Power ranking the top 10 players in the SEC after Week 12
Week 12 in the SEC brought us the upset of the college football season. Just as well all predicted before the season, it involved an LSU team with a losing record heading into The Swamp in early December and defeating an 8-1 Florida team in control of its College Football Playoff fate. The game raises fair questions about just how far Florida still has to go to be a national championship caliber program again, questions a good showing by the Gators in Atlanta will also help answer.
But the bigger question for our list’s purposes is this: When the usually automatic Evan McPherson missed his game-tying field goal by about the length of a cleat (sorry, too easy), did Kyle Trask’s Heisman chances fade away too? We will see, but the reality is he likely needed to win the SEC Championship game to win anyway.
As for other performances in the league — Sarah Fuller made “herstory,” Georgia seems to have found itself a quarterback, Alabama is a machine, Jeremy Pruitt and the Vols got back in the win column and Gus Malzahn went out a winner at Auburn. Now what we need is Gus to go full-midlife crisis with that buyout money. I’m talking the works: buy a Ferrari, start wearing Tommy Bahama instead of sweater vests and take a job as an “offensive analyst” on Butch Jones’ Arkansas State staff to get his groove back.
As for our list, we’ve almost reached the end, with only one more week of jockeying to figure out a final list.
Again, this is a list that rewards college productivity. If you want a mock draft that lists the 10 best NFL prospects in the SEC, google dot com is your friend.
Here’s our college list, honorable mentions (max 2 per school) first. Last week’s list is available here.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Surtain II, CB (Alabama); Christian Harris, LB (Alabama); Jalen Catalon, S (Arkansas); Treylon Burks, WR (Arkansas); Zakoby McClain, LB (Auburn); Smoke Monday, S (Auburn); Brett Heggie, C (Florida); Richard LeCounte III, S (Georgia); Ben Cleveland, G (Georgia); Darian Kinnard, OT (Kentucky); Jamar Watson, LB (Kentucky); Nick Bolton, LB (Missouri); Derek Stingley Jr., CB (LSU); Jabril Cox, LB (LSU); Jerrion Ealy, RB (Ole Miss); Matt Corral, QB (Ole Miss); Martin Emerson, CB (Miss State); Aaron Brule, LB (Miss State); Kevin Harris, RB (South Carolina); Bryce Thompson, CB (Tennessee); Henry To’o To’o, LB (Tennesee); DeMarvin Leal, Edge (Texas A&M); Jalen Wydermyer, TE (Texas A&M); Dayo Odeyingbo, DE (Vanderbilt).
10. Grant Morgan, LB (Arkansas)
Sam Pittman guided the Hogs to a 3-7 record in his first season at the helm in Fayetteville, which is not bad in a year most expected the Hogs to finish 0-10. Arkansas was a whisker from 5-5 as well, but for a referee error that handed Auburn a victory they didn’t deserve and a wild finish against Missouri that saw Arkansas drop a heartbreaker.
At the center of Arkansas’ encouraging first season under Pittman was Morgan, who enters the list for the first time on account of being the SEC’s leading tackler in 2020. Morgan called the shots for a much-improved Hogs defense, and his presence in the middle helped everyone around him, including an Arkansas secondary that led the league in interceptions and became the 2nd team to hold Mac Jones “touchdown-less” in the air this weekend.
Morgan finishes his 2020, barring a bowl game, with 111 tackles including 11 for loss, 2 sacks, 5 passes defended and a pick-6.
From former walk-on to one of the best 10 players in the SEC. What a story.
9. Kadarius Toney, WR (Florida)
Florida’s leading wide receiver in 2020 with 62 receptions for 831 yards, Toney ranks 3rd in the SEC in both receptions and receiving yards. He’s also added 9 touchdowns, which ranks 4th in the league even if it only ranks 2nd on his football team. On the season, Toney has over 1,100 all-purpose yards and has scored 11 touchdowns, with 9 receiving, 1 rushing and 1 in the return game.
On a senior night when most of the Gators neglected to show up, Toney collected 248 total yards on 13 touches, nearly willing Florida to a victory in a game it didn’t deserve to win.
Toney’s evolution from gimmicky playmaker to all-purpose weapon and front-runner for the Paul Hornung Award (given annually to the most versatile player in college football) is a great story and a testament to his work ethic and commitment to getting better.
8. Isaiah Spiller, RB (Texas A&M)
COVID-19 forced a bye week for the Aggies in Week 12, which meant Isaiah Spiller missed out on the chance to face an Ole Miss run defense that is among the worst in college football. That’s a shame, because when Spiller goes off, the Aggies are brutally tough to beat. Texas A&M is 9-0 when Spiller has 100 yards rushing in his career, and in 2020, the sophomore’s 897 rushing yards have kept defenses honest enough to allow a banged-up wide receiver and tight end corps to make just enough plays downfield to make the offense balanced and dangerous. Better days are to come for Spiller, but his value to his team right now can’t be understated.
7. Elijah Moore, WR (Ole Miss)
If the Rebels’ season ends early due to COVID-19, the biggest shame will be that we don’t see Elijah Moore again. A year ago, Moore was best known for a ridiculous celebration penalty. Under Lane Kiffin and a new staff a season later, there’s been almost no one better in college football at catching the football.
Moore continues to lead the SEC in receptions despite playing only one game in the last month. He ranks 2nd in the league in receiving yards, behind only DeVonta Smith, and will finish in the top 10 in touchdown receptions, currently sitting at 8. Almost certain to be an All-American, Moore is the best redemption story in college football in 2020.
6. Jamin Davis, LB (Kentucky)
The best linebacker in the SEC and the guy who should beat out Nick Bolton and others for SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Davis led Kentucky in tackles this season with 89, a number that was good for 3rd in the SEC. He also posted a sack, multiple tackles for loss, quarterback pressures and passes defended and forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, intercepted 2 passes and scored a defensive touchdown. He graded out as the best linebacker in the Power 5, per Pro Football Focus, and will play on Sundays next should Kentucky elect not to play a bowl game.
5. Kyle Trask, QB (Florida)
Trask picked a tough time to finally look human in 2020. His 3 first-half turnovers gave LSU belief and hope, a dangerous thing to provide a team with upper-echelon talent. Trask was terrific in the second half, and finished the game with 474 yards passing and 4 total touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a shocking home defeat.
Trask can still finish first on this list, especially if the Gators upset Alabama on Saturday night. The season he’s had has been storybook stuff, and it’s worth remembering that in a conference-only schedule he remains ahead of Joe Burrow’s 4 touchdown a game pace and has thrown 1 less interception. He still ranks in the top 5 in the nation in passing efficiency, yards per pass attempt and he leads the nation in passing yards per game.
His spot at the edge of the top 5 this week is more about just how great a year it has been for offenses in the SEC than a knock on Trask, who is magnificent.
4. Mac Jones, QB (Alabama)
Alabama fans took umbrage with Dan Mullen calling Mac Jones a “game manager” this week, which was a strange flex given the whole context of the remarks, which included Mullen comparing Jones to his own Heisman-candidate quarterback, Kyle Trask.
“He’s a guy that has had a great year, very similar to Kyle (Trask),” Mullen said of Jones. “He does a great job managing their offense, distributing the ball to all the different playmakers, getting them in the right place at the right time, taking what the defense gives him.”
There’s nothing in there that’s inaccurate, or that denies that Jones, who throws the best deep ball in college football, is a game-changer (just like Trask, who also profiles as a bit of a game manager).
I don’t think Jones needs the motivation, but maybe it will serve as yet another motivator ahead of the SEC Championship Saturday night.
Jones threw no touchdown passes against Arkansas on Saturday, but the Tide won by 7 touchdowns anyway and Jones continues to lead the country in yards per pass attempt, pass efficiency rating and is very much the conductor of an offense that is ranks 1st in the nation in scoring and S&P+ efficiency.
3. Kyle Pitts, TE (Florida)
Pitts falls a spot after missing the LSU game, but you could argue the result means he should move up.
The Gators gained 609 yards against LSU, second-most (Alabama) of any opponent for the Tigers this season. Florida couldn’t finish in the red zone, however, failing to score touchdowns on 3 of their 7 trips. The largest reason for that was Florida’s decision to sit Pitts, who was dealing with a lingering injury from the Tennessee game.
Florida had been the nation’s best red-zone offense entering the LSU game, which shows you just what Pitts means to them if it wasn’t already obvious.
Pitts has only played 6.5 games this season, but the Gators have simply been a better, more efficient offense with Pitts, who Nick Saban said this week “might be the best football player we’ve faced in a long time.”
2. Najee Harris, RB (Alabama)
In most other seasons, we’d be talking about Harris as the front-runner for the Heisman trophy. He has 1,084 yards rushing on 5.9 a pop, leads the country with 22 rushing touchdowns and has added 27 receptions in the passing game, tying a career-high. Harris added 2 more touchdowns against Arkansas last weekend in the Tide’s 52-3 victory, pacing an Alabama offense that ran for over 200 yards in the win.
Most Career TD – Alabama History
Shaun Alexander – 50
Najee Harris – 49 (2 today) ⬆️
Mark Ingram – 46
Derrick Henry – 45 pic.twitter.com/EusmorPYoN
— Alabama Crimson Tide | BamaInsider.com (@bamainsider) December 12, 2020
He will become the all-time leader at Alabama in touchdowns with only 2 more, and there’s a good chance he accomplishes that Saturday in Atlanta.
1. DeVonta Smith, WR (Alabama)
It was an uncharacteristically quiet Saturday for Smith in the passing game, as he caught only 3 passes for 22 yards. Nevertheless, while Arkansas did a nice job on him in coverage, Smith still made his presence felt, this time going full Desmond Howard in the return game:
That play woke up Alabama from a sluggish start, proving yet again that Smith does what great players do and makes plays when his team needs them the most. After Smith’s return, the rout was on.
Only Pitts grades out better than Smith in college football this season, per Stats Solutions and Pro Football Focus, and Smith will finish the season as the nation’s leading receiver (yards) and will battle Elijah Moore for the lead in receptions. He’s the first receiver with a decent shot at winning the Heisman Trophy in over a decade and it’s possible he could win the thing Saturday in Atlanta against a Gators secondary that has surrendered explosive plays all season.
I said it last week and I’ll say it again here: This is the best player in college football.