Identifying the most fun player to watch on every SEC team
Some players are terrific, but not all that fun to watch.
Last year, Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers may have been the best run stopper at the position in the SEC, and brutalized opposing offensive linemen. As a result, the Razorbacks produced one of the most dominating front sevens in all of college football.
But no one drooled watching Flowers play.
In theory, though, if a 333-pound defensive lineman moved to fullback, and started squashing opposing linebackers like bugs, that would be fun to see, right? (More on that soon.)
Sometimes the most fun players to watch are the best, and sometimes they’re not. But they’ll produce more than a handful of replays you’ll want to watch over and over again this fall. If you haven’t invested in a DVR system, these are the guys that will make you regret that decision.
Alabama: RB Kenyan Drake
Drake’s teammates have compared him to Reggie Bush this offseason, mostly because coordinator Lane Kiffin plans to use him in the open field and as a pass-catcher out of the backfield in ways similar to the former USC running back.
A healthy Drake is the team’s most electrifying player in space, and by the time the season arrives, he should be more or less the player he was pre-injury. With the team searching for playmakers to fill the void left by its three starting receivers and starting running back, it’ll be exciting to see Drake get more touches.
Arkansas: G Sebastian Tretola
He washed out of Nevada due to academic issues, then languished as a West Coast transplant at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Finally, he landed at Arkansas, where he became a standout masher on the left side of the line. He’s a potential All-SEC selection at the position this year.
He also threw the infamous fat-guy touchdown last year on a fake field goal, launching a tongue-in-cheek Heisman Trophy campaign.
“I’ve got an arm,” Tretola said, according to ESPN. “BA (Brandon Allen) better be careful. He better watch out. I love him to death but I might be coming for his spot.”
Auburn: DE Carl Lawson
Lawson already had become one of the SEC’s best young pass rushers before tearing his ACL during the spring of 2014.
Now he’s got several things working in his favor in terms of being a fun player to watch: a) he’s returning to the field after sitting out for longer than he’s played at Auburn, so it’s almost like picking up a standout recruit, b) he’ll play the hybrid “Buck” position in new coordinator Will Muschamp’s defense, which usually inherits major production, and c) Auburn’s pass rush was gosh-awful last season, so watching a competent player with that skill set will be a relief and a thrill for Tigers fans.
Florida: CB Vernon Hargreaves III
Some players are fun to watch because they’re boring, but exceedingly great. Others because they’re unique physically or can execute one particular skill in a fascinating or aesthetically-pleasing way.
Hargreaves III represents the best of both.
In 24 games, he’s intercepted six passes and broken up 24 others, earning first-team All-SEC accolades as a freshman and sophomore. This year, he could be the best cornerback in the country. And with Florida’s offense expected to need time to find its footing, he’s the player to watch for the Gators this year.
Georgia: RB Nick Chubb
Many people think Chubb is the best running back in the country entering the 2015 season. It’s hard to argue with that statement on the basis of his true freshman season, as he replaced Todd Gurley and rushed for at least 100 yards in all eight of his starts.
What’s mesmerizing about Chubb is he always seems to know which item to pull from his toolbox, be it speed, power, agility, patience or burst. Many times he uses them in combination, sprinting away from a linebacker and stiff-arming a safety.
As well as UGA’s line is blocking, Chubb has the potential to produce staggering numbers this fall.
Kentucky: DL/FB Jacob Hyde
Yes, the Wildcats moved the 333-pound Hyde to fullback during the spring. Initially framed as experimental, the position switch seemed to gain momentum as practices kept coming.
“I never thought in a million years that I’d be playing fullback for the University of Kentucky,” Hyde said, according to the Lexington Herald Leader.
One of the team’s strongest players in the weight room, Hyde is an intimidating sight for defensive ends and linebackers.
“I tried to juke Big Hyde,” 6-foot-2, 249-pound defensive end Denzil Ware said, according to the story. “I didn’t really want to meet him in the hole. But then, after a while, I was like, ‘Man, I gotta hit him either way it goes.’ So when I first hit him, he knocked me on my butt.”
LSU: WR Travin Dural
Dural is endearingly flawed as a player.
He averages 20.5 yards per catch for his career, an astounding number. Part of that is because he’s probably the best deep-ball receiver in the SEC. Part of that is because the go route is one of the only things he can execute on a consistent basis.
But it’s fun, even adventurous, to watch him fly downfield and try to catch up with a deep ball from Anthony Jennings or Brandon Harris. He scored 7 touchdowns on just 37 catches last season.
Mississippi State: QB Dak Prescott
Prescott should finish his Bulldogs career with more than 100 career touchdowns, as he already has reached 75. He fell 14 rushing yards short of 3,000 passing/1,000 rushing in 2014.
Personally, I’m thrilled to watch the continued development of the 6-foot-5 former basketball player De’Runnya Wilson as he connects with Prescott deep. But the SEC’s most proven quarterback is darned fun to watch, whether you’re a Bulldogs fan or just appreciate a great dual-threat college quarterback.
Missouri: DT Harold Brantley
Yes, I know Brantley got into a car accident and suffered some major injuries. He surely won’t play football this season, and whether he plays ever again is secondary to the fact that he’s alive and should more or less make a full recovery.
Still, consider this a mourning of Brantley the football player, at least for 2015. As a defensive tackle, Brantley managed a better-than-average 5 sacks in 2014, despite needing to race Shane Ray and Markus Golden to the quarterback. His successful fake punts are legendary (the 6-foot-3, 280-pound former high school running back still has agility).
Brantley could’ve been an All-SEC type player in ’15. I’m sad we won’t see him play.
Ole Miss: DB Tony Conner
Sure, it’s corny, but throwing up the Landshark after a big play is catchy as well, like one of those pop hits that lodges in your head. Or the post-sack pantomimed jump shots the New York Giants used to execute.
And what better way to enjoy that Landshark defense than by watching Conner play? Robert Nkemdiche is the best and most important player on the Ole Miss defense, but watching him eliminate two big bodies by himself on every big play is only fun for so long.
Conner, essentially a nickel corner, covers slot receivers, blitzes and creeps near the line of scrimmage to offer run support. That type of versatility makes him a potential first-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft and could earn him All-SEC or even All-American status this season in Oxford.
South Carolina: WR Pharoh Cooper
The only one of last year’s three 1,000-yard receivers in the SEC who is returning, Cooper also lined up behind center as a quarterback several times.
In two years, he’s completed 7-of-11 passes for 3 touchdowns and 107 yards, while rushing 47 times on 8.6 yards per carry. So it’s fair to say Cooper is a triple threat on offense. And if Connor Mitch and Lorenzo Nunez can’t get it done at quarterback, maybe coach Steve Spurrier will just ask Cooper to throw passes to himself.
Tennessee: DE Derek Barnett
Barnett is a good athlete, but doesn’t possess eye-popping ability. I assume he doesn’t look like Myles Garrett with his shirt off and he won’t be compared to Von Miller for his pass-rush bend. He’s physical, but not the most physical defensive lineman in the SEC.
What makes Barnett fun to watch is that his production is like clockwork. He made 20.5 tackles for loss last season, and half of those were sacks. He can get after your quarterback and he can stuff your running back. He didn’t compile those huge true freshman numbers against mediocre competition, either, playing his best in SEC games.
There’s something fun about a star player who is a metronome, constantly fulfilling your hopes and desires to see him make a play.
Texas A&M: WR Speedy Noil
Noil spent a chunk of last season nursing an injured hamstring and endured an internal suspension during the last part of spring practice.
He did not fully realize his talents during a good true freshman season, despite some otherworldly catches and several near-misses on kickoff and punt returns.
Still, Noil managed 46 catches during his first college season and served as an above-average return man. Look for the dynamic playmaker to find the end zone more often and put together an even more impressive highlight video in 2015.
Vanderbilt: RB Ralph Webb
The Commodores don’t have anyone all that exciting. The team’s offensive line isn’t very good by SEC standards, and the passing game remains weak. So opponents can load up against the run.
As a 5-foot-10, 196-pound freshman, Webb managed 937 total yards, often barreling through multiple bodies to scratch out short, well-earned gains. He should exhibit some more me-against-the-world fight on carries this season as he tries to reach the 1,000-yard milestone.