Happy Independence Day: 10 most explosive players in SEC for 2017
Since I’m the one in my family with a saltwater pool and a Big Green Egg, I tend to play host on the 4th of July.
While the kids are splashing around and chasing each other with squirt guns, I’ll be making a batch of St. Louis-style ribs after they spent a full night soaking up the most American of marinades: Jack Daniel’s coupled with Dizzy Pig.
There’s business to attend to first, though. Now less than a week from Media Days, which officially ushers in the 2017 college football campaign, it’s time to come up with a list of players in the SEC that best personifies everything we love about Independence Day. These guys aren’t sparklers. They’re Roman candles.
Turning would-be losses into sticks-moving gains. Destroying helpless runners in the backfield and sacking unsuspecting passers in the pocket. Kicking field goals so long, they’re worthy of a salute.
And the rocket’s red glare. The bombs bursting in air. Here are the 10 most explosive players in the conference for 2017.
Alabama QB Jalen Hurts
The reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year, Hurts had 23 touchdown passes as a true freshman against only 9 interceptions. But he really took the Crimson Tide offense to the next level with his ability as a runner, scoring an additional 13 TDs. He gashes defense on read-option keepers and is always a threat to tuck it and go.
LSU RB Derrius Guice
Only starting half the year due to the presence of Leonard Fournette, Guice still led the conference with 1,387 yards rushing. Not only did he lead the league in yards per carry last season (7.6), but he also did so in 2015 (8.6). He already owns the Bayou Bengals’ single-game record for rushing yards with 285.
Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk
With 83 receptions, Kirk reeled in 11 more passes a year ago than any other wideout in the SEC. To be fair, his average of 11.2 yards per catch wasn’t overly impressive. However, as a punt returner, he scored three times on only 13 tries. He has just 27 attempts in two seasons but has turned five of them into touchdowns.
South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst
It was a banner season in the conference for tight ends in 2016, as Evan Engram and O.J. Howard both developed into first-round draft picks. But now that they’re gone, Hurst is preparing to stake his claim as the best in the league at his position. His 48 receptions this past season were well behind Engram’s 65, but they were more than Howard’s 45.
Arkansas C Frank Ragnow
Print, radio and TV types don’t pay too much attention when filling out their All-SEC ballots when it comes to offensive linemen, which is why reputation carries a lot of weight. Ragnow is a sure bet to be the first-team center. Additionally, Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema has toyed with the idea of getting Ragnow some snaps on defense.
Georgia DT Trenton Thompson
Many defensive linemen are little more than space eaters so linebackers and pass rushers can get all the glory without having to shed too many blocks first. Not Thompson, though. Even at 6-foot-4 and 309 pounds, he’s a playmaker in the trenches. Guys his size aren’t supposed to lead the team in sacks and tackles for loss, but he did.
LSU DE Arden Key
Speaking of pass rushers, perhaps the toughest to block in the entire conference is Key. With 12.0 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in 2016 as a sophomore, he was credited with at least half a stop behind the line of scrimmage in 10 of 11 games. Presumably, he’ll terrorize the league one more year before becoming a Top 10 pick.
Kentucky LB Jordan Jones
There were only six triple-digit tacklers in the SEC last season, and a pair of them played for the Wildcats. Jones was the most prolific of the two with 109, which is more than any returning defender in the league. His 74 solo stops this past year actually led the conference. In other words, he doesn’t need much help.
Alabama S Minkah Fitzpatrick
There were 16 interceptions returned for touchdowns in the SEC last year, but Fitzpatrick was the only player to do it twice. This was no fluke, either. Believe it or not, he was one of four defenders to pull it off in 2015, too. He’s picked off 8 passes in his career, with half of them resulting in points on the board.
Auburn K Daniel Carlson
With 28 converted field goals in 2016, Carlson split the uprights six more times than any kicker in the league. He single-footedly beat LSU this past season with a 6-of-6 effort, including a 51-yarder. Final score? 18-13. In four of 13 outings, he booted one of at least 51 yards. Then in the bowl game against Oklahoma, he made a 49-yarder.