SEC's 10 biggest sleeping giants in 2017
As loaded with NFL-caliber talent as the SEC usually is, it still has some players who — for whatever reason — haven’t reached their potential or become household names. Here are 10 conference players who could break out in a huge way in 2017.
Byron Cowart, Auburn: The defensive end was a giant prospect — a 5-star to be exact in 2015 — but it seems like he’s slept through his first two seasons at Auburn. With six tackles over each of the past two years, he’s been consistently unproductive.
Montravius Adams has played his final game for Auburn, and Carl Lawson — the Tigers’ best pure pass rusher — will join him in the NFL, so Cowart will have an opportunity to potentially fill a spot. Even though Marlon Davidson is entrenched at defensive end following a terrific freshman season, if Cowart doesn’t have a bust-out junior year, his Auburn career will officially be a bust.
Ethan Wolf, Tennessee: Wolf should exceed the numbers he’s produced over the past two seasons — an average of 22 catches, 220 yards and 2 TDs. He loses his quarterback in Joshua Dobbs, but this is the year for Wolf to prove he’s one of the better tight ends in the SEC.
Marlon Humphrey, Alabama: The redshirt sophomore is wrapping up a solid season — 33 tackles and 2 interceptions, including a pick-six — as the Crimson Tide pursues a second consecutive national championship. Another year with coordinator Jeremy Pruitt should push Humphrey even further.
Daylon Mack, Texas A&M: The bad news? According to cfbstats.com, Mack, a former 5-star prospect, has yet to record a QB hurry in his first two seasons with the Aggies. The good news? He has two years of eligibility left to get his first one.
With Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall having played their last games in College Station, Texas A&M needs pass-rushing help. This year will be Mack’s chance to improve upon his production from 2015, when he made delivered these career highs: 32 tackles, including 9.5 for a loss.
Da’Shawn Hand, Alabama: The defensive end’s tackles for loss are down — 3.5 this season compared to 6.5 in 2015 — but his overall stops (20) and QB hurries (5) are both career highs entering Alabama’s national championship showdown with Clemson Monday night. With Jonathan Allen moving on to the NFL, expect Hand to reach career bests in sacks, TFLs and stops in 2017, provided he doesn’t join teammate in the pros.
Kevin Toliver II, LSU: Toliver’s sophomore season wasn’t nearly as good as his freshman one, when the former 5-star prospect made 35 tackles and broke up 5 passes while appearing in all 12 games. This season, the former starter at cornerback made 21 stops in seven games.
With Tre’Davious White headed to the NFL, a starting cornerback spot will be up for grabs in 2017. Toliver can grab it, but he will probably have to fend off teammates such as Ed Paris, Kristian Fulton and Saivion Smith to do so.
Terry Beckner Jr., Missouri: Two knee injuries and an arrest for marijuana possession have marred the defensive lineman’s first two seasons in Columbia. But Beckner did have a solid first year with the Tigers, when he had 27 tackles — eight for a loss — while making 247Sports’ freshman All-American team.
It remains to be seen if the former 5-star prospect can stay healthy and out of trouble. But he has two years of eligibility left, and a big 2017 would definitely help Barry Odom’s rebuilding efforts.
Tre’ Williams, Auburn: Williams made a modest 12-tackle improvement from last season, finishing with 67 stops while the Tigers went 8-5. But a big senior season will be expected of him, and he has two big factors working in his favor.
For starters, he goes into 2017 with a year of defensive coordinator Kevin Steele’s system under his belt. In addition, Deshaun Davis and Darrell Williams — his fellow starters at linebacker — will also return after completing their sophomore seasons.
Kahlil McKenzie, Tennessee: Like Missouri’s Beckner, McKenzie — the son of Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie — is coming off a season-ending injury. Before leaving Tennessee’s 49-10 loss to Alabama with an upper body injury, the starting defensive tackle finished with 12 tackles in seven games.
Provided his recovery goes well, McKenzie will have at least another season to show why he was a 5-star prospect. Playing in all 13 games as a freshman, McKenzie had 14 tackles — including a sack — and forced a fumble.
Toby Weathersby, LSU: Don’t sleep on this 6-foot-5, 302-pound giant. Weathersby, who is slated to have arthroscopic knee surgery, according to nola.com, started three games this season but missed four others due to injury.
The former 4-star prospect followed up a freshman campaign in which he played all 12 games and started one. Whether he protects QB Danny Etling or allows Derrius Guice to run off right tackle, Weathersby will be an important cog for new offensive coordinator Matt Canada.