Predicting every SEC team's offensive MVP for 2020
I’m going to do my best not to be boring here.
Boring for a column like this one is just picking all the quarterbacks and predicting that they’ll be the most valuable player on their respective offense. It’s the default answer, and understandably so. After all, it’s the most valuable position on the field.
But not every quarterback makes the same impact. It wouldn’t be right to say that an All-American offensive lineman is less valuable than a middle-of-the-pack quarterback. At least I don’t think it would.
So, with that in mind, let’s try and predict who will be each SEC team’s most valuable player in 2020:
Alabama — Najee Harris, RB
While debate rages on about the quarterback situation in Tuscaloosa, I’ll roll with the guy who figures to be making plays regardless of who the starting signal-caller is. Harris really showed down the stretch why he’s capable of being the next great Alabama back, and he doesn’t necessarily need a Derrick Henry-level workload to get there. Trey Sanders will certainly share some of the production. Harris can still be his dominant self without Steve Sarkisian’s offense changing much. While I wouldn’t bet on Harris to have a Heisman Trophy-type season, there’s plenty of reason to believe he saved his best for last.
Arkansas — Rakeem Boyd, RB
I promise that this won’t be all running backs, but how do I not go with Boyd? Over the past 2 years, he’s somewhat quietly been one of the SEC’s better backs. While I have some slight reservations about his ceiling in Kendal Briles’ offense, Boyd looks like the safest bet of any Arkansas player to make an All-SEC team by season’s end. I think Boyd’s decision to return was because of the likely scenario that he wanted to play behind a Sam Pittman-coached offensive line. A 1,300-yard season doesn’t sound too far-fetched for the guy who somehow averaged 6 yards per carry in Chad Morris’ offense.
Auburn — Seth Williams, WR
Speaking of Morris, I’m not aboard the Bo Nix hype train, or really the Auburn offensive hype train as a whole. I am, however, a big believer that Williams can be a first-team All-SEC receiver. That’s saying a lot considering how talented the position is in the SEC this year. He has the benefit of playing alongside the fastest man in college football, Anthony Schwartz, who should once again demand plenty of defensive attention. I like the prospect of Williams getting a lot of single-coverage looks on the outside, which is where he’s at his absolute best.
Seth Williams goes up and gets it💪 pic.twitter.com/dXfHolbWpH
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 24, 2020
With the concerns about the inexperience on the offensive line, we see a rare instance in which a receiver proves to be the most valuable player in a Gus Malzahn offense.
Florida — Kyle Trask, QB
Yes, I’m a Trask believer. Yes, I understand Emory Jones’ skill set might be a more natural fit in Dan Mullen’s offense. Yes, I also understand that Trask didn’t excel throwing the deep ball last year. But I believe there’s still more potential than most are saying. I think the Trask doubters would be talking about him differently had he come in as a 4-star quarterback instead of the guy who hadn’t started a football game since 9th grade (that’s the new “Jake Bentley started college early” thing). Trask is set up for an even bigger 2020 with what should be a much better offensive line around him, and still plenty of capable weapons with Kyle Pitts, Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney.
Georgia — George Pickens, WR
Let me first say that I realize this is a bit of a hedge. Personally, I think Jamie Newman will be the guy. I like the potential of him in Todd Monken’s offense, which is going to prioritize the downfield passing game much more than Georgia fans are used to. But in the event that Newman has some rough moments — something that would be totally understandable given his new surroundings — Pickens could still be the steady weapon who produces no matter what. While I still think he has room to improve as a route-runner, Monken should scheme him some bigger windows to do what he does best — make NFL-level plays that leave us wanting more.
Kentucky — Landon Young, OT
I almost, almost, almost went with Terry Wilson here. I do believe that if he stays healthy, he has “breakout SEC star” written all over him. But let’s go with Young, who figures to play a big role in keeping Wilson upright. The senior already established himself as one of the better offensive tackles in college football last year. Let’s not forget he was also a year removed from that season-ending knee injury. I expect him to be even better in 2020, and especially with an increased emphasis on the passing game. As great as that Kentucky offensive line is with Drake Jackson and Darian Kinnard, Young’s time to shine is now.
LSU — Ja’Marr Chase, WR
Um, yeah, this is pretty obvious, right? I can be a Myles Brennan believer while also thinking Chase’s production can dip slightly … and still think that Chase will be the offense’s most valuable player. Steve Ensminger isn’t going to shake things up after LSU’s historic offensive season. This offense will still prioritize scheming receivers open and providing massive throwing windows for Chase to catch slants that end up being 60-yard touchdowns. Chase’s route-running took a massive step forward in 2019. Even with Justin Jefferson gone — Racey McMath is all sorts of intriguing in the slot — the Tigers are loaded with plenty of capable pass-catching options that should prevent Chase from getting bracketed on a weekly basis. His ability to make plays when things break down will always make him an elite receiver:
Joe Burrow ➡️ Ja’Marr Chase
Picking up right where they left off. pic.twitter.com/2RvpORvKxG
— ESPN (@espn) November 17, 2019
MSU — K.J. Costello, QB
I bet you didn’t think it’d take me until the 8th team on this list to get to the 2nd quarterback. It’d be weird if the quarterback in Mike Leach’s offense didn’t win offensive MVP honors. With all due respect to Garrett Shrader, Costello was brought in to throw the ball 50 times per game. It’s as simple as that. That’s why despite the fact that Kylin Hill is easily the best player returning on MSU, it doesn’t make sense to pencil him in as the team MVP. He’ll be used much more in the passing game than he was last year when the priority became keeping him healthy enough to get 20-25 carries per contest. If we’ve learned anything from Leach the past 2 decades, it’s that Costello is the best bet to lead the SEC in passing because of the volume.
Mizzou — Shawn Robinson, QB
As tempting as it is to go with Larry Rountree III here, I think Tyler Badie eats into his workload. I’m also a little worried about those subpar yards after first contact numbers from Rountree last year. I’ll go with Eli Drinkwitz’s first quarterback being the offensive MVP in Year 1. I say that even though I’m skeptical of how Robinson, the former TCU transfer, is going to be used in a system that demands a lot of the position. In this weird offseason, it probably would’ve been nice for Robinson to get a full workload. But he’s got a group of receivers who have more potential than people realize (buy your Damon Hazelton Jr. stock now), and Drinkwitz’s track record with quarterbacks bodes well.
Ole Miss — John Rhys Plumlee, QB
In a weird way, it’s probably safer to pick Jerrion Ealy or Elijah Moore to be the MVP of Lane Kiffin’s first offense. If there’s a true quarterback battle in Oxford, both should still be in line for plenty of production. But I’m a Plumlee believer, and I’m a believer that Kiffin is going to maximize his skill set. Kiffin always says his best accomplishment is that he helped produce 5 conference titles with 5 starting quarterbacks. We could see some 2016 Alabama in 2020 Ole Miss. Plumlee can be what Jalen Hurts was to that offense when he was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year. Plumlee’s throwing ability still limits his upside, but with Kiffin in his corner, he becomes even more electric in 2020.
South Carolina — Marshawn Lloyd, RB
Wait a minute. A valuable South Carolina running back? What does that even look like these days? South Carolina hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Mike Davis in 2013. Consider that all the more reason why Lloyd will stand out as a true freshman. Because of his age and skill set, Gamecocks fans are already hoping he can be the second coming of Marcus Lattimore. Lloyd, who just missed being a 5-star recruit, has as good a chance as any to separate himself from his backfield competition. South Carolina returns 4 starters on the offensive line for a ground game that simply has to be better under new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. With all eyes on Ryan Hilinski, Lloyd will provide some much-needed excitement in Columbia.
Tennessee — Eric Gray, RB
Speaking of young running backs who should become household names, Gray is in line for a significant uptick in work in 2020. That’s partially because of the loss of Tim Jordan, but it’s also because Tennessee is finally capable of bullying teams with its offensive line, especially if Georgia transfer Cade Mays is eligible. The quarterback situation is a total mystery, which points to Jim Chaney relying on Gray like he did down the stretch last year. The Gator Bowl MVP has the home-run play ability that’s been lacking in the Tennessee offense the past 3 years. He’s an intriguing candidate to lead the league in carries and earn All-SEC honors.
Eric Gray with the Kelsey Finch. Second-longest run in Tennessee history.
Vols freshman tailback had just 207 yards and zero TDs coming into today’s game.
Has 171 yards and two scores already in first half vs. Vandy. pic.twitter.com/y6EfPvFR5l
— Jesse Simonton (@JesseReSimonton) November 30, 2019
Texas A&M — Kellen Mond, QB
Whether you’re pro-Mond or anti-Mond, one thing seems obvious: Jimbo Fisher puts a ton on his quarterbacks. Even when Mond hasn’t been at an All-SEC level, he still averaged nearly 30 touchdowns and over 3,400 scrimmage yards the past 2 years with Fisher. That’s been with 2 schedules that were far more challenging than the 2020 slate. Mond has more ways to beat you than any SEC quarterback, which we saw in the Texas Bowl when the Aggies abandoned the passing game and let him take over with his legs. Does he have to improve his decision-making to become a more efficient passer? Absolutely. But is he still in position to have as big a season as anyone in that offense? Definitely.
Vanderbilt — Keyon Brooks, RB
It’s easy to forget that Vanderbilt had a 1,000-yard rusher in 4 of the past 5 seasons. The guy responsible for 2 of those 1,000-yard seasons, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, is now off to the NFL. Brooks has the best chance of stepping in and providing that big-play ability that Vanderbilt desperately needs. We got a little glimpse into the future in that regular-season finale when Brooks got 18 touches for 104 scrimmage yards against that solid Tennessee defense. And without really having any idea what new offensive coordinator Todd Fitch will want to work with at the quarterback situation, it seems like Brooks is the best bet to be consistently good in this new-look offense.