Power ranking the top 10 players in the SEC after week 9
We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty now. Eight weeks of this strange and surreal COVID-19 influenced SEC football season are behind us and the contenders have emerged. Unblemished Alabama and once-defeated Florida appear to be on a SEC Championship game collision course, Texas A&M fans contine to complain loudly about any praise given Florida (a weird flex, given ripping Florida diminishes your team’s best win) and Georgia fans and well, everyone else is wondering if Kirby Smart understands the quarterback position despite 25 years in coaching.
Rivalry week is upon us — well, what’s left of it without the usual ACC-SEC challenge — which means it is Iron Bowl week, a chance for a second duel between Mac Jones and Bo Nix. But before we turn our focus to that game and why Thanksgiving is really about sides because turkey is overrated, let’s focus on a Week 8 that featured a record-breaking performance (DeVonta Smith is now the SEC touchdown reception king with 33 and counting), as well as a number of massive performances, both from the usual suspects (Kyle Trask is still very good at this whole quarterback thing) and some new faces (JT Daniels, hello!!)
Was any of that enough to shake up our SDS Power Ranking of the Top 10 players in the SEC this season?
Find out below, but remember to check out where everyone was last week first.
Further, players dealing with lingering injuries or season-ending injuries will occasionally stay in for a couple of weeks but are ushered out after lengthy inactivity. As a result, two surefire top 10 guys — Florida’s Kyle Pitts and Georgia’s Richard LeCounte III — have exited the rankings this week.
Finally, remember this list isn’t a top-10 NFL Draft prospects list. If you want to see one of those, I hear Google dot com comes in handy.
Here’s a list of the best 10 players in the SEC after Week 9, honorable mentions first.
Honorable Mention: Alex Leatherwood, OT (Alabama); Landon Dickerson, C (Alabama); Christian Harris, LB (Alabama); Jaylen Waddle, WR (Alabama); Mike Woods, WR (Arkansas); Feleipe Franks, QB (Arkansas); Grant Morgan, LB (Arkansas); Roger McCreary, CB (Auburn); Owen Pappoe, LB (Auburn); Tank Bigsby, RB (Auburn); Stone Forsythe, OT (Florida); Kyle Pitts, TE (Florida); Kadarius Toney, WR (Florida); Richard LeCounte III, S (Georgia); Nakobe Dean, LB (Georgia); Ben Cleveland, G (Georgia); Azeez Ojulari, Edge (Georgia); Kelvin Joseph, CB (Kentucky); Luke Fortner, G (Kentucky); Jamar Watson, LB (Kentucky); Michael Maietti, C (Missouri); Terrace Marshall Jr., WR (LSU); Ed Ingram, G (LSU); Jerrion Ealy, RB (Ole Miss); Matt Corral, QB (Ole Miss); Erroll Thompson, LB (Miss State); Ernest Jones, LB (South Carolina); Kevin Harris, RB (South Carolina); Kinglsey Enagbare, DE (South Carolina); Jaycee Horn, DB (South Carolina); Eric Gray, RB (Tennessee); Bryce Thompson, CB (Tennessee); Henry To’o To’o, LB (Tennessee); Michael Clemons, DE (Texas A&M); Kellen Mond, QB (Texas A&M); Ainias Smith, RB (Texas A&M); Isaiah Spiller, RB (Texas A&M); Cam Johnson, WR (Vanderbilt).
10. Jalen Catalon, S (Arkansas)
Forget the bogus targeting penalty on him that cost the Hogs late. Before his ejection, the freshman safety had tallied 16 tackles, including 2 for loss in run support, another improving aspect of his increasingly dominant game.
I cannot change the outcome or any of the other missed calls, but I will work with the appropriate SEC Officials to make sure that this “targeting” call does not cost Jalen Catalon our next game. My student-athletes deserve better. pic.twitter.com/vGEd20u0FB
— Hunter Yurachek (@HunterYurachek) November 21, 2020
Catalon’s ability to deliver thunderous, legal hits like the one above have even earned the respect of his athletic director, who took to Twitter to defend him. A week after the Hogs’ defense was embarrassed by Florida, they limited an explosive LSU offense to 27 points — nearly enough to win the Golden Boot for the first time in 5 seasons. Catalon is an immense reason Arkansas’ secondary remains one of the SEC’s best.
9. Smoke Monday, DB (Auburn)
An honorable mention mainstay most of the season, Monday is a versatile defensive back who can line up inside or as a single high or deep safety. A ballhawk with 4 passes defended this season, he made this huge play to seal Auburn’s win over Tennessee Saturday night.
On the season, Monday has 42 tackles and that interception to go with his passes defended. He also profiles as the best coverage safety in the SEC, per Pro Football Focus. The Iron Bowl will be the biggest test yet, but it’s worth noting how well the Auburn secondary has played against high-flying passing attacks, largely due to the man they call Smoke patrolling the green areas down the field.
8. Patrick Surtain II, CB (Alabama)
One of the highest-rated defenders in all of college football, per Pro Football Focus, Surtain II isn’t targeted a ton anymore, with offenses preferring to throw where he’s not.
The junior still makes an impact for an improved Crimson Tide defense, collecting 6 passes defended and an interception through Alabama’s first 7 games, along with an SEC-leading 46% completion percentage against on coverage targets. He’ll be challenged more this week by Auburn than he was by Kentucky, but this is the best year Surtain II has had on the Capstone, which is a big reason this is the best defense Nick Saban has had in 3 seasons.
7. Jamin Davis, LB (Kentucky)
Davis picked an unfortunate time to miss a football game due to COVID. Without its leader and one of the nation’s best linebackers, Kentucky looked helpless against Alabama, surrendering over 500 yards of total offense for the first time in 2020.
Davis, who had been coming off an SEC Defensive Player of the Week performance, still ranks among the conference’s leaders in tackles and forced fumbles and continues to grade out as the best SEC linebacker in coverage situations, per Stats Solutions. A big-time football player the Wildcats desperately need for their trip to The Swamp on Saturday.
6. DeVonta Smith, WR (Alabama)
Told y’all a week ago he’d be back.
This week, Smith re-enters the top 10 after breaking Chris Doering’s 25-year-old record for career touchdown receptions, which he eclipsed with numbers 32 and 33 against Kentucky Saturday afternoon. Here’s the record-breaking catch:
Career TD catch No. 3️⃣2️⃣ for DeVonta Smith.
This one was for the record books. pic.twitter.com/GM5pfHGxmh
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 21, 2020
That helped the Tide roll to a 63-3 victory and allowed Smith, who had 144 yards on 9 receptions, to capture SEC Offensive Player of the Week. On the season, Smith ranks 2nd in the SEC in receptions and receiving yards and has now vaulted to the SEC lead in touchdowns. He’s a lock to be an All-American at season’s end and his decision to return and play his senior year looks smarter and smarter every week. Congrats to DeVonta on breaking a longtime SEC record.
5. Nick Bolton, LB (Missouri)
The junior Missouri linebacker might be undersized, but he plays with such high energy and has such a good nose for the football it doesn’t much matter. On a night where quick South Carolina freshman Luke Doty put a good deal of pressure on Missouri’s defense, Bolton was up to the task, collecting 14 tackles (no other Tiger had more than 7), including 2 for loss, along with 2 quarterback pressures.
On the season, Bolton joins Davis ranking in the top 2 among SEC linebackers in Pro Football Focus’s player grades and he now ranks 7th in the SEC in total tackles with 67 in 6 games, which is 24 more tackles than the next closest Tigers defender.
It’s a joy to watch Bolton play football and fun to think about how good he’ll be if he wisely elects to return for his senior season.
4. Elijah Moore, WR (Ole Miss)
The SEC leader in receptions and receiving yards was idle last week and slips a spot this week thanks to a big-time performance from Alabama, which poured 63 points on a COVID-weakened Kentucky.
Moore returns to action — and terrorizing defenses — this week in the Egg Bowl. Suggesting Moore has been waiting a year for this game is like suggesting a kindergartener is ready for Santa Claus to launch on Christmas Eve.
Buckle up, folks. That could be a fun night in Oxford.
3. Mac Jones, QB (Alabama)
Playing a shorthanded Kentucky defense, Jones played well again, leading the Tide to scores on 4 of their first 5 possessions. By the time Jones threw what was only his 3rd interception of the season, the Tide led 28-3 and were well on their way to a big win.
The only reason for bumping Jones back a spot is the continued excellence of the players around him, all of whom Jones makes better of course but all of whom, Jones would readily admit, make him better, too.
The Iron Bowl, which saw Jones throw 2 interceptions (one to Smoke Monday) that were returned for touchdowns, looms next. If Jones, who remains a Heisman contender, is to become the first Alabama quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy, Saturday will be one of his remaining signature moments.
2. Najee Harris, RB (Alabama)
The SEC leader in touchdowns added 2 more to his staggering 2020 haul Saturday, getting the senior to 16 total rushing touchdowns in just 7 games. Harris is averaging a touchdown every 9.9 touches at this point, the type of ratio rarely seen among running backs.
Alabama needed its best players to rise to the occasion when Jaylen Waddle was lost for the season last month. They have done so, and Harris appears to be the latest Crimson Tide weapon just now hitting his stride as the Tide turn to the homestretch of the 2020 campaign.
1. Kyle Trask, QB (Florida)
For the first time in the 2020 season, Trask failed to throw for 4 touchdowns in a game, settling for 3 in Florida’s 38-17 win at Vanderbilt. No matter. The senior now has 32 touchdown passes on the season, an SEC record through 7 games, and he’s done it against SEC-only competition, with no “cupcakes” to pad the numbers.
Trask leads a Florida offense that ranks 5th in S&P+ offensive efficiency, 3rd in success rate and 4th overall in passing efficiency offense. His last 3 games, which have featured 3 300+ passing yard performances and 13 touchdown passes with only 1 interception, have happened almost entirely without his best weapon, Kyle Pitts.
The SEC Championship Game may ultimately decide the Heisman Trophy winner, if Najee Harris doesn’t steal votes from Jones. That remains to be seen. What is evident in Week 9 is that it is fair to label the Florida quarterback the SEC’s best football player for a second consecutive week.
A date with Kentucky, the team Florida faced when fate intervened and the legend of Kyle Trask in Gainesville began, beckons Saturday.