Power ranking the Top 10 players in the SEC through Week 8
Week 8 in the SEC was the one of the lightest weeks on the SEC schedule this season, with only 9 SEC teams in action. Despite only 5 games,, there was still excitement.
For one, we learned that Mike Leach hates candy corn but loves gummy bears.
Mike Leach on Halloween candy 😂
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 23, 2021
This writer also learned that you don’t pick Vanderbilt to win an SEC game. There have been 8 SEC coaches fired and a global health pandemic since Vanderbilt last won a conference game. There is a reason for that.
Speaking of fired coaches, a week after rallying behind the flag against Florida, LSU went back to being mediocre LSU again on Eli Manning Day in Oxford, dropping the Magnolia Bowl for the first time in 6 seasons. No word on whether Arch Manning was impressed enough with Lane Kiffin’s offense to commit.
Elsewhere, Texas A&M issued its annual beatdown to South Carolina, Tennessee made Alabama sweat until Nick Saban withheld the Capri Suns and orange slices at halftime — you won’t like the Crimson Tide when they are angry!!! — and Arkansas got off the snide with a huge win over Arkansas Pine-Bluff.
While 5 SEC teams had bye weeks in Week 8, there are no bye weeks for the Top 10 list.
As always, I remind you all that there are only 2 honorable mentions per school. You are also right that I probably left your favorite player out on purpose, and not because limiting a list of the best players in the best conference in the sport to 10 is absurdly difficult.
Honorable mentions: Brian Robinson, RB (Alabama); Jameson Williams, WR (Alabama); Grant Morgan, LB (Arkansas); Ricky Stromberg, C (Arkansas); Roger McCreary, CB (Auburn); Zakoby McClain, LB (Auburn); Zachary Carter, DE (Florida); Kaiir Elam, CB (Florida); Quay Walker, LB (Georgia); Jalen Carter, DL (Georgia); Josh Paschal, DL (Kentucky); DeAndre Square, LB (Kentucky); Damone Clark, LB (LSU); BJ Ojulari, Edge (LSU); Will Rogers, QB (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); Hendon Hooker, QB (Tennessee); Jeremy Banks, LB (Tennessee); Kenyon Green, OT (Texas A&M); DeMarvin Leal, DL (Texas A&M).
10. Evan Neal, OT (Alabama)
The behemoth Crimson Tide linemen returns to the top 10 after a 3-pancake performance against Tennessee. The Crimson Tide run game struggled early in the season but has found a groove of late, averaging over 175 yards per game over the past 4 contests. As the Tide begin to run the ball again, the offense moves more fluidly and the downfield passing game becomes more threatening. A big reason for the change? The Tide are running behind Neal more (60% of their run plays went left the past 2 weeks), with great success. Neal has moved from outside the top 50 offensive tackles in the country this season, per Pro Football Focus, back into the top 25 nationally, as a result.
Neal should hear his name called in the first 20 picks of the NFL Draft in the spring. For now, he’s the anchor to an Alabama team still very much in the national championship picture.
9. Brock Bowers, TE (Georgia)
Bowers moves up 1 spot despite a Dawgs bye. Why? He’s been one of the nation’s most productive freshmen despite the fact that: (1) Georgia doesn’t have a ton of experience on the perimeter; (2) Georgia has rotated quarterbacks; (3) Georgia doesn’t really bully anyone in the run game, ranking just 36th nationally and in the middle of the SEC in yards per rush attempt. No matter: Bowers leads the Dawgs in receptions (25) and yards receiving (416) and next faces a Todd Grantham defense that hasn’t defended a quality tight end since well, ever.
— Sideline CFB (@SidelineCFB) September 11, 2021
He’s also fast in pads — at 230 pounds — he runs well for a tight end and as a result, is a downfield playmaker for an offense that needs them without George Pickens. All-American honors are very possible for the Georgia freshman, and he’s just getting started.
8. Wan’Dale Robinson, WR (Kentucky)
The SEC’s leading receiver for most of the first half of the 2021 season, Robinson has fallen to 5th in yards receiving but still ranks behind only John Metchie III (52) among non-Mike Leach Air Raid offense SEC receivers in receptions per game. Robinson’s durability has impressed NFL scouts. One I spoke with this week had this to say about the Wildcats’ “X-factor:” “He’s got that Rondale Moore edge to him, the guy you know can run by you but isn’t afraid to make the tough play in traffic. He got beat up in the Florida, LSU and Georgia games and looked no worse for wear in all of them. He’s going to play in our league for a long time.”
For now, he’ll settle for keeping Kentucky on the path to the program’s first bid to a traditional New Year’s 6/BCS bowl since a 1993 Peach Bowl trip. The Cats haven’t played in the Cotton, Sugar or Orange Bowls since Bear Bryan stalked the sidelines in the 1950s. That’s on the table too, and Robinson is a big reason.
7. Darian Kinnard, OT (Kentucky)
Of the SEC’s 3 preseason All-American offensive tackles (Alabama’s Neal, Texas A&M’s Kenyon Green) Kinnard is grading out the highest on the season, per Pro Football Focus. Kinnard is best as a run blocker (1st in the country in this category), which provides some insight into why Chris Rodriguez Jr. continues to lead the SEC in rushing. Kinnard was a consensus midseason All-American selection and has moved from a second round/late first-round projection into the top 20 in most 2022 NFL mock drafts. He’s Kentucky’s best football player and the path to 11-1 will go as he and the rest of the hog mollies that make up the Big Blue Wall go.
6. Treylon Burks, WR (Arkansas)
The absurdity that is Treylon Burks in 2021 continued Saturday. As you’d expect, Arkansas Pine-Bluff had no chance. But Burks made it silly — with 6 first-half touches for 145 yards and 3 first-half touchdowns, including this 49-yard run where he looks like a lion among gazelles.
Treylon Burks 49-yard rushing touchdown pic.twitter.com/2Zvbrn1zzy
— SEC Mike (@MichaelWBratton) October 23, 2021
Burks now leads the SEC in receiving yards and ranks 7th in yards per reception, and he’s caught all but one of his 8 targets in the red zone. This is the most explosive playmaker in the SEC.
5. Bryce Young, QB (Alabama)
Young started slowly against Tennessee but by night’s end had posted a career-high 31 completions and 371 yards passing. Young added 2 touchdowns with his legs, making a bit of Alabama history in the process:
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 24, 2021
Young continues to linger in the Heisman conversation — and that’s hard to argue with given his production. He’s posted 5 games with 3oo yards or more passing, leads the SEC in passing touchdowns (26), and ranks 2nd in the conference in passing efficiency (Hendon Hooker). As the Tide hit a softer portion of their 2021 schedule, his numbers should only improve.
4. Nakobe Dean, LB (Georgia)
The sartorially splendid Dean is routinely the best-dressed Dawg off the team bus and when the game starts, he’s one of the best linebackers in the county. Here’s my favorite Dean play: 1-on-3 in space, with Kinnard out there, too. Dean recognizes the play call, fights through a block, and makes the tackle.
The recognition by Nakobe Dean here was great. He’s got a 3 on 1 situation and he fights through it to turn an easy TD into a 5 yard loss. His processing ability continues to be extremely impressive pic.twitter.com/0EYPXrzIc2
— Graham Coffey (@DawgOutWest) October 17, 2021
Dean can do everything: play in coverage, blitz, fit a run gap. But it is his leadership, on and off the football field, that impresses Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff the most. Dean calls the checks for the Georgia defense and is rarely fooled. Essentially another coach on the field, he is the unquestioned leader of the best defense in college football.
3. Matt Corral, QB (Ole Miss)
Corral toughed it out with an ankle injury to help Ole Miss claim the Magnolia Bowl for the first time in 6 seasons Saturday. Thanks to a power run game led by Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner, the Rebels didn’t need Corral to carry the ball 30 times to win as they did against Tennessee. But Corral was plenty good enough, running for a touchdown and throwing for another in the 31-17 victory. The injury probably prevented Corral from posting the type of gargantuan numbers we expected against this LSU team, but he’s still a Heisman front-runner, if only because it is a quarterback and running back’s trophy and for now, he’s the best quarterback or running back in the sport. And no, DeVonta Smith winning to give wide receivers their first Heisman trophy in 30-plus years doesn’t change the reality that in all likelihood, a quarterback or running back will win.
Should that be the case? Well, in the SEC this season, 2 players have a better claim to the Heisman — if it is really about the “Most Outstanding” college football player.
2. Jordan Davis, DT (Georgia)
Davis is absolutely a candidate for the Heisman Trophy and SEC Player of the Year, or at least he should be, if the award is really about the best “player.” At a minimum, let’s get the big fellow to the ceremony, OK?
Jordan Davis is a force of nature 😤 pic.twitter.com/m76ZHpnWhe
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 20, 2021
Kirby Smart isn’t wrong, and it’s the fact Davis is immoveable that makes him such a schematic problem. He doesn’t have to make tackles to make an impact: He occupies 2 to 3 blockers — and the imagination of offensive coordinators — which frees up one of Georiga’s 2,176 5-stars to make a play. That he is also a 6-6, 340-pound freak of an athlete who runs like a middle linebacker is only part of why he’s college football’s most unsolvable problem. He’s just not quite the best defensive player in the SEC — at least this week.
1. Will Anderson, LB (Alabama)
Anderson continues to eat. And while the “race” for No. 1 in this spot will continue to be close, it’s tough to ignore the eye-opening numbers being put up by the Crimson Tide linebacker. After his 8-tackle, 1.5-sack performance against Tennessee, Anderson leads the nation in sacks (8.5), tackles for loss (16.5) and quarterback pressures (41!!).
Do defenses scheme around Anderson, as they try to do with Georgia’s Jordan Davis? To the extent you can scheme around a linebacker who lines up all over the place, maybe. But the bottom line is Anderson plays more snaps than Davis and while his numbers are always going to look better due to the position he plays, it’s just difficult to rank a player leading the nation in 3 impact-making categories behind a defensive tackle who ranks 6th on his team in sacks and 5th in tackles for loss.
I wrote last week that while I don’t have a Heisman vote, I will vote for either Anderson or Davis as SEC Defensive Player of the Year when the time comes. This week, Anderson has my ballot.