Power ranking the top 10 players in the SEC after the 2020 regular season
Week 13 of SEC play saw Alabama capture its 32nd SEC Championship with a thrilling 52-46 win over Florida in one of the better SEC Championship Games in recent memory. The win also marked the Crimson Tide’s 5th SEC title in the last 7 seasons, only the 3rd time in the history of the conference there has been such an extended run of dominance (Alabama in the 1970s, Florida in the 1990s).
At the heart of the Tide’s effort? Three players who have spent the bulk of the season on this list, including SEC Championship Game MVP Najee Harris, who many in the comments section suggestions this season have said shouldn’t be ranked highly on this list. DeVonta Smith also set a new SEC Championship Game record for receptions in a game, hauling in 15 Saturday night. Meanwhile, Mac Jones threw 5 touchdown passes, setting a SEC Championship record for completions (43) in the process.
Florida’s stars also turned out, with Kadarius Toney leading all players in yards per reception (19.2), Kyle Pitts making a spectacular touchdown catch in triple coverage late, and Kyle Trask breaking Danny Wuerffel’s 24 year-old SEC record for yards per attempt (10.1) in a SEC Championship Game. Trask finished with 408 yards passing and 4 touchdowns accounted for in the game. It was a spectacular game to close a strange but wonderful SEC football season.
There were also some terrific performances outside of Atlanta, most notably by Mike Elko’s Texas A&M defense. Say what you will about the Aggies’ offense, which can be plodding and lack explosion at times, but the defense is why Jimbo Fisher’s team won 8 SEC football games, including their final 7. They held Tennessee to just 213 yards Saturday, registered 3 sacks and forced a pair of turnovers. The Aggies deserved to be in the Playoff, and if their university was named Ohio State, they would be. Plain and simple.
Elsewhere, LSU and Miss State appear to have found quarterbacks. Max Johnson followed up his win at The Swamp with a 435-yard performance to clip Ole Miss 53-48 in a wild game that reminded us all why this is such an underappreciated SEC rivalry. Meanwhile, Will Rogers threw for 295 yards and 3 touchdowns in Miss State’s suprising rout of Missouiri. If Mike Leach finds his guy under center, look out.
Also if there’s been a more impressive freshman in the SEC over the final month than Kayson Boutte, please email me about him. Boutte has collected over 500 yards receiving in his final 3 games, including 308 — not a typo — in the Tigers’ win Saturday in Baton Rouge.
So many good performances this season, so few spots. Here’s the final top ten power ranking before the bowls. Last week’s list is here.
Honorable Mentions are first, and limited to two per school.
Honorable Mentions: Patrick Surtain II, CB (Alabama); Alex Leatherwood, OT (Alabama); Grant Morgan, LB (Arkansas); Jalen Catalon, S (Arkansas); Smoke Monday, S (Auburn); Zakoby McClain, LB (Auburn); Brett Heggie, C (Florida); Kadarius Toney, WR (Florida); Monty Rice, LB (Georgia); Richard LeCounte III, S (Georgia); Darian Kinnard, OT (Kentucky); Jamar Watson, LB (Kentucky); Derek Stingley Jr., CB (LSU); Jabril Cox, LB (LSU); Larry Rountree III, RB (Missouri); Michael Maietti, C (Missouri); Martin Emerson, CB (Miss State); Aaron Brule, LB (Miss State); Jerrion Ealy, RB (Ole Miss); Matt Corral, QB (Ole Miss); Kevin Harris, RB (South Carolina); Henry To’o To’o, LB (Tennessee); Isaiah Spiller, RB (Texas A&M), DeMarvin Leal, Edge (Texas A&M); Dayo Odeyingbo, DE (Vanderbilt).
10. Azeez Ojulari, Edge (Georgia)
The sophomore from Marietta finished 2nd in the SEC in sacks (6) and ledthe league in pressures (14), helping the Bulldogs’ defense close the season ranked 2nd nationally in S&P+ defensive efficiency, 2nd in the SEC in total defense and 1st in the SEC in yards allowed per play. Ojulari was also basically irreplaceable to the defense — Georgia ranked only 58th nationally in the regular season in sack percentage and the Dawgs finished 61st in havoc rate, with Ojulari responsible for almost 40% of the total pressures.
Ojulari wasn’t just a pass rush specialist either — he defended 2 passes, collected 10 tackles for loss and added 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
9. Nick Bolton, LB (Missouri)
A Butkus Award finalist, Bolton graded out 2nd among SEC linebackers this season, per Pro Football Focus. He finished 5th in the SEC in tackles with 95, leading the Tigers in that category by 13 stops. He also added 5 passes defended, a pair of sacks, double-digit tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. Outside of Georgia’s Richard LeCounte III, it’s tough to think of a single player in the SEC who means more to their team defensively from a production and leadership standpoint than Bolton. The junior has opted out of Missouri’s Music City Bowl game against Iowa and will enter the NFL Draft this spring.
8. Elijah Moore, WR (Ole Miss)
Moore opted out last week, but his Rebels legacy was secure after a season-long redemption story that saw the junior finish with 86 receptions, 1,193 yards and 8 touchdowns. Moore is likely to be a Biletinikof finalist when they are named this week and he will rank 2nd in the SEC in receptions and yards receiving behind only DeVonta Smith despite opting out of the final 2 Ole Miss games.
Moore helped energize the Ole Miss fan base behind Lane Kiffin, whose first team produced a top-10 scoring offense with the ability to score anywhere, as they did on this play where Moore went 91 yards — and Lane lost his playsheet — against South Carolina.
Matt Corral to Elijah Moore connect on 91-yard touchdown play.
Lane Kiffin tosses his clipboard about 20 feet into the air during the play pic.twitter.com/Tbo5cvfDl3
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) November 15, 2020
7. Kevin Harris, RB (South Carolina)
Speaking of South Carolina, the worst bowl team in the history of this world stil featured one incredible football player in Harris, who tallied 1,138 yards rushing despite playing for a 2-win team that never settled on a quarterback. That he did this against an SEC-only schedule only makes the accomplishment that much more remarkable.
Harris finished top 5 in the SEC in yards after contact as well, demonstrating that this wasn’t just a case of a team being able to run the football well despite being poor in every other area.
Whether you deem Harris the SEC rushing champion (1,138 would lead in all non-SEC Championship games) or give that crown to Najee Harris, who used the SEC Championship to pass Harris for the league lead, Harris was still one of only 2 SEC backs to break 1,000 yards rushing before bowl season. Harris also finished 2nd in the SEC in yards per carry and the Gamecocks were No. 2 in the SEC in rushing success rate, a testament to the sophomore’s dominance. A well-deserved spot in the top 10 here.
6. Jamin Davis, LB (Kentucky)
A mainstay on this list throughout the season, the junior led a solid Kentucky defense in tackles with 89 despite playing only 9 games due to a false COVID positive that held him out of the Alabama game. He added 2 interceptions, including this pick-6 in Kentucky’s rout of Tennessee.
Davis also collected a sack, defended 2 passes, forced 2 fumbles and recovered another, all reasons he graded out No. 1 among SEC linebackers, per Pro Football Focus. Davis should have been a Butkus finalist, and likey would have been if he played for Alabama or Georgia. Instead, he’ll settle for being the highest-rated linebacker on this list after a sensational season that will end with Kentucky’s 5th consecutive bowl appearance.
5. Mac Jones, QB (Alabama)
Jones’ legacy will be immense, and if the Tide go on to win the national championship, he’ll be the 3-star recruit who rescued the Saban dynasty. He leads the nation in passing efficiency and is the quarterback for the nation’s top S&P+ offense and 2nd-ranked sccoring offense. He was also marvelous Saturday night, tossing 5 toucdown passes in the Tide’s shootout win over the Gators.
He’s only 5th on this list because the 4 players ahead of him are either generational talents (Smith, Pitts) or slightly more important to their team (Trask, Harris). The Heisman voters might not see it that way — but then again, you don’t have to be on an elite team to win the Heisman. Tim Tebow won it on a 3-loss team, as did Lamar Jackson for Louisville in 2016. Johnny Manziel lost twice in 2012. Winning certainly helps, but so does being the guy your team can’t live without. Jones is one of those guys at Alabama, but not the most important one. Still, what a sensational season for the Alabama junior.
4. Kyle Trask, QB (Florida)
Trask’s 408 yards and 4 touchdowns accounted for wasn’t enough to topple the top-ranked Tide, as it turned out. But the senior left it all on the field, and may have been the guy who helped his draft stock the most in the process. SDS spoke to a scouting director from an NFL Playoff team after the SEC Championship, who offered this on the Gators senior:
“He looked the most like an NFL quarterback Saturday night. Making precise throws into small windows all evening. Alabama covered better than Florida and Trask just beat them to spots. He also didn’t make the dangerous throws. He had one brutal overthrow (to Justin Shorter early), but the balls to Grimes and the deep corner to Pitts were special throws. He’s tough, too. Took hits and was a willing runner. You can’t convince me he isn’t a NFL starter one day.”
Impressive comments that check out when you check the numbers. Trask has 11 more touchdown passes than any other Power 5 quarterback. He also leads the country in passing offense, ranks 3rd nationally in pass efficiency and finishes the regular season ranked 7th in yards per attempt.
Trask is the guy Florida simply couldn’t have put its massive 2020 offensive numbers together without, and for that reason, he’s Florida’s most valuable player. It’s unclear whether he’ll play the Cotton Bowl against Oklahoma, but what else does he have to prove?
3. Kyle Pitts, TE (Florida)
Pitts played brilliantly in his final game as a Gator, closing his career in the orange and blue with 129 yards on 7 receptions and a touchdown. His final catch in a Florida uniform? How about this?
Kyle Pitts is insane
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 20, 2020
Pitts finished the season as the most “explosive” player in the sport, per touch to explosive play ratio. Of his 43 catches, 23 went for “explosive plays” (16 yards or more). He should win the Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end next month, and will likely be a top 10 pick in the NFL Draft this spring.
2. Najee Harris, RB (Alabama)
Harris began the season No. 1 on this list and enters bowl season ranked No. 2, behind only his teammate, wide receiver and Heisman front-runner DeVonta Smith. Harris’ 5-touchdown performance in the SEC Championship was one for the ages, and a monster performance SDS saw coming when it broke down matchups last week.
Harris’ value to Alabama can’t be overstated: If you stack the box to stop him, the Tide will crush you over the top. If you play him straight up, he’ll use his extraordinary vision and elusiveness to dominate the game, which is what he did to Florida in Atlanta.
He’s also lethal as a pass catcher, as his 3 touchdown receptions against Florida demonstrated. On the season, Harris leads the SEC in rushing and has a career high 32 receptions out of the backfield, making him the answer to almost any riddle a defense presents. He’s also scored a staggering 27 touchdowns this season in an 11-game, SEC-only slate, and is now the all-time leader at Alabama in finding the end zone. A marvelous football player with (potentially) 2 games left to add to his prodigious legacy.
1. DeVonta Smith, WR (Alabama)
If the Heisman Trophy goes to the best player who is also the most important to his team, then Smith should edge Florida’s Trask for the award. When Jaylen Waddle went down, the thought was it was a devastating loss to Alabama because defenses could really key in on slowing Smith, forcing Jones to look for other, less proven options. Smith was too good to allow that to happen.
He posted SEC and nation-highs in receptions and receiving yards, and his 15 receptions Saturday night showed yet again that he can still overwhelm a defense even when they key on him. Smith has 19 touchdowns in 2020, including 17 in the passing game, and averaged a monstrous 14.5 yards every time he touched the football in any capacity.
I don’t have a Heisman ballot, but Smith is the best football player in the SEC and as a result, probably the best football player in the country. He’s certainly the best of the three guys Alabama can’t live without.