn’s McCreary at No. 5 in the SEC with 3 interceptions in 2020. His 7 passes defended were tied for 4th in the league, and with 62 tackles, including 2 for loss, the sophomore finished third among the Rebels.
South Carolina: Kevin Harris
National Rank: 702; 3-star
There was no guarantee that Harris would even be the starting running back in 2020, but he took the competition in full stride. The Second Team All-SEC honoree finished 2nd in the conference with 1,138 rushing yards and averaged 6.2 yards, trailing only Rodriguez and Rose of Kentucky. The rising junior’s 15 rushing touchdowns were 2nd in the league, and he’ll be a big piece of Shane Beamer’s offense in 2021 as the Gamecocks zero in on their starting QB.
Tennessee: Trevon Flowers
National Rank: 930; 3-star
Flowers returned to the field in 2020 after breaking his leg in 2019 and quickly became one of the main leaders of Tennessee’s secondary. Only Henry To’o To’o finished the year with more than the safety’s 62 tackles. Flowers also had 3 defended passes and a forced fumble this year and twice recorded double-digit tackles in games against Alabama and Missouri. Unlike many of his teammates, Flowers will remain in Knoxville for 2021.
Texas A&M: Carson Green
National Rank: 1,164; 3-star
Green was a key cog on one of the better offensive lines in the conference and was one of 3 A&M linemen to earn Second Team All-SEC honors. The tackle helped open rushing lanes for the 2nd-best rushing attack in the SEC, and Texas A&M allowed the 5th-fewest sacks in the FBS at 0.7 per game. Green received an invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl and is headed to the NFL.
Vanderbilt: Dayo Odeyingbo
National Rank: 635; 3-star
Odeyingbo had his best year as a Commodore in 2020, finishing with a career-high 5.5 sacks in 8 games. The senior wrapped up his career with 122 tackles, 26.5 tackles for loss, 8 sacks and an interception. His 122 tackles are the 5th-most in program history. The defensive lineman was named to the All-SEC Second Team, but his draft stock recently took a hit after reportedly tearing his Achilles in preparation for the NFL Draft.