Replacing all-time players will not be easy for teams across the SEC in the coming season. Coaching staffs will be looking for underclassmen already on campus and highly-rated recruits to step up.
The list of outgoing players includes stars who have set school records and broken opponents’ hearts. Rivals will more than happily carry these guys’ bags to the NFL.
Here’s our view of each SEC team’s toughest player to replace for the 2018 season:
Alabama: Minkah Fitzpatrick
The versatile defensive back can play both safety positions and cornerback and is expected to be a high NFL draft pick. Entering the national title game, he was fourth on the team in tackles with 55. He won the Chuck Bednarik and Jim Thorpe awards.
Arkansas: Frank Ragnow
The definition of consistency, Ragnow started 33 consecutive games and didn’t allow a sack over 2,603 career snaps at center and right guard before his season ended against Auburn with an ankle injury. Ragnow was named a first-team All-American at center by Pro Football Focus for the second straight season, and led all FBS offensive linemen with a 93.7 overall grade. He allowed only one pressure on his 255 pass-blocking snaps.
Auburn: Kerryon Johnson
Including 271 rushing yards combined against Georgia and Alabama in the regular season, Johnson finished with 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns. He gained 71 yards on 22 carries in the Peach Bowl loss to UCF. Tigers fans can only wonder what a healthy Johnson could have meant for their fortunes against their fiercest rivals in the Iron Bowl and SEC Championship.
Florida: Duke Dawson
Experience will be the question here as Dawson was the only senior in the Gators’ secondary, Dawson was productive at multiple positions. Dawson was tied for third in the SEC, and led the team, with 4 interceptions. He added 9 pass breakups and 34 tackles. There are plenty of options to replace Dawson, as the secondary was filled with underclassmen who gained experience in 2017.
Georgia: Javon Wims
The Georgia running game has a deep and stable line of successors, but Wims will be difficult to replace in the passing game. In games where he saw action, he had more than one catch in all but two, highlighted by 6 catches for 73 yards against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, and 6 catches for 83 yards against Kentucky, each with one TD.
Kentucky: Courtney Love
Second on the team with 92 tackles, Love had 10 each in the Wildcats’ final two games — against Louisville and Northwestern. A captain, Love also received college football’s top award for community service, the Danny Wuerffel Trophy.
The transfer from Nebraska who played at Kentucky for his final three college seasons leaves a leadership void the Wildcats won’t soon replace.
LSU: D.J. Chark
The Tigers’ leading receiver with 40 catches — 17 more than the next closest teammate — Chark returned to campus after considering going pro after last season, and got to wear the coveted No. 7 jersey. Along with 2 punt return touchdowns, Chark also had 40 catches for 874 yards and 3 TDs. Chark is underrated for his versatility, as he is the only player in LSU history to score on a running play and a passing play of at least 75 yards.
Missouri: J’Mon Moore
There wasn’t much that Moore didn’t accomplish as a key component in the Tigers’ high-powered passing attack. At one point, he had four straight games of at least 130 receiving yards. He was second in the SEC in receiving with 83.2 yards per game, 1,082 yards total, and 10 touchdowns. He’s just the second Mizzou player to post multiple 1,000-yard seasons (Jeremy Maclin).
Mississippi State: Mark McLaurin
He had 11 tackles and 3 interceptions (doubling his season total) of Lamar Jackson in the TaxSlayer Bowl to cap a season in which he led the Bulldogs in tackles as a safety. His 6 interceptions tied for tops in the SEC.
Ole Miss: Breeland Speaks
It’s great to be remembered for what you do in the Egg Bowl, and Speaks delivered. He had 12 tackles and a fumble recovery. Speaks moved from defensive tackle to end this past season, and had 6 sacks in the final six games, including 2 each against LSU and Arkansas.
South Carolina: Hayden Hurst
Hurst was the team’s second-leading receiver but arguably its most dangerous one. For example, against Georgia, he had 7 catches for 93 yards. He had five games with at least 4 catches. Hurst, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior, was a walk-on after two years in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system.
Tennessee: John Kelly
One of the few bright spots on the 4-8 Vols, Kelly had 226 touches this past season, the only UT player with more than 100, as he churned out 778 rushing yards and 9 TDs. He also shared the team lead in receptions. In his Tennessee career, Kelly rushed for 1,573 yards and 15 touchdowns on 327 attempts.
Texas A&M: Christian Kirk
Perhaps the most dynamic and versatile player in the SEC, Kirk was a consistent starter for the Aggies and a perennial All-SEC performer. His career featured 2,976 yards and 26 touchdowns receiving. He had 6 punt returns for a TD, and a kickoff return for a score. He led the team in receptions all three years, and had two 1,000-yard seasons. He’s second all time in program history in receptions (234) and third all time in yards (2,856) and receiving touchdowns (26).
Vanderbilt: Ralph Webb
There aren’t enough superlatives to describe Webb’s impact on the program. He’s arguably the best running back in Vanderbilt history as he holds virtually every career rushing mark, including 4,173 yards, 931 carries, 32 rushing touchdowns, 35 total touchdowns and 16 games of at least 100 yards rushing. Webb’s career rushing total ranks sixth all-time among SEC running backs. Perhaps most notable, he started 49 consecutive games.