Ranking the top 10 SEC players through the first 4 weeks of 2019
Yes, the season is young. We’re only 4 weeks in, and despite the reactions of some, their team’s 2019 destiny has not been determined yet.
The same could be said for the All-SEC team.
Anyone can get off to a hot start, but doing it over the course of a 12-game regular season is a different story. Having said that, we don’t have a 12-game sample size yet. All we have are those 4 weeks (I guess it’s technically 5 weeks if we want to include Week 0).
So with the sample size we’ve been given, I tried to come up with the SEC’s top 10 players so far. That’s based entirely on what we’ve seen in 2019, regardless of preseason buzz. Though I’ll admit, plenty of these guys were on the radar in the preseason.
Here’s my 10 best SEC players of 2019 (so far):
10. J.R. Reed, Georgia S
Kirby Smart admitted after the Notre Dame game that Reed “bailed out” the Georgia defense on multiple occasions. One of those was this incredible interception that proved to be the pivotal play in a game with huge Playoff implications:
J.R. REED @Jr_Reed1 is the BEST SAFETY in the world!!!
— HRKK (Hiro Katsuki) (@KatsukiFB) September 22, 2019
The senior captain earned SEC Defensive Player of the Week was targeted 5 times and allowed just 2 catches for 18 yards on Saturday (via Pro Football Focus). On the year, Reed has 18 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss and he took a fumble back for a touchdown against Murray State. He’s been the best player on a defense that ranks:
- No. 4 in scoring
- No. 11 in total defense
- No. 18 in passing efficiency defense
- No. 26 in third down defense
Smart is counting his lucky stars to have a senior like Reed on the back end of his defense.
9. Kylin Hill, Mississippi State RB
I knew Hill was going to be good this year, but I’d be lying if I said I thought he’d be No. 2 in rushing among Power 5 running backs through 4 games. Hill leads the SEC in rushing by 143 yards despite the fact that MSU’s quarterback situation has been in flux. That’s even with Hill’s longest run of the year going for just 22 yards. That speaks to his consistency picking up chunks of yards. He’s averaging 150 scrimmage yards per contest, which is more than any non-quarterback in the SEC.
The one thing I was certain of coming into 2019? A healthy Hill was going to be a fun — and productive — thing to watch in Joe Moorhead’s system.
8. Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina DT
I know, I know. South Carolina is 1-3 and is ranked No. 82 in the country in scoring defense. But that’s not by any stretch the fault of Kinlaw, who has done everything in his power to get in backfields. He’s tied for the SEC lead with 4 sacks having recorded 1 in every game so far. He was part of the reason Alabama’s streak of 69 consecutive games with 100 rushing yards ended. For all the frustration that Gamecock fans have felt this year, Kinlaw hasn’t been the source of any of that. He’s rising up draft boards in a hurry. At least he should be.
7. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama WR/Justin Jefferson, LSU WR
It’s a copout to take multiple players, but I had to include both guys. Jeudy has an SEC-best 404 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. The dude is a video game. The only — and I mean “only” — knock on Jeudy is that he hasn’t had that “take the top off the defense” play yet in 2019.
Jefferson has just been lights out catching anything and everything from Joe Burrow, including what’s arguably the play of the year so far in the SEC:
On 3rd-and-17 in the 4th quarter, Joe Burrow and Justin Jefferson did THIS. pic.twitter.com/uf95gKNdAp
— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) September 8, 2019
That’s why I gave him the nod over Ja’Marr Chase, who went off against Vanderbilt while Jefferson suffered an ankle injury in Saturday’s contest (Ed Orgeron said he’d be fine). But through 4 games, Jefferson ranks 8th among Power 5 receivers in total yards and he’s averaging 18.7 yards per catch. Few in the country are better than he is.
6. Trevon Diggs, Alabama CB
For someone who Alabama missed a ton down the stretch last year, you can bet this promising start was exactly what Diggs was thinking about all offseason. I know making big-time plays against the likes of Duke and Southern Miss won’t make an Alabama player an All-American, but my goodness this is impressive:
Trevon Diggs with perfect man coverage playing from the slot and an interception as a result.
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) September 21, 2019
Diggs has 2 interceptions, 12 tackles and he recovered a fumble in that stellar opening week performance had against Duke. He’s a key reason Alabama is No. 3 in the country in passing yards per completion allowed and No. 10 in yards per pass attempt against. And he’s drawing rave reviews as a captain on a defense that was in need of an alpha this year. Perhaps even more important, he’s playing like someone who’s set on becoming Alabama’s next All-American DB.
5. Andrew Thomas, Georgia OT
Heading into the Notre Dame game, Thomas was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded FBS lineman overall, and he was No. 1 as a run blocker. In case you didn’t see Thomas against Notre Dame, here’s what he did:
Lift off courtesy UGA tackle Andrew Thomas 71 red pic.twitter.com/l9zjmWeYIv
— Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) September 22, 2019
Georgia is ranked 3rd in the country with 6.93 yards per rush, and Thomas is a big reason why. On top of that, he protected Jake Fromm’s blind side exceptionally well so far. Georgia is one of 2 Power 5 teams to have only allowed 1 sack this year. Big old No. 71 is a huge part of that.
4. Jonathan Greenard, Florida Edge
What if I told Florida fans during the preseason that the defense would be without C.J. Henderson and Jabari Zuniga for the first 2 games of SEC play? You would have been scared. Real scared. Well, fear not. Y’all are 4-0 with a top 10 defense thanks in large part to Greenard. The Louisville grad transfer has been the team’s most valuable player of the young season. Through 4 games, he has 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble and he defended 3 passes. He’s so much more than just a pass-rushing edge. He defends the run, he can cover in space and he seems to have a nose for the ball.
Between Greenard, David Reese and Jeremiah Moon, the Florida front 7 has been all sorts of productive even without Zuniga the past 2 games.
3. Marlon Davidson, Auburn DL
The best non-offensive player in the SEC so far has been Davidson. He won consecutive SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week awards for recording multiple tackles for loss against Tulane and Kent State, including a 2.5-sack performance against Kent State. He’s been an absolute force for an Auburn defense that ranks No. 23 in scoring despite the fact that it already had matchups away from home against Justin Herbert and Kellen Mond. The Tigers rank No. 20 against the run, too. That’s with Derrick Brown getting off to a relatively slow start.
Davidson does way more than just block kicks. He’s a star on an elite defensive line that’s been the heart and soul of an emerging Auburn squad. The senior is going to be a nightmare for SEC offensive lines to slow down.
2. Joe Burrow, LSU QB
It’s hard to play the quarterback position much better than Burrow has so far. He played in 4 games and this is where he ranks in FBS:
- 1st in completion percentage (80.6%)
- 2nd in passing yards (1,520)
- 2nd in passing TDs (17)
- 2nd in yards per attempt (12.26)
That’s for someone who already played 2 Power 5 teams in true road games, too. There’s no more improved player in the country than Burrow, and yes, part of that is Joe Brady’s system. Burrow thrives in this RPO-based system, and it helps that he’s got a loaded group of pass-catchers who are doing what Alabama’s wideouts did last year.
Burrow, who already surpassed his 2018 touchdown pass total, is on an absurd 13-game pace of 55 touchdown passes and 4,940 passing yards. The LSU defensive struggles will allow him to continue to rack up big numbers, but there’s no chance he continues that pace … right?
1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama QB
Tagovailoa is still good at football. How’s that for analysis? Sure, the competition hasn’t been anywhere near Alabama’s level, but he faced a pair of experienced Power 5 secondaries away from home, and he absolutely carved them up. Through 4 games, Tagovailoa is:
- 2nd in passing TDs (17)
- 3rd in passing efficiency (225.3)
- 4th in completion percentage (77.7%)
- 5th in passing yards (1,300)
Oh, and he hasn’t thrown an interception. He has 8 more incompletions than TD passes, which is also pretty good. It’s the comfortability that’s been most impressive. The guy has been surgical, and he’s done a much better job of not always going for the spectacular play. Credit Steve Sarkisian for getting on the same page with Tagovailoa early. With a new play-caller, Tagovailoa looks like the guy who took the sport by storm the first 2 months of last year.