With spring practice in the books, we now have a decent feel for most SEC teams. Sure, a fall newcomer could step in dominate or a graduate transfer might prove to be the missing piece to the puzzle, but for the most part, the rosters are set.
September is still months away, but last season and this spring gives us enough to take a stab at predicting each team’s MVP for the 2018 season.
Alabama – RB Najee Harris
Sure, it would be tempting to go with the National Championship Game MVP, Tua Tagovailoa. While Tagovailoa had the heroics, he wasn’t the only Alabama freshman with a breakout performance that night. Najee Harris was Bama’s leading rusher, carrying the ball 6 times for 64 yards.
Granted that going with a running back, it’s hard to pass up a returning 1,000-yard rusher (Damien Harris), but Najee Harris, is a special talent. There’s always a learning curve for freshmen, but as a sophomore, there’s no reason to think he won’t take the next step.
If he gets enough touches, he should establish himself as Alabama’s next great running back.
Arkansas – LB Dre Greenlaw
In three years, Greenlaw has established himself as one of the SEC’s top defenders. After an injury-shortened sophomore season, Greenlaw put up career numbers in 2017 as a junior. The press on Greenlaw out of Fayetteville this spring was overwhelmingly positive.
It’s been an up-and-down career for the senior Hogs, but Greenlaw has the good fortune of playing for one of the sport’s most-respected defensive coordinators, John Chavis, in his final season. Greenlaw’s year-to-year growth and Chavis’ coaching should make for a memorable senior campaign.
Auburn – QB Jarrett Stidham
He was hyped at Auburn from Day 1 of his arrival from Baylor. And then he… actually lived up to the hype.
No one player wins a division title, but it’s hard to argue Stidham wasn’t the biggest factor in turning the Tigers from a mediocre 8-5 squad in 2016 to winning the SEC West in 2017.
Stidham threw for 3,158 yards at 8.5 yards per attempt with a 18-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his sophomore season. With last year’s 1,391-yard rusher, Kerryon Johnson, now in the NFL, expect AU to lean on Stidham even more in 2018.
Florida – RB Jordan Scarlett
The 2016 season might feel like forever ago, but it was a time when Scarlett looked to be on the verge of becoming a household name. For his career, Scarlett averages just over 5 yards per carry. Solid production, but hardly head-turning in the SEC.
Advance stats, however, show Scarlett forces missed tackles, is hard to bring down and gains a high percentage of his yards after contact. With no obvious solution at the quarterback spot, Dan Mullen and Co. are lucky to have an established feature back ready to take the next step.
Georgia – QB Jake Fromm
While sharing the backfield with two 1,000-yard rushers last season, Fromm was only asked to throw 19.4 passes per game. He will be asked to do more as a sophomore, but all stats indicate Georgia fans need not worry.
While Fromm’s attempts were on the low side for a 14-game starter, he posted a completion percentage of 62.2 percent at an average of 9 yards per attempt and a 24-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Let’s not forget he was also rated the No. 3 pro-style passer of the 2017 recruiting class by 247Sports. He didn’t earn that ranking for handing off.
It’s Georgia’s turn to defend the SEC crown. With Fromm leading the way, the Bulldogs have every reason to plan on returning to Atlanta.
Kentucky – RB Benny Snell Jr.
Entering his junior season, Snell has the chance of becoming a three-time 1,000-yard rusher. If Snell makes the gains on the ground, he’ll be able to join SEC greats Herschel Walker, Darren McFadden, Kevin Faulk, Alex Collins and Nick Chubb in their exclusive club.
(It’s important to acknowledge that Alabama’s Damien Harris can also join the three-time 1,000-yard season club in 2018. The Najee Harris MVP prediction, however, still stands.)
Put simply, if Kentucky is going to get back to a bowl game, Snell will lead the way.
LSU – CB Andraez “Greedy” Williams
SEC quarterbacks will certainly agree that “Greedy” is a fitting nickname for Williams. In his redshirt freshman season, he racked up a conference-leading 6 interceptions. Now that he has everyone’s attention, Williams (cover photo) is being talked about as a potential first-round pick for 2019.
LSU has big holes to fill on offense, so expect Williams and the defense to carry the Tigers this fall.
Mississippi State – QB Nick Fitzgerald
On defense, MSU returns the SEC co-leader in sacks and tackles for loss, Montez Sweat, as well as conference co-leader in interceptions, Mark McLaurin. On offense, Aeris Williams is back after rushing for 1,107 yards. The roster is stacked with star players, but Fitzgerald will be the team’s MVP.
Fitzgerald enters his third season as the starter and new coach Joe Moorhead isn’t afraid to dream big with his quarterback, bringing up a conference championship and a Heisman Trophy right off the bat. Fitzgerald showed he can be a 1,000-yard rusher under Mullen and now Moorhead is molding him as a deep-ball passer. The result should be a record-setting year for Fitzgerald.
Missouri – QB Drew Lock
There’s no need to get cute here, Lock is the obvious choice for Mizzou MVP. With the change at offensive coordinator from Josh Heupel to Derek Dooley, Lock might not be putting up 3,964 passing yards again this year, but it would be foolish to dismiss those numbers as simply a product of the scheme. In fact, Dooley is the one likely to benefit the most from this pairing.
Lock is a bona fide top-notch passer and a multi-year starter in the SEC. The Tigers are a long-shot in the SEC East, but anything is possible with a veteran starting quarterback and play-making receivers.
Ole Miss – WR A.J. Brown
Some Florida fans are predicting a big season from former Ole Miss WR Van Jefferson. The reason the Rebels won’t miss the transfer wideout in 2018 is because A.J. Brown will be back.
All Brown did in 2017 was average 104.3 receiving yards per game. For many wideouts, 100 yards can be considered a career game. Brown had six games in the triple digits last season. As long as QB Jordan Ta’amu can get him the ball, Brown should put up MVP numbers.
South Carolina – WR Deebo Samuel
As a receiver, runner and returner, Samuel is electric with the ball in his hands. He only played in three games for South Carolina due to injuries, but still scored 6 touchdowns. It’s hard to find a better definition of MVP than “put the ball in his hands and good things happen.” Samuel makes things simple for South Carolina – more touches means more production.
Tennessee – WR Jauan Jennings
It’s hard to outshine Josh Dobbs, but after Jennings’ famous burn of Florida CB Teez Tabor and Hail Mary heroics against Georgia in 2016, this might be considered a repeat bid as Tennessee MVP. Jennings missed most of the 2017 season, but he was back with the Vols this spring.
Marquez Callaway stepped up last season, but when Jennings is on the field, he is the offense’s true playmaker. There were too many issues to list with last year’s Tennessee squad, but missing Jennings was certainly near the top of the list.
Texas A&M – RB Trayveon Williams
Not to overlook returning co-SEC sack leader DE Landis Durham (10.5) and standout LB Tyrel Dodson, but this is the first season of the Jimbo Fisher Era and the MVP will come on the offensive side of the ball.
Williams has the size and speed to be a premier SEC ball-carrier, but also look for Fisher to get his running back more involved in the passing game.
Vanderbilt – QB Kyle Shurmur
As was the case with picking Lock for Missouri’s MVP, you simply don’t overlook veteran multi-year starting quarterbacks. Shurmur has arguably been under-appreciated at Vanderbilt with most of the spotlight going to former running back Ralph Webb.
Shurmur threw for 2,823 yards last season. With NFL scouts watching closely, he’ll be gunning for 3,000 yards this fall.