Saturday Down South's Preseason All-SEC Team for 2017
One of the things I’ll be asked to do next week at Media Days is turn in my preseason selections for All-SEC.
RELATED: Way-too-early look at SEC East
But I’m ready to submit my ballot now, so that’s one less task I need to concern myself with while at the Wynfrey Hotel. Even with 12 named called in Round 1 and 53 choices overall in the latest NFL Draft, the best conference in America is loaded.
On offense, 11 of 14 programs return a quarterback who started at least three games in 2016. The depth at running back is unmatched by any other league, so some really talented ones are destined for honorable-mention status. If there’s one position that needs to step it up a notch after last season’s defections, it’s tight end.
As for the defense, there are pass rushers aplenty off the edge. While the linebackers and cornerbacks lack some of the star power we saw a year ago, there is an abundance of standout safeties with All-American ability and first-round potential.
RELATED: Way-too-early look at SEC West
Here is Saturday Down South’s Preseason All-SEC Team for 2017. This is exactly how I’ll fill in the blanks in Hoover.
Jalen Hurts, Alabama
There’s no reason to overcomplicate things at the game’s most important position. Hurts is the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year, and he was only a true freshman last season. He’s already a devastating runner in the open field. Should he become more consistent with his arm, then the Crimson Tide are all the more scary.
Honorable Mention: Austin Allen, Arkansas
Derrius Guice, LSU
The conference’s leader rusher in 2016, Guice is ready to explode this season with Leonard Fournette no longer standing in his way. He makes the most of every attempt, pacing the league in yards per carry each of the last two years.
Nick Chubb, Georgia
Probably not 100 percent this past season considering the severity of the knee injury he suffered in 2015, Chubb should be much healthier in 2017. When he’s right, he dishes out more punishment than he receives and delivers a lot of chunk runs.
Honorable Mention: Benny Snell, Kentucky
Calvin Ridley, Alabama
With ArDarius Stewart and O.J. Howard now in the pros, Ridley will be the focus of the ‘Bama passing attack more than ever. Hurts has enough arm to target Ridley deep down the field, where he adjusts to the ball in flight beautifully.
J’Mon Moore, Missouri
One of only two 1,000-yard receivers in the SEC a year ago, Moore is once again the No. 1 option for Drew Lock. Second-year coordinator Josh Heupel will design his up-tempo attack to get Moore the pigskin early and often.
Honorable Mention: Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
Hayden Hurst, South Carolina
Not only is Howard gone, but so is Evan Engram. The stage is set for Hurst to become the conference’s premier tight end. Engram was the only player in the league at the position with more catches in 2016 than Hurst’s 48. It took him a little while to get on the same page as Jake Bentley, but he was a force in the bowl game.
Honorable Mention: Isaac Nauta, Georgia
Will Clapp, LSU
There’s a reason why Guice has so many holes to run through in Baton Rouge. Clapp was a Freshman All-American in 2015 and continues to improve.
Martez Ivey, Florida
Already an All-SEC contributor at guard, Ivey will now move back to his natural spot at tackle. Chances are, he’ll be even better.
Frank Ragnow, Arkansas
Because he’s such a top athlete in the trenches, Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema has toyed with the idea of giving Ragnow some additional snaps on defense, too.
Braden Smith, Auburn
Like the aforementioned Ivey, Smith made a name for himself at the collegiate level playing guard. He’s kicking outside to tackle, as well.
Jonah Williams, Alabama
A Freshman All-American in 2016 at right tackle, Williams will flip to the left side and take over for Outland Trophy winner Cam Robinson.
Honorable Mention: Martinas Rankin, Mississippi State
Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
On offense, Samuel is the primary weapon for Bentley through the air and was nothing short of unstoppable in the Birmingham Bowl with 14 catches for 190 yards and a touchdown. And then on special teams, he was given a chance to return kicks in November and averaged 26.9 yards on 16 attempts with a TD.
Honorable Mention: Antonio Callaway, Florida
Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
With Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson now suiting up on Sunday, Payne looks like the next great defensive lineman in Tuscaloosa.
Trenton Thompson, Georgia
A playmaker at what is typically not a play-making position, Thompson destroys the ground game and can also rush the passer quite well.
Arden Key, LSU
The best pure pass rusher in the league, the pressure is on Key to be more productive than ever with so many fresh faces around him.
Marcell Frazier, Missouri
No longer second banana to the departed Charles Harris, Frazier is a candidate for double-digit sacks on a defense that must make strides.
Honorable Mention: Jabari Zuniga, Florida
Jordan Jones, Kentucky
A sure tackler, Jones was one of only six defenders in the SEC to cross triple digits a season ago. Nobody had more solo stops than his 74.
Skai Moore, South Carolina
For three years, he was the leading tackler for the Gamecocks. A medical redshirt sidelined him for 2016, but Moore is ready to resume his role.
Roquan Smith, Georgia
Another sound tackler, Smith shouldn’t have to shed too many blocks with Thompson wreaking so much havoc in front of him.
Honorable Mention: Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama
Duke Dawson, Florida
The Gators have been nasty at corner in recent years with the likes of Vernon Hargreaves, Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson. Dawson continues the tradition.
Donte Jackson, LSU
The Tigers, of course, have just as much claim to the moniker “DBU” as Florida does. Jackson is now their top cover man with Tre’Davious White gone.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Pulley, Arkansas
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Able to play corner, safety and nickel, Fitzpatrick is the ultimate 21st century defensive back. Not only can he throw a blanket on receivers, but he has pillow-soft hands and a nose for the end zone once he picks off a pass.
Ronnie Harrison, Alabama
A heat-seeking missile upon locating the football, Harrison is one of the hardest hitters in the SEC and plays with unmatched enthusiasm. Don’t doubt his ball skills, though. He scored twice in 2016, one off an INT and the other off a fumble.
Honorable Mention: Dominick Sanders, Georgia
Daniel Carlson, Auburn
Carlson is the best kicker in the conference, and he might be the best in the country. His 28 field goals last season were six more than anybody else. He can also just about eliminate the opponent’s return game, as 57 of his 72 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. The Tigers allowed only one kick return of 30-plus yards.
Honorable Mention: Eddy Pineiro, Florida
Johnny Townsend, Florida
Averaging 47.9 yards per punt a year ago, Townsend led the nation in that category. Considering how inept the Gators have been offensively during his tenure, they needed every inch of that average in order to help flip field position. Only once in 13 games did his average dip below 44.4, which is remarkably consistent.
Honorable Mention: JK Scott, Alabama
Evan Berry, Tennessee
Despite an average of 32.9 yards, he actually didn’t lead the SEC in kick-return average since he failed to have enough tries to qualify. Berry is a known commodity for the Volunteers, so coaches go out of their way to keep the rock out of his hands. On only 35 returns the last two seasons, he’s scored four times.
Honorable Mention: Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
Similar to Berry, Kirk didn’t have the required attempts to be recognized as the conference leader in punt-return average last year. His average of 21.7 yards was nothing short of stunning and would’ve been the best in America by a wide margin if opponents weren’t so terrified of him. Five of his 27 career returns have turned into points on the board.
Honorable Mention: Johnathon Johnson, Missouri