Saturday Down South's SEC Player Value Rankings: Part II (Nos. 30-11)
Part II: Nos. 30-11
By John Crist
Much like the players we listed 50-31, the ones ranked 30-11 cover a wide range of positions and programs.
From true freshmen poised to make a bigger impact down the road to senior leaders looking to get one last shot at glory before realizing NFL dreams, real “value” in the SEC can be difficult to decipher at times.
Do you want one season from a renowned star, or two to three from a relative unknown yet to break through?
There are no correct answers. You know Arkansas senior Dan Skipper can give you an All-SEC performance at tackle in 2016, but Ole Miss freshman Gregory Little might be an All-American come 2017 and again in 2018.
While there may not be a specific formula for SDS’s Player Value Rankings, that’s what creates the debate.
If all goes well in Oxford this season, Patterson won’t take a meaningful snap.
He might not be getting as much offseason hype as Jacob Eason, who is expected to compete for the starting job right away at quarterback-starved Georgia, but Patterson was a five-star signee himself. The only difference is he’s currently sitting behind the SEC’s premier signal caller in Chad Kelly, not a milquetoast transfer like Greyson Lambert.
Ideally, Patterson watches from the sideline as Kelly challenges conference passing records, then the Rebels offense doesn’t skip a bit once the 6-foot-1, 193-pounder takes over in 2017.
Blame the quarterback trio of Lambert, Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta all you want, but the UGA receiving corps didn’t do much to help the aerial attack this past season, either. The only reliable receiver on the roster, Malcolm Mitchell, is now in the pros as a fourth-round draft pick.
Godwin is most likely the new primary target, no matter who lines up under center in Athens, although he averaged just 10.8 yards per reception as a freshman.
In his defense, Godwin was recruited as the proverbial “athlete,” not as a traditional wideout, so he was forced to learn on the job a year ago. His ability to run and throw on top of his developing skills as a pass catcher could make him quite dangerous once he gets more comfortable in the offense.
Possessing ideal size at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, Fitzpatrick already had a career day as a freshman last season against Texas A&M, intercepting two passes and returning both for touchdowns.
In all likelihood, he’s the premier coverage corner in Tuscaloosa through at least the 2017 campaign, meaning there is plenty of time for him to get even better.
The Gators waved goodbye to their two top sack artists from a year ago, as both Jonathan Bullard and Alex McCalister were drafted.
Jefferson finished tied for third on the team in sacks as a true freshman and flashed some unique traits at 6-foot-1 and 275 pounds. For his efforts, the SEC found a place for him on its all-freshman team.
This is a potential star in the making at a program that tends to produce its fair share of quality defensive linemen.
While he may only have one year of eligibility left, Reeves-Maybin is the heart and soul of a Volunteers defense that should show improvement in 2016.
Everything is lining up in the Vols’ favor this season. Their 17 returning starters are the most in the SEC East. The division as a whole is struggling to keep up with the loaded West. Three first-year coaches are in transition mode. If ever there was a time for UT to make its way back to Atlanta for the conference title game, this is it.
And if that does indeed happen, finally, expect Reeves-Maybin to be racking up double-digit tackles every step of the way.
Even though Michel eventually ran for 1,100-plus yards in 2015 following Nick Chubb’s knee injury at Tennessee, the Bulldogs weren’t nearly as explosive or efficient on the ground. First-year coach Kirby Smart is hopeful that Chubb is back to 100 percent and averaging 8.1 yards per carry, like he was up until that fateful day in Knoxville.
But if Chubb isn’t the same player he used to be, then at least Michel has already proven that he can be the primary ball carrier. Sometimes it takes a full two years for reconstructive knee surgery to truly do its thing, so Chubb is a bit of a question mark at this point.
Should Eason work his way into the starting lineup at quarterback, then Michel will be called upon that much more to help shoulder the load. The passing game is likely in the embryonic stage for a while.
The departed Robert Nkemdiche got the majority of the headlines for the Ole Miss defensive line this past year, for reasons on and off the field, even though Haynes was light years more productive. Each ended up on the all-conference team, but while Nkemdiche’s appearance was part reputation, Haynes fully earned his selection.
Haynes led the Rebels in sacks (10.0) and tackles for loss (16.5), plus he forced three fumbles and recovered another, topping Nkemdiche in those statistical categories.
The Commodores were second from the bottom in the SEC throwing the ball last year. Three quarterbacks combined to complete only 51.1 percent of their passes and throw more interceptions (16) than touchdowns (11).
Needless to say, Webb saw a whole bunch of stacked boxes.
But the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder still ran for 1,152 yards and made third-team all-conference alongside the aforementioned Michel. If Webb puts up a similar numbers in 2016, he’ll be Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher and yet still have a year of eligibility left.
Mizzou will be better offensively this season, but quarterback Drew Lock isn’t going to morph into the second coming of Chase Daniel overnight. If the Tigers want to return to a bowl game, then a stout defense must lead the way.
That means another strong performance from Harris, who was second-team All-SEC in 2015 on the strength of his 18.5 tackles for loss. Only Myles Garrett had more.
Just a junior, Harris is the leader of a defensive line in Columbia that could be really good for the next few seasons. Fellow end Walter Brady and tackle Terry Beckner Jr. — Nos. 38 and 36 on this list, respectively — are only sophomores.
A rangy defensive back at 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, Westry was ignored to some degree on the recruiting trail. According to the composite rankings at 247Sports for 2015, he was only a three-star signee, the No. 87 cornerback in the nation and No. 127 prospect overall in the talent-rich state of Florida.
However, right out of the gate, Westry started all 12 games, recorded two interceptions, tied for the team lead with eight passes broken up and topped the Wildcats with 10 passes defensed. He made the league’s all-freshman squad alongside the aforementioned Fitzpatrick, who was a five-star stud at the prep level.
The premier offensive tackle recruit in the country this past cycle, all indications suggest that Little will protect Kelly’s blind side right out of high school.
The comparisons to Laremy Tunsil are already there. While Tunsil was the subject of way too much drama during his time in Oxford, he was also a brick wall in the trenches and seemingly never allowed enemy pass rushers anywhere near his quarterback.
Little has that kind of ability, and he better show it quickly since the Rebels have to replace a lot of bodies from a year ago on the offensive side of the football.
While the Rebels can look forward to three or four years from Little, they’re still not sure exactly what they’ll get on game day.
The Razorbacks, on the other hand, can count on Skipper to be one of the more experienced and reliable blockers in the conference. Since the Hogs are transitioning under center from Brandon Allen to Austin Allen, airtight protection up front is a necessity.
Even if Skipper only has one season of eligibility left, it’s a sure bet that he’ll be worthy of All-SEC consideration once again.
The elder statesman of a Crimson Tide defensive backfield loaded with young talent, Jackson opted to return to Tuscaloosa instead of declaring a year early for the NFL Draft. He picked off six passes in 2015 — including one in the national championship game against Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson — and took two to the house.
If there’s a sure bet to be first-team All-SEC in the secondary this season, it’s Jackson.
Like Jackson, White could have gone to the pros following his junior campaign, but he’s back in Baton Rouge for one final turn as a collegian.
Don’t let the fact that he didn’t come up with an INT this past season fool you. White has terrific coverage skills and is also a sound tackler, registering multiple solo stops — not late-to-the-play assists — in eight games.
If he continues to mature and puts a few more key plays on tape, he could be the next Bayou Bengal defensive back selected in Round 1.
While he may not get nearly as much publicity as the aforementioned Garrett, who appears later on in the rankings, he’s equally productive behind enemy lines.
In just two seasons, the 6-foot-3, 257-pound Barnett has been credited with 20 sacks — 10 as a freshman, 10 more as a sophomore — and 33 tackles for loss. By comparison, Garrett has 24 and 33.5, respectively.
He won’t be in the conversation for No. 1 overall when next year’s draft gets here, like Garrett will, but he certainly has the look and feel of a first-round pick.
The Wildcats had trouble throwing the ball in 2015, as junior Patrick Towles was eventually benched in favor of freshman Drew Barker at QB.
But Williams, when healthy, was consistently productive on the ground. The Georgia native averaged a spectacular 7.1 yards per carry, which was better than LSU’s Leonard Fournette (6.5) despite inferior teammates.
With Towles no longer a part of the program and Barker fully in control of the huddle, expect Williams to be responsible for a much bigger workload. He needs to at least double the 121 attempts that he was given a year ago.
Even with Vandy’s anemic offense ranking second to last in the SEC in total yards per game last season, its defense finished a respectable sixth.
Just turn on the tape, and you’ll see Cunningham in the middle of the action play after play. He led the Commodores in most of the measurables that matter for a front-seven defender: tackles (103), tackles for loss (16.5), sacks (4.5), forced fumbles (4) and fumble recoveries (3).
Vanderbilt players don’t tend to enter the draft early, in part due to the invaluable education at their fingertips, so Cunningham should be the linchpin defensively for the ‘Dores through 2017.
If not for Callaway, there’s a good chance that the Tennessee breakthrough in the SEC East all the experts are predicting for this season would have happened a year ago.
Trailing the Volunteers 27-21 and facing 4th-and-14 with less than two minutes to go at The Swamp, Callaway found a soft spot in the secondary, reeled in a dart from Will Grier and then left three defenders in the dust — the result was a 63-yard touchdown and an improbable 28-27 Gators win.
That’s the kind of home-run ability Callaway brings to the table, both as a receiver and a punt returner.
A five-star recruit for the class of 2015 who had scholarship offers from every program in the country that matters, Thompson wasted no time making a name for himself in the SEC. His 25 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and half a sack as a freshman may not jump off the stat sheet, but 6-foot-4, 307-pounders like him — there aren’t many like him, though — aren’t about numbers.
Don’t be surprised if he totally dominates the line of scrimmage for the next two seasons before leaving Athens a year early to be drafted in Round 1.
It’s hard to imagine a running back who posted 1,277 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground being under the radar, but that was the case for Hurd last season in the SEC.
Derrick Henry won the Heisman in 2015. Fournette is the front-runner this year. Chubb was as electric as either before his knee injury. With Henry now a member of the Tennessee Titans, Fournette’s swan song and Chubb’s return are the top stories in the conference at the tailback position.
Joshua Dobbs is a proven dual-threat passer and Alvin Kamara is a quality ball carrier himself off the bench, but the Vols are at their best when Hurd keeps the offense on schedule between the tackles.
Be on the lookout for Part III, which will cover Nos. 10-1, on Wednesday.