Power ranking the Top 10 players in the SEC after Week 5
Week 5 in the SEC was “Separation Saturday.” The contenders, Alabama and Georgia, stormed to statement-making wins at home.
Florida, Texas A&M and Ole Miss all fell in humbling fashion on the road. The jury is still out on Arkansas, which remains Texas State champions but failed its biggest test to date.
Unbeaten Kentucky is somewhere in the purgatory between the contenders and pretenders after its impressive win over Florida helped the Cats improve to 5-0. LSU visits Lexington next, and it’s hard not to like Kentucky in that game, too. But it’s a long season.
As for our Top 10 list, there are plenty of changes this week, which warrants a reminder that this ranking is about who the best players in the SEC are during the 2021 season as a whole. It is not a Mock Draft list, which you can find easily on Google dot com. It is also not a “best 10 players during the last week of football” list, though it’s tempting to be influenced by recency bias. Instead, what we want to do is reward productivity, which can be measured statistically, of course, but also in terms of influence. Georgia’s Jordan Davis or Alabama’s Will Anderson may not always light up the stat sheet — but teams game plan around them. That alone can be a measure of value and yes, of greatness.
This week’s list, as always, begins with honorable mentions (maximum of 2 per school).
Honorable mentions: Jalyn Armour-Davis, DB (Alabama); Jameson Williams, WR (Alabama); Jalen Catalon, S (Arkansas); Grant Morgan, LB (Arkansas); Roger McCreary, CB (Auburn); Smoke Monday, S (Auburn); Zachary Carter, DE (Florida); Kaiir Elam, CB (Florida); Adam Anderson, LB (Georgia); Lewis Cine, S (Georgia); Darian Kinnard, OT (Kentucky); Chris Rodriguez Jr., RB (Kentucky); Damone Clark, LB (LSU); Cordale Flott, CB (LSU); Will Rogers, QB (Mississippi State); Jett Johnson, LB (Mississippi State); Tyler Badie, RB (Missouri); Dontario Drummond, WR (Ole Miss); Sam Williams, DE (Ole Miss); Kingsley Enagbare, DE (South Carolina); Jaylan Foster, DB (South Carolina); Tiyon Evans, RB (Tennessee); Theo Jackson, DB (Tennessee); DeMarvin Leal, DL (Texas A&M); Isaiah Spiller, RB (Texas A&M)); Ethan Barr, LB (Vanderbilt).
10. Smoke Monday, S (Auburn)
Monday, who grades out as one of the top safeties in college football, according to Pro Football Focus, paces an Auburn secondary that has helped Auburn to a 4-1 start under new head coach Bryan Harsin. The Tigers rank 22nd in total defense, and Monday is defensive coordinator Derek Mason’s general on the field. Monday calls the checks, organizes the secondary, and provides both steady tackling (18 on the season with zero missed tackles) as well as big-play capability, as evidenced by this interception and return that sealed the Tigers’ win over Georgia State a week ago.
— Auburn Football (@AuburnFootball) September 25, 2021
Last week, Monday helped Auburn keep LSU out of the end zone in the second half as the Tigers rallied to win in Baton Rouge for the first time this century. A frequent member of the honorable mentions last year, he’s in the top 10 for the first time this season.
9. Matt Corral, QB (Ole Miss)
Corral wasn’t great against Alabama, accounting for 216 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Rebels’ 21-point loss. But the Rebels loss wasn’t about him — as was the case in a handful of games a season ago when Corral was a turnover machine and Ole Miss lost, at least in part, because he couldn’t take care of the football.
That’s been his biggest area of growth in 2021, and it was impressive to see him battle Saturday despite the fact Lane Kiffin kept putting him in difficult positions.
The redshirt junior now gets a showdown with an Arkansas secondary that embarrassed him a season ago.
Get your popcorn ready!
8. Nakobe Dean, LB (Georgia)
Dean graded out as the nation’s top linebacker in Week 5. His 4 tackles, 2 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss were instrumental to Georgia’s second straight shutout. On the season, Dean has 18 tackles, but his ability as a blitzer separates him from other linebackers in the conference.
#Georgia LB Nakobe Dean and blitzing up the A-gap, name a better duo!
Times the snap well, toughness through the point of attack, bends to the QB to finish. Start talking about
Dean in the LB1 conversation. pic.twitter.com/1ILd24IRkw
— Jordan (@Texans_Thoughts) October 2, 2021
Georgia enters this weekend’s tilt with Auburn ranked 2nd in the country in defensive havoc rate (defined roughly as the number of times you sack, pressure, or force a bad throw by a quarterback in the pass game). He’s the best of Georgia’s tremendous linebacking corps and despite a quiet leadership style, the junior is “one of the most respected players off the field we’ve had here,” a Georgia assistant told me via text this week. A special kid on a special defense.
7. Josh Paschal, DL (Kentucky)
Paschal, a cancer survivor turned team captain and preseason All-SEC selection, was already one of college football’s best stories entering 2021. The story got even better last weekend, as Paschal was the best football player on the field as Kentucky registered its first home win over Florida since the Reagan Administration. Pascal had 7 tackles against the Gators — and was instrumental in limiting what had been the nation’s most effective run game in terms of success rate to just 4.4 yards per carry.
.@UKFootball Josh Paschal is one of most versatile, consistent, & dependable POA players in 2022 #NFL draft class. Alert, skilled, and deceptively quick technician is generally a step ahead of blockers. @JPaschalx will play a long time at next level. #TheDraftStartsInMOBILE™️ https://t.co/2UXZ2ASh1S pic.twitter.com/sQoylUUl1Z
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) October 4, 2021
He also made the play of the game — blocking the 3rd field goal attempt of his career, which Trevin Wallace returned for a touchdown.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) October 3, 2021
That gave Kentucky a lead it never relinquished — and helped the Cats start 5-0 for just the 4th time in school history.
6. Bryce Young, QB (Alabama)
One of the current Vegas front-runners for the Heisman Trophy, Young keeps coming up big for the Tide in huge games. He finished with 241 yards and 2 touchdowns in Alabama’s big win Saturday, staking the Tide to a huge lead before demurring to the ground game to suck the life out of Ole Miss in the second half.
Young isn’t flashy– there are very few “wow” moments and he isn’t magic with his legs like Tua was or Joe Burrow could be. But he’s accurate, makes smart decisions and protects the football, which is enough to keep Alabama out of danger given the defense he is rolling with every week.
5. Kayshon Boutte, WR (LSU)
Boutte is all about touchdowns — as in an SEC-best 9 of them on the young season, including this incredible one in double coverage over the weekend.
Kayshon Boutte is a MONSTER 😤 pic.twitter.com/WieS5tx2oC
— 247Sports (@247Sports) October 3, 2021
Boutte collected 127 yards on 6 receptions against a solid Auburn secondary, winning a pair of 1-on-1 against outstanding Auburn corner Roger McCreary in the process.
The sophomore now ranks 2nd in the SEC in receiving yards and tops among non-Miss State Air Raid players in receptions in addition to leading the league in TD catches.
4. Wan’Dale Robinson, WR (Kentucky)
Facing off with Boutte this weekend will be Wan’Dale Robinson, who leads the SEC in receiving yards and ranks in the top 5 in receptions and yards per catch. Robinson wasted little time ripping the Florida secondary to shreds Saturday night.
Half Kadarius Toney, half Rondale Moore, Robinson’s terrific hands, toughness in the slot and ability to change direction and make tacklers miss is dream stuff for Kentucky fans, who have had great players under Mark Stoops but no one this electric and versatile — not even Lynn Bowden Jr.
3. Evan Neal, OT (Alabama)
Neal collected 3 pancakes and graded out as the nation’s top pass blocker this weekend.
The Rebels flushed Bryce Young a few times, but never on Young’s blind side, which has been manned beautifully by Neal this season. Neal struggled in the Florida game, but has graded out as the top tackle in the sport since, per Pro Football Focus.
He makes life so much easier on Alabama’s young quarterback.
2. Jordan Davis, DT (Georgia)
Davis is never going to wow you on the stat sheet, and that remained true in Saturday’s 37-0 victory over Arkansas. If you only looked at the boxscore, you’d see 2 tackles and maybe shrug your shoulders a bit.
If you watched the game or the film, however, you’d see the biggest matchup nightmare in the SEC. Davis commands double teams, freeing up Georgia’s immense talent around him to do their thing. Sometimes, he beats the double teams anyway.
He did that on one key sequence Saturday. With Georgia leading 21-0 but Arkansas finally moving, Davis put any thoughts of a Hogs comeback to bed. On 2nd-and-6, he powered through a double team to swallow up Raheim Sanders at the 20. A play later, he was triple-teamed, allowing Adam Anderson to clean up the mess and stuff KJ Jefferson on a draw. Arkansas missed a field goal on the next play — and Georgia was never bothered again.
Davis isn’t blockable 1-on-1. He’s too strong, too physical, too quick, too smart. When he’s healthy, it’s hard to figure out how to block this Georgia defense period.
1. Will Anderson, LB (Alabama)
Anderson has been massive for the Crimson Tide in their 2 biggest wins this season. Against Florida, he powered through a bad knee bruise to lead the Tide in quarterback pressures and tackles for loss. Against the Rebels, he remained a force, collecting 9 tackles, including 3 for loss, and this “man amongst boys” sack.
Will Anderson, man. pic.twitter.com/JXqhV4WUek
— Jake Schyvinck (@JakeNFLDraft) October 2, 2021
The battle between him and Davis for league’s best player may come down to the first Saturday in December. Isn’t that how it should be?