Top of the '10s: Each SEC team's best player this decade
We’re well on the back end of the 2010s. If that seems a bit sudden, think back on the seven seasons of great football the SEC has enjoyed — and all of the players who have come and gone. We’re narrowing in on the top Dog — or Wildcat, Tiger, Gator, etc. — of the 2010s.
Here are our picks — and our reasoning:
Derrick Henry: The Tide are an eternal embarrassment of riches. They’ve had 13 unanimous first-team All-Americans in the ‘10s, and any of the bunch would be a defensible choice as the top Bama player of the decade. But the lone Heisman winner in the group is Henry, who led a national title team and broke Herschel Walker’s SEC single-season rushing yardage mark with 2,219 yards in 2015. Good enough for us.
Hunter Henry: The top Hogs in terms of All-America acclaim have been return specialist Joe Adams and tight end Hunter Henry. No, this isn’t the all-Henry team, but Hunter gets the nod for starting a tradition of pass-catching tight ends for Arkansas (116 catches in three seasons). In the ‘00s, Arkansas was Tailback U, but in the late ‘10s, it might become Tight End U.
Cam Newton: There have been four consensus All-Americans from the Tigers in the 2010s, but unless somebody physically rewrites the college football yearbook while winning another national title, he won’t overtake Cam Newton. Sure, he did it in one season (2010-11), but what a season it was. National title? Check. Heisman? Check. Best player his school has produced in the ‘10s? Check.
Vernon Hargreaves III: After decades of being an offensive powerhouse, Florida in the ‘10s means defense. The best player of the bunch — the Gators’ only unanimous All-America pick of the decade — is Vernon Hargreaves III. A three-time all-SEC pick, Hargreaves was so good that opponents rarely threw in his vicinity in his junior year. So his stats don’t tell the story, but the Gators’ chain of shut-down corners culminates with this guy.
Jarvis Jones: The immediate thought is that Nick Chubb is the best Bulldog of the ‘10s. But frankly, he hasn’t been healthy enough to live up to his skill set, and UGA has struggled with consistency throughout Chubb’s years. Jones, on the other hand, keyed the last UGA team that actually had a shot at an SEC title — one they missed out on by about five yards. There’s still a couple of good years for Chubb, Eason, or a defensive standout to claim this, but for now, the linebacker is the pick.
Randall Cobb: The Wildcats’ only All-American of the 2010s played just one year in the program, but what a year it was. Until the 2016 turn-around, Cobb had keyed the Wildcats to their only bowl appearance of the decade. Stud running back Benny Snell may ultimately claim the honor, but Cobb at wide receiver was a match-up nightmare for everyone he faced.
Tyrann Mathieu: Unlike the 2000s, the 2010s were a decade of turmoil for LSU. The best season was undoubtedly 2011, when they made the BCS title game after knocking off Alabama 9-6 in the regular season. Alabama won the title rematch, but you can’t blame the Honey Badger, who overtakes Leonard Fournette (team success matters, kids) in the race to be the best Tiger of the ‘10s. That LSU defense was spectacular and Mathieu was extraordinary (17 passes defended in 2011) — so much so that he was the best.
Evan Engram: The Rebels end up as the Chicago Cubs of the SEC. They had a glorious history — a long time ago. Chad Kelly would be the easy choice as the top Rebel of the ‘10s. He threw for 6,800 yards in two years. But his injury pretty much settled the 2016 season, and his performance will probably be blown out of the water by Shea Patterson. How about Engram, who had eight touchdowns and nearly 1,000 receiving yards in 2016? Engram is the best tight end in Rebels history, and he’s earned his way to being the Ole Miss player of the ‘10s.
Dak Prescott: There have been other great State players. WR Fred Ross was quietly superb, for one. But this is a no-brainer. Prescott wasn’t just the best Bulldog of the decade, he might be the best one of all time. He passed for over 9,000 yards and rushed for 41 touchdowns. He is the face of Mississippi State football, and is the biggest cinch on this list.
Shane Ray: It’s been a wild decade for the Tigers, moving from a mid-level Big 12 team to a two-time SEC East winner… to the SEC basement. But the Tigers produced some outstanding pass rushers, none of whom were better than Ray. One of Mizzou’s three All-Americans of the 2010s, his 14.5 sacks in 2014 set a school record—and keyed the second of those two SEC East division crowns. Good enough for us.
Jadeveon Clowney: There was a time when Marcus Lattimore looked like a shoe-in for this honor, but that is a sad story for another day. In his stead, Clowney absolutely dominated the SEC in 2012, racking up 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks, and helping USC to the second of three straight 11-2 seasons, which represents the program’s SEC high water mark. His junior season was a disappointment, but his de-helmeting a Michigan running back in the 2012 Outback Bowl alone would earn his spot.
Cam Sutton: Somehow, Tennessee, which had 10 All-America selections in the 1990s and another 10 in the 2000s has managed just two in the 2010s — and both of those were return specialists. Of the two, Cam Sutton is the player who was a difference maker for both the Tennessee special teams and the Tennessee defense. He was lost to injury during most of 2016, and Tennessee clearly felt his absence.
Johnny Manziel: It does seem ridiculous, but Johnny Football wasn’t just a freshman Heisman winner — although he did that. He passed for almost 8,000 yards, rushed for over 2,000, and made Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies an absolute must watch. His win over Alabama is A&M’s banner moment in the SEC thus far. There were other talented Aggies — Myles Garrett, Josh Reynolds, etc., but nobody else for this list.
Zach Cunningham: Jordan Matthews would draw the nod in almost any decade of Vandy’s mediocre football history. But the 2010s include Cunningham, who was the school’s first unanimous All-America pick. Cunningham amassed almost 300 tackles in three seasons, leading the SEC in stops and totaling 16.5 tackles for loss in 2016. Running back Ralph Webb is already the school’s top rusher, but Cunningham was even better.