Predicting the team MVP for every SEC West team this spring
Quick question. What’s tougher: Trying to wrest the SEC West crown from Alabama this year or predicting the spring MVP for each team in the division?
We’ll go with attempting to dethrone the Crimson Tide because of the players returning for Alabama in 2016 and the fact that Nick Saban has reeled in his sixth consecutive No. 1 recruiting class.
But we still have to address each school’s spring scenarios and predict the players who will make the biggest impact this month and beyond. On a team-by-team basis, here’s a look at who we think will stand out:
Take a look at this veritable Who’s Who list: WR Calvin Ridley, LB Reuben Foster, DE Jonathan Allen, TE O.J. Howard, OT Cam Robinson and DB Minkah Fitzpatrick are all coming back, to name a few.
Bo Scarbrough and Damien Harris will probably share carries in the battle to replace to Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry at running back. Cooper Bateman, who started in Bama’s only loss of 2015, and Blake Barnett will compete to replace starting QB Jacob Coker, and based on recent comments from former Crimson Tide DB Cyrus Jones, we’ll give the more experienced Bateman the nod.
“I’d probably say Cooper,” Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He’s a little bit older. I think that gives him a little edge.”
Bateman should get most of the snaps to start the spring, but don’t be surprised if Barnett battles him through right up until A-Day on April 16. As for MVP? Allen is a safe bet.
After losing several key players, the Razorbacks have plenty of openings to fill, particularly on offense.
The spring will sort out the quarterback competition and running back rotation.
But we see LB Dre Greenlaw, who led all SEC freshmen with 95 tackles last season, taking another big step and earning spring MVP.
The early departures of RB Peyton Barber and offensive linemen Avery Young and Shon Coleman to the NFL will hurt. And the QB situation involving returnees Jeremy Johnson and Sean White and incoming challengers John Franklin III and Woody Barrett remains a muddled huddle.
Despite that uncertainty, Jovon Robinson will go into spring camp as the Tigers’ presumed No. 1 tailback, but all eyes should be on someone else. Look for Carl Lawson, under new coordinator Kevin Steele, to finally stay healthy and have a spring and regular season that were projected for him as a five-star recruit in 2013.
RB Leonard Fournette, QB Brandon Harris and WRs Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural are all key returnees on offense. The same can be said of LB Kendell Beckwith, S Jamal Adams and CB Tre’Davious White.
But the Tiger who could make the biggest impact is DE Arden Key, who had 41 tackles – 5.5 for loss – as a freshman and should be able to do even more under new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
Replacing Dak Prescott at QB is obviously the biggest issue, and Nick Fitzgerald, Elijah Staley and Damian Williams, who redshirted last season, will compete for the starting nod. Early NFL Draft entrant De’Runnya Wilson is another huge loss on offense, but the return of fellow wideouts Fred Brown and Fred Ross offsets that loss.
In a dream scenario, one of the quarterbacks steals the show this spring.
A more likely scenario is LB Richie Brown, who had a team-best 109 tackles and 6.5 sacks in 2015, asserts even more leadership this spring and beyond.
Chad Kelly is such an obvious MVP pick we’ll disqualify him, even though he’ll be without No. 1 WR Laquon Treadwell and OT Laremy Tunsil. Senior safeties Mike Hilton and Trae Elston also have to be replaced, but the return of defensive back Tony Conner from a season-ending knee injury would be a major boost.
With Ole Miss still looking to establish more of a running game, look for a receiver to emerge this spring. After hauling in 36 catches for 503 yards and 5 TDs last season, Damore’ea Stringfellow will battle Quincy Adeboyejo and others to replace Treadwell as the go-to target. Expect Stringfellow to have a huge spring.
The Aggies’ QB mess has been well-documented, and returnee Jake Hubenak and Oklahoma graduate transfer Trevor Knight will compete for the starting spot. Incumbent WRs Christian Kirk and Josh Reynolds will definitely help the starter.
Texas A&M also boasts two of the best defensive players in the SEC in DE Myles Garrett and S Armani Watts. But the guy to watch is Daeshon Hall, who tied for sixth in the conference with 14.5 tackles for loss and added seven sacks in 2015, who appears ready to have an even bigger year.