The most underappreciated player returning to each SEC squad in 2018
In a conference like the SEC, there are so many talented players that it’s hard to give each athlete their proper due.
Therefore, some players don’t get enough credit. Heading into 2018, some underappreciated players will have a chance to step into the spotlight.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the players in question will become superstars, but it does mean they’ll be able to have a chance to play on a bigger stage.
Here is each SEC team’s most underappreciated player heading into the 2018 spring and summer practices:
Alabama: Matt Womack, RT
Jonah Williams gets a lot of the headlines along the offensive line (and for good reason). However, Womack earned the starting right tackle job last year and was solid throughout the year.
If left-handed QB Tua Tagovailoa starts for the Tide next year, Womack’s job will be even more important, but he’s shown he can excel in run blocking and pass protection.
Arkansas: De’Jon Harris, LB
Fellow LB Dre Greenlaw gets more attention nationally than Harris, but only two SEC players had more tackles than Harris’ 115 in 2017. Harris also led the team in tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (3.5).
Greenlaw finished seventh in the SEC with 103 tackles, so the Razorbacks’ linebacking corps is returning a lot of experience in 2018. They’ll have to perform better to turn things around under first-year head coach Chad Morris, but having Greenlaw and Harris back is a good start.
Auburn: Eli Stove, WR
The Auburn offense was led by RB Kerryon Johnson and QB Jarrett Stidham in 2017, with Will Hastings, Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton handling most of the receiving duties.
However, Stove played a big role, too, providing a dual-threat option for the Tigers as both a pass catcher and a runner. He finished the year with 315 rushing yards and 265 receiving yards and will need to do more in 2018 to help replace the production lost with Johnson jumping to the NFL.
Florida: Lamical Perine, RB
Malik Davis was having a strong freshman year before going down with a knee injury, and now that Jordan Scarlett has been reinstated from a yearlong suspension, he’s also getting plenty of buzz ahead of the 2018 season.
However, Perine led the Gators in rushing last year, putting up 562 yards and eight touchdowns, adding another touchdown as a receiver. He might not be as flashy as the other two backs, but first-year coach Dan Mullen would be wise to make sure Perine gets his fair share of touches in 2018.
Georgia: D’Andre Walker, LB
When you share a position with Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, Reggie Carter, Davin Bellamy and others, you are going to get overshadowed. Still, Walker was a star in 2017, recording 39 tackles and adding 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks (both second to Smith).
Now that all of the aforementioned linebackers are graduating or heading to the NFL, Walker will get his chance to shine in 2018. Based on what he did last year, we can expect more big things from him.
Kentucky: Denzil Ware, LB/DE
Jordan Jones and Josh Allen get a lot of press as stars of the Kentucky front seven, but Ware also turned in a big 2017 season despite being suspended for the Music City Bowl loss to Northwestern.
He had 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in 2017, both second on the team to Allen, and with all three of those talented defenders returning in 2018, the Kentucky defense could take a big step forward.
LSU: Andraez “Greedy” Williams, CB
Leading the SEC in interceptions is never easy, but Williams did that in 2017 and did it as a true freshman, recording six picks for the LSU defense.
Fellow DB Donte Jackson is keeping LSU’s claim to being “DBU” alive by going pro this year, but if Williams keeps putting up numbers like he did in 2017, he won’t be too far behind his former teammate.
Greedy had quite the season in Baton Rouge pic.twitter.com/8Gn9m5Aoih
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 31, 2018
Mississippi State: Mark McLaurin, S
McLaurin showed up in a huge way in the Bulldogs’ bowl win over Louisville, snagging three interceptions off former Heisman-winning QB Lamar Jackson.
He finished the year tied with Greedy Williams (see above) for the SEC lead with six interceptions, and having him back on the back end of the Mississippi State defense in 2018 will be a great boost to new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.
Mizzou: Yasir Durant, LT
Mizzou only allowed 13 sacks in 13 games this year, with Durant, a JUCO transfer, solidifying the left tackle spot.
In former OC Josh Heupel’s fast-paced offense, sacks are generally avoided by getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly. However, when you have a right-handed quarterback like Drew Lock, having a strong left tackle is crucial, and Durant proved he could handle to load in 2017.
Ole Miss: DaMarkus Lodge, WR
A.J. Brown led the SEC in receiving touchdowns and receiving yards, but Lodge actually led the Rebels in yards per catch, going for an average of 17 yards every time he caught a pass.
He also snagged seven touchdowns for the high-flying Rebels offense, and with QB Jordan Ta’amu returning in 2018, the sky’s the limit for Brown, Lodge and the Ole Miss receiving corps.
South Carolina: Bryan Edwards, WR
WR Deebo Samuel and TE Hayden Hurst get a lot of the attention for the Gamecocks offense, but Edwards has been the model of consistency for the team.
Last year, he led South Carolina with 64 catches, 793 yards and five touchdowns, becoming QB Jake Bentley’s favorite target after Samuel was lost for the season. Edwards still has two more years of eligibility remaining, so expect big things from him in the future, even as Samuel returns in 2018.
Tennessee: Quart’e Sapp, LB
Sapp took a major step forward as a redshirt sophomore in 2017, finishing fourth on the team with 75 tackles and second with 7 tackles for loss.
The Tennessee linebacking corps has been hit hard by injuries the past couple of years, which means younger players like Sapp have had to step up, giving the Vols some depth at the position heading into 2018.
Texas A&M: Landis Durham, DL
Durham and Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat both had 10.5 sacks to lead the SEC in 2017, but Durham didn’t get nearly the attention he deserved.
The Aggies’ defense didn’t perform as well as it should have under former DC John Chavis, but Durham showed he can be a star in the post-Myles Garrett era at Texas A&M.
Vanderbilt: Dare Odeyingbo, DE
Charles Wright, one of the hardest-hitting linebackers in the SEC, got a lot of attention for the Commodores last year, and led the team with 7.5 sacks.
However, Odeyingbo also wreaked havoc on SEC offenses, recording a team-high 13.5 tackles for loss and adding 6.5 sacks of his own. With Wright and Odeyingbo returning in 2018, the Commodores and coach Derek Mason should be tough to score on next year.