Power ranking the Top 10 players in the SEC through Week 3
Have we entered the decade of Georgia?
That’s the national talking point as we enter the fourth week of conference season and for most programs in the SEC, conference play. The Bulldogs certainly look the part of a program that will define the decade to come in the SEC (and as a result, the sport). They have a ruthlessly efficient offense and a visor-clad, young, charismatic head coach (see, 1990s Florida). They play tenacious defense and seem to replace All-Americans with well, future All-Americans, a testament to their ability to evaluate, recruit and develop (see, 2010s Alabama). They also have stability, thanks to Kirby Smart’s youth, an administrative commitment to winning, and their status as the flagship university in one of the nation’s most talent-rich recruiting beds.
That stability means that even if Tennessee finally has its renaissance, or Jimbo Fisher’s talent finally catches up to results in College Station, or Florida comes back to life under Billy Napier, the Dawgs aren’t going anywhere. There will be no power vacuum that opens the door for a new contender (see, Florida 2000s giving way to LSU and then Alabama 2000s).
How dominant is this Georgia team? Georgia’s combined score this season through 3 games: 130-10. That’s an average win of 43-3, if you are doing the quick math. With Kent State and Missouri next, it is unlikely that average win margin gets smaller.
Alabama isn’t dead, and Nick Saban isn’t retired, but Georgia isn’t going anywhere. The decade of Georgia is upon us. Enjoy the ride. Or don’t, if you are a Florida or Auburn fan.
The Week 3 list of best players in the best conference in college football is also upon us. Last week’s list is here.
Usual disclaimer: This isn’t a Mock Draft list. If you are Jalen Carter, for example, and you are almost certain to be a top 10 NFL Draft pick and probably a top 5 pick, you’ll appear in every NFL Mock Draft. You won’t appear on this list, at least until you have more than 3 tackles (0 for loss) this season. What SDS wants here is a list of the best 10 players in the SEC based on a combination of talent, productivity and impact on the game. Yes, that means quarterbacks make the list a bit more frequently than other positions. It’s the most important position in sports.
Honorable mentions first, limited to two per program.
Honorable Mentions: Jahmyr Gibbs, Playmaker (Alabama); Jalen Moody, LB (Alabama); Bumper Pool, LB (Arkansas); KJ Jefferson, QB (Arkansas); Ty’Ron Hopper, LB (Missouri); Tank Bigsby, RB (Auburn); Kilian Zierer, OT (Auburn); Montrell Johnson Jr., RB (Florida); Brenton Cox Jr., DE (Florida); Malaki Starks, DB (Georgia); Brock Bowers, TE (Georgia); Jordan Wright, LB/Edge (Kentucky); Dane Key, WR (Kentucky); Jayden Daniels, QB (LSU); Jay Ward, S (LSU); Will Rogers III, QB (Mississippi State); Nate Pickering, DE (Mississippi State); Zach Evans, RB (Ole Miss); Jordan Burch, Edge (South Carolina) Antonio Johnson, DB (Texas A&M); Layden Robinson, OL (Texas A&M); Cooper Mays, C (Tennessee); Trevon Flowers, DB (Tennessee); Re’Mahn Davis, RB (Vanderbilt); Will Sheppard, WR (Vanderbilt).
10. Broderick Jones, OT (Georgia)
Jones is the best lineman on the SEC’s most efficient offense. The Dawgs average 7.91 yards a play, which is good for 5th in the country. Stetson Bennett is not pressured often, and can escape with his legs when he is, but almost no one gets past Jones, who has allowed just 2 pressures this season. Jones grades out at 26th among offensive tackles in the country, per Pro Football Focus, which is best among SEC tackles who have started 3 games. As long as Jones is blocking up front, Georgia will feel comfortable running that direction and holding the edge for their star quarterback in the passing game.
9. Khari Coleman, Edge (Ole Miss)
Coleman continues to dominate up front for the Rebels, who are quietly 3-0. Coleman drew double teams on 40% of his snaps at Georgia Tech Saturday, per Stats Solutions, a testament to his early season productivity. The Edge/LB is tied for No. 3 in the SEC in sacks (2.5) and is the biggest reason the Rebels ranks 16th in the country in total defense and 14th in success rate defense. Ole Miss finding itself defensively is an intriguing development in what looks to be a wide open SEC West behind Alabama. Could this be the year for Lane Kiffin’s program to make a breakthrough? Coleman’s continued productivity will be a large factor in answering that question.
8. Raheim Sanders, RB (Arkansas)
The first of 2 Sanders in the list for the Hogs this week. Raheim is leading the SEC in rushing this season with 440 yards and exploded for 167 yards and a touchdown in Arkansas’ comeback win over Missouri State last weekend. Sanders is the key cog in an Arkansas run game that ranks 10th nationally in rushing offense and 8th in success rate. A sophomore out of football factory Rockledge, Florida, Sanders is the type of hard-nosed, dangerous cutting runner that for years found his way to FSU or Florida. Credit the Arkansas staff for luring him to Fayetteville, where they now have a blossoming star.
7. Cedric Tillman, WR (Tennessee)
Tillman was quiet against Akron, catching just 2 passes for 18 yards. It was also one of the first times we’ve seen constant safety help on him. That’s respect, and an example of what the list looks for when we isolate players whose production impacts the game schematically. With the Zips keyed in on Tillman, Jalin Hyatt (who nearly cracked Honorable Mention this week) went nuts, catching 5 passes for 166 yards and 2 touchdowns. Tennessee’s wide receiver room is embarrassingly deep and it makes Akron’s strategy unadvisable. It will be interesting to see what Florida, which has 3 outstanding cover corners, does when it visits Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
6. O’Cyrus Torrence, OG (Florida)
Florida’s big man in the middle of a talented offensive line grades out as the nation’s best guard right now, per Pro Football Focus. It also isn’t even close: Torrence’s season grade of 92 to date (which includes a 93.7 in run-blocking situations) puts him in rarefied air: only 3 guards in the past 5 seasons have finished a campaign over 91. Torrence is at 92. That’s first-team All-American “lock” stuff. The Gators’ offense needs him about as much as it needs oxygen — with Anthony Richardson struggling, the Gators need to utilize the power run game, and a talented group of running backs, to pound the rock behind Torrence as much as they can moving forward.
5. Bryce Young, QB (Alabama)
Young had a subpar day, by his standards, despite the lopsided scoreline in Alabama’s win over Louisiana-Monroe. Young tossed 2 interceptions in the win, though he did account for 4 Alabama touchdowns (3 passing, 1 rushing). The Crimson Tide have found at least one legitimate weapon around him in Jahmyr Gibbs, who made his way to Honorable Mention status this week. Young- – and Alabama’s — season depend on finding more in the next few weeks as the schedule stiffens.
4. Hendon Hooker, QB (Tennessee)
The Vols’ senior quarterback continues to play beautifully and win football games. Hooker torched Akron for 298 yards and 2 touchdowns, and did so with ridiculous efficiency, attempting only 18 passes. What’s wild is that Hooker said he doesn’t even think he’s “played to his standard yet” this season. I mean, I suppose Jalin Hyatt did have to wait on this football for a half-second before it hit him in the numbers for a touchdown.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 18, 2022
Hooker will face the best secondary he’s played this season Saturday against Florida, a stiff test in a huge atmosphere. Looking to avenge a 24-point blowout loss to the Gators in a game he was thoroughly outplayed by Emory Jones a season ago? That seems right up the alley of Hooker, a young man who motivates himself, and his teammates, by playing with fire, guts and a Smoky Mountain-sized chip on his shoulder.
3. Will Anderson Jr., Edge (Alabama)
The Will Anderson who finished second in these rankings a season ago showed up last weekend in Tuscaloosa. His pick-6 came on a tip, but it doesn’t diminish the athletic play Anderson made to collect the ball and race to the end zone.
TAKE IT TO THE ?
— Alabama Football (@AlabamaFTBL) September 17, 2022
Anderson also added 2 tackles for loss, a sack and 6 quarterback pressures to his 2022 résumé Saturday afternoon, and he’s doing it drawing double teams on 81% of all snaps, a testament to how his dominance impacts the opponents’ scheme.
2. Drew Sanders, LB (Arkansas)
When a 5-star player transfers from a powerhouse, you never know what the real story is. Often, as was the case with Sanders, the player is lost on the depth chart. Occasionally, that means they weren’t quite the player recruiting services thought they were. Other times, they shine with a fresh start. Put Sanders in the latter camp.
The big linebacker out of Texas continues to play like a man on a mission, collecting 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks in Arkansas’ win over Missouri State. He’s also fitting gaps and laying the thunder as a run defender, as evidenced by this monstrous hit Saturday night.
Oh my‼️ Arkansas LB Drew Sanders with a Hit Stick on Missouri State RB pic.twitter.com/iJBjDuE3tF
— Jacket Boyz Media (@JacketBoyzTV) September 18, 2022
Sanders gives Sam Pittman’s defense a third star (to go with Bumper Pool, who made the list last week, and Jalen Catalon, who frequents the list when healthy but will miss the rest of the season). Right now, he’s the most dominant defender in the SEC, leading the league in sacks with 6 and among the leaders in tackles with 28. If Sanders registers just 5 tackles in the Razorbacks’ next game, he’ll tie his career total at Alabama (33). To do that in 4 games at his new school … well, sometimes all you need is a second chance.
1. Stetson Bennett, QB (Georgia)
Bennett accounted for 3 touchdowns in Georgia’s SEC opening 48-7 rout of South Carolina in Columbia Saturday afternoon. He’s the conductor of Georgia’s symphony on offense, which, as the introduction to the article points out, is the SEC’s most efficient unit, just as it was in 2021, when Bennett led Georgia to the national championship. I don’t know if we need Patrick Mahomes comparisons:
Stetson Bennett had thrown for over 250 yards and had at least 1 rushing TD in 3 straight games.
The last guy to do that? Patrick Mahomes pic.twitter.com/AdZIJNQDfr
— Unnecessary Roughness (@UnnecRoughness) September 19, 2022
But isn’t tough to deny that Georgia has found a special college quarterback. Whatever you think of Bennett’s prospects at the next level, the reality is he’s averaging a rushing touchdown and 317 yards passing and he hasn’t even played the third quarter yet. History is chock full of players who were brilliant in college and not elite in the NFL — Bennett could join the fraternity of college quarterbacks to share that distinction, and perhaps win a Heisman Trophy in the process, if he keeps his play at his ridiculous level in 2022.