Franchise Tag: Who would be each SEC team's franchise player?
Every team in college football has one player it can’t afford to lose, an athlete responsible for playing a vital role in winning (and losing) and capable of taking over a game in crunch time.
The NFL often places on such players what we know as the franchise tag, a designation a team may apply to a guy scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. By definition, the tag binds the player to the team for one year if certain conditions are met.
Using the tag in the college game, who would be each SEC team’s franchise player?
We take a look:
ALABAMA, Derrick Henry, RB — It’ll take some getting used to not seeing T.J. Yeldon toting the football in the Crimson Tide’s run game this season, but Henry’s patiently waited his turn to be the featured back and finally gets his chance in what could be his final campaign. With obvious depth issues in the backfield, Alabama needs Henry to be one of the SEC’s best this fall and this bulldozer’s more than capable of earning that distinction.
AUBURN, Jeremy Johnson, QB — Johnson’s an extension of the coaching staff this fall, a player who will lead this offense to new heights or potentially fall short of incredibly lofty preseason expectations as the top threat on the media’s pick to win the SEC. Gus Malzahn is confident his first-year starter has the necessary tools to be successful and he’s vital to this team’s national title hopes.
ARKANSAS, Jonathan Williams, RB — The Razorbacks’ No. 1 player is more than just a productive running back. He’s a senior captain, the ‘face of the program’ so to speak at Arkansas and an athlete Bret Bielema trust in late-game situations to come through for his team. Without Williams, Alex Collins and Kody Walker could handle the rushing load behind a dominant offensive line, but the Razorbacks would lose a player they couldn’t replace from a leadership standpoint.
FLORIDA, Vernon Hargreaves, CB — No player in the SEC can control one side of the field as much as Hargreaves, one of the game’s premiere cornerbacks. He’s the reason Florida has an outside shot to not only compete, but win the East this fall with an elite defense. We’re not afraid to project that VH3 is a future NFL All-Pro with limitless potential at the next level.
GEORGIA, Nick Chubb, RB — Tempted to go with one of three star linebackers here due to the Bulldogs’ depth in the backfield, Chubb is one of college football’s elite playmakers and agree with it or not, Georgia would suffer without him (despite Sony Michel and Keith Marshall). Few ballcarriers are capable of back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons, but Chubb deserves to be in that group.
KENTUCKY, Boom Williams, RB — Kentucky’s staff would tell you Williams makes this offense go, a tempo-based spread Shannon Dawson was brought in to energize this fall. As a freshman, the 5-foot-9 200-pounder was a formidable rusher when he received ample carries, unfortunately for Kentucky, he didn’t emerge until the second half of the season amid the Wildcats’ tailspin.
LSU, Leonard Fournette, RB — With major concerns at quarterback heading into the season, LSU’s needs immense production out of Fournette to be in contention for a Western Division title down the stretch. He delivered as a freshman, surpassing 1,000 yards on 187 carries, and is expected to produce Heisman-esque stats as a 25-touches a game caliber ballcarrier. He is the Tigers’ primary special teams threat, too.
MISSISSIPPI, Robert Nkemdiche, DT — Take Nkemdiche off the Ole Miss defense and you have a talented unit without a man in charge lacking tenacity within the front seven. Nkemdiche changes the way offenses attack due to incessant double teams and stunts at the line of scrimmage to try and undermine his impact. He’s explosive enough to obliterate a play often before it even materializes.
MISSISSIPPI STATE, Dak Prescott, QB — The most obvious franchise player, perhaps in all of college football, is Prescott, a Heisman candidate and multi-year facilitator in Dan Mullen’s offense. Prescott’s taken a leadership role since his sophomore season and enter his final campaign with immense pressure to take the Bulldogs back to the Top 10 despite an arduous schedule.
MIZZOU, Maty Mauk, QB — Confidence, above all else, is the most important element of being a game-changing quarterback. Mauk has it. Despite a shaky spring from the first-team offense, Mauk believes several players will emerge into featured roles in the passing game to complement Russell Hansbrough’s prowess between the tackles. When Mauk plays well, Mizzou’s difficult to beat.
SOUTH CAROLINA, Pharoh Cooper, WR — Don’t overthink the Gamecocks’ most important player. Cooper is a versatile threat who, when the South Carolina offense is bogged down this season with a new quarterback, can move the chains on third down with his playmaking ability. Leaving him off the preseason All-SEC first team didn’t seem right considering last season’s numbers, but you can add it to the list of items the Gamecocks are taking personal this offseason.
TENNESSEE, Josh Dobbs, QB — When a company loses its CEO, that’s normally a damaging sign toward the future. The Vols must keep Dobbs healthy to produce greatness this season in the form of an East title, a feat Tennessee hasn’t tasted since 2007. One of the league’s top dual-threat quarterbacks, Dobbs makes everyone around him better and knows where to go with the football. He’s a luxury to have for Butch Jones and Co.
TEXAS A&M, Myles Garrett, DE — Centering his defensive game plan around this beast of a sophomore pass rusher isn’t a bad idea for John Chavis during his first season in College Station. Garrett led all freshmen last season with 11.5 sacks, topping Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC rookie record. Imagine where he’ll be by October as a seasoned vet and reliable three-down threat, scary.
VANDERBILT, Ralph Webb, RB — When the offense was, at times, non-existent last fall, Webb remained a steady option in the run game. There’s a reason Vanderbilt’s best player was named to the Doak Walker watch list — he’s a recognizable force on a bad team.