Ranking the SEC's top 10 players through the first month of the season
It’s the first week of October, and nobody is talking about a Heisman Trophy candidate from the SEC.
For whatever reason, there just haven’t been those Leonard Fournette/Derrick Henry performances yet. Will there be in 2017? Possibly.
But while there might not have been a bunch of Heisman-worthy efforts in the SEC so far, there still have been some impressive individual performances.
Here are the SEC’s 10 best players through the first month of the season:
10. Jake Bentley, South Carolina QB
If I polled SEC coaches anonymously and asked if I could give them Bentley to replace their current starter, how many of them would do it? Nick Saban says no. Dan Mullen probably does, too, because Nick Fitzgerald fits his system better. But if the rest were speaking completely unbiased, I’d assume they’d all want Bentley in a heartbeat.
The sophomore signal-caller was special with Deebo Samuel in the first few weeks. Even without Samuel, we’re seeing why Bentley got so much preseason love. Behind a weak offensive line, he’s still able to make big-time throws. If the Gamecocks could actually run the ball, Bentley would be even higher on this list.
9. Charles Wright, Vanderbilt LB
I love Charles Wright’s story. Besides the fact that he was adopted after he spent part of his childhood in foster care, how many former 2-star recruits from California even get offered a scholarship by an SEC school? Vanderbilt gave Wright his only Power 5 offer, and after three years in Nashville he has clawed his way into the starting lineup.
But Wright isn’t on this list because he’s a feel-good story. He earned a spot because through five weeks, he leads the SEC in sacks (Vanderbilt officially has him for 6 sacks). He also has five quarterback hurries for a Vanderbilt defense that got off to a blazing start. The Commodores came back to earth after getting dismantled by Alabama and losing at Florida, but Wright is the real deal.
8. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M WR/KR
I hear you, Aggies fans. Kirk might be the best player in the SEC, as our own John Crist suggested. But this list is based on who has been the best player in the first month of the season. A wideout who is averaging 52.8 yards receiving per game is not worthy of the top spot. A lot of that obviously goes back to Texas A&M’s shaky quarterback situation to start.
Don’t get me wrong, Kirk’s talent and special teams prowess are the reasons why he’s on this list. The guy still has 592 all-purpose yards (second in the SEC) and five touchdowns. If Kirk plays like he did against Arkansas more often in A&M’s final seven games, he could easily top this list at season’s end.
Christian Kirk @ChristianDavon2 proves again why he is hands down THE MOST ELECTRIC return man in college football! Wow! pic.twitter.com/jOnzgN10DA
— TAMUHighlights ᴴᴰ (@TamuHighlights) September 23, 2017
7. Nick Chubb, Georgia RB
Man, is it nice to see this guy back to dominating. Chubb looks healthy and like his pre-2015 injury self. That’s bad news for the SEC. Through five games, Chubb ranks second in the SEC in rushing yards despite only averaging 15 carries per contest. That’s huge. Georgia hasn’t needed to send him out there to rack up 25-30 carries because of its efficiency in the passing game and its dominant defense. Chubb looks fresh, and defenses don’t look like they enjoy tackling him.
6. Jeff Holland, Auburn LB
Like Alabama and Georgia, you could pick a bunch of guys from Auburn’s defense and put them in the top 10. I went with Holland because of his all-around performance so far. Apparently BUCK linebackers at Auburn are just destined for success. After replacing Carl Lawson, all Holland has done is dominate. He has 5.5 tackles for loss (3.5 of which are sacks), two forced fumbles and a whopping 10 quarterback hurries. The bowing beast is a huge reason why Auburn is fifth against the pass and sixth in scoring defense.
5. Armani Watts, Texas A&M DB
I know. He had a handful of rough moments against South Carolina, but sit back and look at the body of work this guy has put together in the first month. He had the game-winning interception against Arkansas in overtime.
BALL GAME! AGGIES WIN!
For the 2nd time in his career Armani Watts @GGPR_BANGER5 makes an INT in Overtime to give the Aggies the victory! pic.twitter.com/CKc9majNaR
— TAMUHighlights ᴴᴰ (@TamuHighlights) September 23, 2017
On the season, Watts has five tackles for loss, three interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and a team-high 37 tackles. He’s been huge in sparking the Aggies’ defense, which looked like it was left for dead after that collapse at UCLA. John Chavis is extremely fortunate to have Watts patrolling the back end of his defense.
4. John Kelly, Tennessee RB
I feel bad for Kelly. I really do. He deserves better. A guy with his ability to make people miss should not have to put up with the disastrous Tennessee offense around him. He should also be getting the ball more in crucial situations. Tennessee doesn’t have anyone else who can do this.
Get off me. pic.twitter.com/HuQ0xDsOeP
— Connor O'Gara (@cjogara) September 16, 2017
The fact that Kelly leads the SEC in rushing and all-purpose yards behind that offensive line is incredible. The Vols need to rely on him even more in the passing game, too. He’s their only offense right now, which doesn’t look like it’ll change anytime soon.
3. Ronnie Harrison, Alabama DB
If you told me I’d have an Alabama defensive back on this list a month ago, I would’ve assumed it was Minkah Fitzpatrick. And while Fitzpatrick has been solid, he hasn’t been quite as dominant as Harrison. Besides leading Alabama in tackles, Harrison has two interceptions and two tackles for loss.
Yes, Harrison will be remembered by Florida State fans as the guy who made the tackle that injured Deondre Francois. But Harrison should be known for his versatility. He can blitz, he can deliver the big hit and he can make the clutch interception. Few defensive backs in the country did that as well as Harrison in the first month.
2. Lorenzo Carter, Georgia LB
You could’ve put a bunch of Georgia defenders in this spot. Roquan Smith? Sure. J.R. Reed? Absolutely. I went with Carter because whenever I think about the Bulldogs’ defense, my first thought is that pass rush. Nobody has embodied Georgia’s relentless pursuit quite like Carter. And that’s not exclusive to just rushing the passer.
His name is Lorenzo Carter @Zcarter_7 pic.twitter.com/0ZsPtsM3pY
— Dayne Young (@dayneyoung) September 23, 2017
On the season, Carter has 4.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, but the eight quarterback pressures might be his most impressive stat. Georgia’s pass defense has been lights out (10th in FBS) despite the fact that opposing offenses have been in throwing situations most of the time against the Bulldogs. This Georgia team looks like a legit College Football Playoff contender, and Carter is a big reason why.
1. Jalen Hurts, Alabama QB
Don’t give me a stat about Hurts being ranked 12th in the SEC in passing yards and try to tell me he’s a bad quarterback. That’s ridiculous. It’s Alabama. You know, the team that trailed for 2 minutes and 13 seconds of a possible 300 minutes of football so far this season. Hurts doesn’t have to throw the ball like Shea Patterson does.
Want some actual noteworthy stats about Hurts? How about the fact that he hasn’t turned the ball over despite his 144 combined passes and runs? Or there’s the fact that he’s Alabama’s leading rusher and Chubb and Kelly are the only SEC players who rank ahead of him in rushing yards.
Yes, he has more talent around him than anyone in the country, but Hurts is deserving of all the praise he gets. Right now, nobody in the SEC is playing better than he is.