July 4 fireworks? Meet the most explosive player on every SEC team
Fireworks fill the night air with the pop and sparkle of a celebration for our nation’s independence, but it’s the fireworks on the football field that I want to talk about today. More specifically, the players who light that fuse and cause those big “boom” plays that make the sport so much fun to watch.
Who are these gridiron pyrotechnicians and what should we know about them? Well, let’s take a closer look. Here’s a glimpse at each SEC team’s most explosive player. See if you agree, these are the guys who will bring packed houses (where applicable) to their feet time and again throughout the 2021 football season.
Alabama: John Metchie III
As always, there are several from which to choose among this highly talented program, but I think you have to go with John Metchie III. The guy showed what he could do as a sophomore. Even in the shadows of DeVonta Smith, Metchie compiled a better yards-per-catch average (16.65) than Smith (15.86) and was second on the team in that category to only Jaylen Waddle (21.11). With both of those star receivers moving on to pro careers, it’s Metchie’s turn to step into the spotlight, and he most certainly will improve on the 6 TD passes (second on the team) he caught last season.
Arkansas: Treylon Burks
All eyes will be focused on Treylon Burks, even more so now that Mike Woods left for Oklahoma. In 9 games during a super sophomore season, the 6-3, 225-pound pass catcher led all Hogs receivers in receptions (51), touchdowns (7), and total yards (820). Burks will only get better in 2021 as Arkansas continues its climb back to relevancy in the SEC.
Auburn: Tank Bigsby
Normally the most explosive player on your football team is a speedster receiver who can change the course of the game with one slick route pattern to the house. But the Tigers lost their biggest home run hitters (Seth Williams and Anthony Schwartz) to the NFL. So it’s left up to RB Tank Bigsby to pick up the slack. And he is certainly capable.
Only 4 SEC RBs had more explosive plays (10+ yard runs) than Bigsby last season. He finished with 24 as a true freshman.
That’s part of the reason Bigsby was 6th in the SEC averaging 6.04 yards per carry. Another reason: He just got better as the season progressed, averaging 8.44 yards in 9 carries against Texas A&M and 7.38 yards in 26 carries against Mississippi State to end the regular season. In addition, Bigsby can break a game open with his ability to return kickoffs when given the opportunity. He averaged 23.54 yards on 13 returns early in the season before turning over those duties in late October.
Florida: Jacob Copeland
You could go a couple of different ways with this one. The Gators need QB Emory Jones to light it up his arm and feet, and I have a sneaking suspicion that versatile RB Malik Davis could have a big season. But I’m going with WR Jacob Copeland. He led the team last year as a sophomore (among receivers with more than 1 catch) with an 18.91-yard average per reception. The Gators are revamping on the outside. Copeland will score many more than the 3 TDs he tallied in 2020 and will be the Gators’ big home run threat.
Georgia: Kearis Jackson
A healthy George Pickens might be a no-brainer here. But since he’ll be sidelined while recovering from an ACL injury, I’ll go with fellow WR Kearis Jackson. The two tied for team lead with 36 pass receptions apiece last year. Jackson came up big in big games. His 9 receptions for 147 yards, including a 49-yard reception (all career bests) helped the Dogs crush Auburn, 27-6, last October. His ability to break the big play (52-yard punt return vs. South Carolina, and 56-yard kick return vs. Florida) make him the team’s most explosive player heading into the 2021 season.
Kentucky: Josh Ali
Because of COVID, WR Josh Ali was granted one more year of eligibility. He won’t squander it. Not with new offensive coordinator Liam Coen resurrecting the Cats’ passing game and the capable arms of redshirt freshman Beau Allen and Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood triggering it. Nobody is sleeping on transfer Wan’Dale Robinson, but Ali will once again look to be Kentucky’s main target after pulling down a team-best 54 balls for 473 yards last season. Those numbers are poised to skyrocket in 2021 with the new approach on offense.
LSU: Kayshon Boutte
This is tough because in 2 years the Tigers have lost their deep threats to the NFL. Who does that leave? Could QB Myles Brennan have the kind of season he was headed for in 2020 before his season-ending injury. I mean the guy threw for 1,112 yards … in 3 games! If he can return to that form, he’ll be the team’s most explosive player. Until then, let’s go with WR Kayshon Boutte. What a freshman year! Boutte led the Tigers with 735 receiving yards. He totaled 45 catches and averaged 16.33 yards per grab (5 TDs). He could very well develop into the next top LSU receiver in what has become a long list of them recently.
Mississippi State: Jaden Walley
I’m riding with Jaden Walley here. After that stellar freshman season last year, why not. He led the team with 718 receiving yards, most by a freshman at Mississippi State since Disco was making its last stand. That’s a long time! Walley ended the regular season against Missouri with 5 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown. He can only get better under Mike Leach’s pass-happy offense.
Missouri: Keke Chism
Maybe it’s just for sentimental reasons, but I’m going with WR Keke Chism as the Tigers’ most explosive player for 2021. The graduate transfer from Division II Angelo State stepped up to the big time and made it count. He led Missouri with 35 catches for 458 yards in 2020 and now, with the COVID situation, he is granted another year of eligibility, and he’s going to take advantage of that as well. His is just a nice story.
Ole Miss: Matt Corral
Doesn’t this have to be QB Matt Corral? I mean the guy threw for 3,337 yards and 29 TDs, and ran for 506 yards and 4 scores. He has another year of experience under his belt, another year of tutelage under head coach Lane Kiffin. He should be smarter with the football in 2021, which should translate into fewer interceptions. The SEC-most 14 he tossed up last season is inexcusable, but 2021 should be brighter one for this incredible talent heading into his redshirt junior year.
He already has the Ole Miss single-game passing record (513 vs. South Carolina), including the longest pass play in school history (91 yards to Elijah Moore). Including his rushing totals that day he came up 7 yards shy of equaling Archie Manning’s school record of 540 total yards for one game. He tied Manning’s single-game TD passing record with 6 scoring tosses against Vanderbilt.
And lest we forget he engineered a Rebels offense to 647 yards against Alabama, the most the Tide has ever given up in its storied history. And it was the most by an Ole Miss team in a conference game. More of the same should be expected in 2021.
South Carolina: Kevin Harris or MarShawn Lloyd
This is a tough one. Not because I’m having trouble finding players with explosive talent but because those players play the same position. Kevin Harris would be the knee-jerk response. He was outstanding last year rushing for 1,138 yards (6.15 average), scored 15 rushing TDs, and finished 3rd on the team in receiving with 21 receptions. He would seem to be the easy pick unless you consider that Harris was playing in place of the injured MarShawn Lloyd. But with Lloyd back in the fold, which one carries the load? Whichever one it is, that’s my choice for the Gamecocks’ most explosive player. Yes, I took the easy way out.
Tennessee: Velus Jones
So many question marks here, it’s difficult to come up with a legitimate threat. But if Josh Heupel is to have any success at all in his first year on Rocky Top, it seems as though getting the ball in the hands of experienced WR Velus Jones, Jr. is a good place to start. The versatile transfer from Southern Cal will be entering his 6th year at the collegiate level and by now knows all the tricks of the trade that works a receiver to the open areas. The former All-Pac-12 Second Teamer averaged 12.73 yards on 22 catches last season for Tennessee. His role appears to be increasing dramatically in 2021.
Texas A&M: Ainias Smith
There are several outstanding players to choose from, but I’ve settled on the versatile speedster RB Ainias Smith. Now before you accuse me of misspelling Isaiah Spiller, or overlooking Orange Bowl MVP Devon Achane, hear me out. Smith, like the aforementioned Spiller and Achane, can take it to the house from anywhere on the field. But I went with Smith based on versatility. He led the Aggies in receiving last year with 564 yards and 6 TDs. He caught a total of 43 throws and was the favorite target of QB Kellen Mond. But Smith can also take a hand off and go the distance. Moving to the backfield, Smith averaged just under 6 yards per carry. And don’t forget, he also returns punts and kickoffs. He can do it all and will have plenty opportunities to set off some fireworks of his own in 2021.
Vanderbilt: Amir Abdur-Rahman
Well, if I were to base this solely on the spring game, the choice would be an easy one. Newcomer Will Sheppard caught 3 TD passes … in the first half. But I’m going to go with a little more experience. I’ll bet you thought I was going to say Cam Johnson. Surprise, it’s Amir Abdur-Rahman. I know Johnson caught more than twice as many passes as Abdur-Rahman, but the latter averaged 15 yards per catch last season. That’s a potential for explosive plays. Johnson averaged just 9.73 yards per catch in 2020. Not explosive enough for me.