Which position group poses the biggest concern for each SEC program in 2018?
Signing Day is next week and spring practice isn’t far behind. This can be good news or bad news. Because everybody has a weakness. We’re thinking about position groups at SDS, and here’s one that each team is looking to shape up on Signing Day and in the spring.
Alabama: Wide receivers
If you think it’s a talent issue, then go back to the CFP title game film. Guys like DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy have all the talent in the world. But they lack experience. The top returning receiver for the time is Jeudy, who caught 14 passes for 264 yards and two scores in 2017. One thing is for sure — after a year when Calvin Ridley caught 63 passes and nobody else caught more than 17, Nick Saban would like to see two young receivers step up, so that pass defenses have to honor the whole field.
Arkansas absolutely got torched in 2017. After improving in pass defense in 2016, the Hogs found themselves last in the SEC in pass defense efficiency, as they allowed 242 yards per game in the air and ended up with just eight interceptions. They were 12th in passing yards allowed and 13th in passing TDs allowed (23). If there’s quick turn-around coming for Arkansas, it’ll have to be fueled by turnovers created by that secondary.
Auburn: Offensive line
The Tigers were next-to-worst in the SEC in allowing 36 sacks. Sure, part of that was the early aberration against Clemson, but Auburn, which looks to replace many departed senior linemen, has to get better pass protection to get past being in the CFP hunt to being in the actual CFP.
Florida: Offensive line
The quarterback situation is an ongoing issue, and you could single out the entire offense, but the line was the worst. Despite playing at least one fewer game than every other team, the Gators allowed the most sacks in the SEC (37). Fortunately, they return some talent, with Martez Ivey back for his senior year. New coach Dan Mullen won’t stand for year like this past one.
Georgia: Defensive line
The issue with a senior-laden Georgia team is where will losses hurt most? The Dawgs suffered key losses on every level of the defense. Veterans John Atkins and Trenton Thompson will be missed up front. While there are plenty of skill players gone, finding players with the size and skill to dominate SEC offensive lines is probably the hardest task Kirby Smart will face this offseason.
With the loss of Stephen Johnson and the transfer of Drew Barker, UK will not return a quarterback with any FBS experience. Sophomore Gunnar Hoak and JUCO transfer Terry Wilson are the presumed front-runners for the job, but whether one or both plays, for Kentucky to compete in the East, a solid passing game to complement Benny Snell is essential.
Danny Etling was serviceable but was never going to be better. In any case, he’s gone, so it looks like it’s Myles Brennan’s team going into the spring. Historically, when LSU gets good quarterback play, it makes their team great. When they get bad quarterback play … well, review the past handful of years.
Mississippi State: Wide receivers
With the same quarterback (for almost the whole season), why does a team go from 210 yards per game passing to 167? Well, that’s what happens when you have to replace the school’s top receiver ever, Fred Ross, and you don’t get much help. State’s top returning pass catcher is Jesse Jackson with 27 catches for 276 yards. Those numbers have to improve in 2018.
The Tigers finished last in the SEC in passing yardage allowed, as opponents threw for 254.5 yards per game. Safety Anthony Sherrills was a tough tackler, but in his absence, the Tigers need to improve on allowing over 3,300 yards passing.
Ole Miss: Defensive line
The Rebels were gashed for 5.4 yards per carry and 245.8 yards per game on the ground. What’s even worse is that Marquis Haynes and Breeland Speaks won’t be around next year to help a thin defensive front.
South Carolina: Running backs
The Gamecocks looked like a team that should be fine in the ground game. Rico Dowdle came on strong late in 2016, and transfer Ty’Son Williams was expected to add quality depth. They were hit and miss in 2017. Carolina averaged 3.9 yards per carry, and no back took control, with A.J. Turner leading the team with 531 rushing yards. Dowdle showed signs of life in the bowl game, but somebody has to step up going forward — finishing 12th in the SEC in rushing yardage won’t help Will Muschamp.
This could have been basically any position group. But with the forthcoming transfer of Quinten Dormady, Jarrett Guarantano basically had this job dumped in his lap. At times in 2017, he looks competent, and at others, he looked lost. Considering that UT lost most of its top performers from a morbid 2017 season, the first question is whether he’ll have the staying power to last through what could be a brutal 2018 season.
Texas A&M: Secondary
If you saw their opener, you know there are some issues for A&M here. John Chavis generally did a good job, but the Aggies gave up 237.6 yards per game in the air and were next-to-worst in the SEC in pass defense efficiency. With Armani Watts gone, there are vacancies to fill. If they can find more players like Myles Jones, who did well as a true freshman, it will help.
For a team that hopes to squeak by in close games, Vanderbilt can’t afford another meltdown in their kicking game. The Commodores were 3-for-7 on field goals for the entire season, and they also ended up next-to-worst in the league in net punting (just 36.1 yards per kick). Derek Mason has to get this straightened out in 2018, or he might not be around for 2019.