While I'd understand the logic, I'd be devastated if these 10 SEC players opted out in 2020
On Tuesday morning, I was making breakfast when I got a text from my brother.
“Bateman opting out (sigh face emoji).”
He was, of course, referring to the news that star Minnesota receiver Rashod Bateman was opting out of the 2020 season because of COVID-19 concerns. The preseason All-American is likely going to be a high draft pick in 2021 because all he did was torch Big Ten defenses during Minnesota’s historic 2019 season.
My brother Ryan, who writes columns for our Big Ten site SaturdayTradition.com, had another thought after sharing that news with me.
“(Bateman) was one of my faves to watch last year.”
He’s right. While we understand the concern of an athlete opting out, the result is the same. We’ll both miss not watching one of the best receivers in college football.
It got me thinking about which SEC players opting out would be the toughest to stomach for me personally. For some of the players who came to mind, the thought of simply not getting to see their talent was enough of a reason to put them on this list. Others made this list because I find them extremely intriguing for various reasons.
Whatever the case, I mainly listed players who could theoretically opt out and leave for the NFL. Granted, the SEC announced it would honor scholarships for players who opted out, so in theory, some of these seniors could opt out and return when the world (hopefully) gets back to normal in 2021.
Here are the 10 SEC players who I’d be crushed to see opt out in 2020 … but again, I wouldn’t fault them:
1. Ja’Marr Chase, LSU WR
Yeah, this one would sting. Chase would have had major NFL interest had he been eligible for the 2020 NFL Draft. He’s widely considered the top receiver in the 2021 NFL Draft class. If he opted to follow in Bateman’s footsteps, obviously that would be a major blow not just for LSU fans, but for all college football fans (Alabama fans might disagree with that). It’s incredible how much Chase learned about separation from 2018 to 2019. Seriously. Go back and watch him as a true freshman compared to how he played as a sophomore who won the Biletnikoff Award. Night and day. I’d absolutely miss him running circles around college defenses for 1 more year.
2. K.J. Britt, Auburn LB
Britt might be a bit of a throwback, but I still happen to enjoy watching a run-stuffing linebacker who consistently wraps up and makes plays in the backfield. Britt is that guy. In a post-Marlon Davidson/Derrick Brown world, he’s the best reason to watch Kevin Steele’s defense. Period. Whether it’s been those guys or Deshaun Davis, there are always entertaining players to watch in Auburn’s front 7. Britt’s status as one of the nation’s top returning linebackers would be a devastating hit to a defense that’s already going through a bit of an identity shift.
3. John Rhys Plumlee, Ole Miss QB
Wait, didn’t I say this list was for draft-eligible players? Mostly, yes. But that’s how much I love watching Plumlee play. The thought of missing out on a year of him is brutal, though he’s absolutely going to be one of those guys who wins the “it feels like he’s been in college for a decade” award by the time he’s through. I cannot wait to see what Plumlee does in Lane Kiffin’s offense. Kiffin’s reputation as someone who builds around his quarterback’s skill set is why I believe Plumlee is the SEC’s most intriguing player of 2020.
And if his opting out gave way to Matt Corral to start, perhaps that would decrease Plumlee’s odds of ever starting for Kiffin. That’d be a major loss for all of us non-MSU fans who want more of this in our lives:
.@OleMissFB’s John Rhys Plumlee showed out against the No. 1 team in the country!
212 rush yards & 4 rush TDs 🔥 pic.twitter.com/6eI0qagj3y
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 17, 2019
4. Kadarius Toney, Florida WR
After we really didn’t get to see much of Toney last year because he was banged up, the idea of not getting to see any more viral plays of him at Florida makes me sad. I’ll always say that the touchdown he scored against Miami last year was one of the most impressive I’ve witnessed in person. Everyone knows how special Toney is with the ball in his hands. There’s a reason so many Florida fans have been banging the drum for him to get more touches for the last … decade?
Well, there appears to be a legitimate chance that Toney does opt out based on his tweet the other day:
Opt’n-out just might be the better decision 💯🤺
— Joka 🃏® (@0fficialC2N) August 3, 2020
5. Jamie Newman, Georgia QB
I’m not one of those people predicting Newman is about to become Joe Burrow 2.0, but I am especially interested in what he does in Todd Monken’s offense. When he’s on, his deep ball yields highlight-reel plays. The possibility of him connecting with George Pickens has been on the mind of plenty of Georgia fans since he announced his decision to spend his final season in Athens. The Wake Forest grad transfer has the makings of a unique SEC quarterback because of the divide of preseason opinions on him. How many players in college football have people who think they won’t start a game and people who think he’ll be a Heisman finalist and a Round 1 draft pick? However you feel about him, Newman is all sorts of intriguing.
6. Nick Bolton, Mizzou LB
As a late Bolton fan, I have all the more reason to want to watch him in 2020. Few linebackers in college football, if any, have the ability to make tackles from sideline to sideline and cover like the Mizzou junior. He blossomed last year following the midseason injury to Cale Garrett, and even without Barry Odom, there’s reason to believe that Bolton could be even better in his pre-draft year. If Bolton were to opt out and leave school early for the NFL, go figure that he’d be a non-top 1,000 recruit who played 2 years of college ball before leaving for the draft. Selfishly, of course, I think we’d all like another year of watching Bolton’s instincts take over games.
7. Rakeem Boyd, Arkansas RB
Arkansas fans were surprised that Boyd came back to begin with. A new coaching staff and someone with legitimate NFL interest probably could have started his career playing on Sundays. Instead, he returned to bridge the gap for the start of the Sam Pittman era. Boyd is someone who SEC fans know well, but nationally, he probably doesn’t get enough respect for averaging 6 yards per carry in 2 different Chad Morris offenses. With a Pittman-coached line and perhaps a steady quarterback situation, Boyd has the makings of a potential first-team All-SEC back. If there’s a dude who can make Arkansas stay on the field with the elite SEC West teams in 2020, it’s him.
8. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama WR
Forgive me if you’ve heard me say this before, but every time I watch Waddle play, I can only think of 1 word — slippery. There’s not a more slippery player in college football. Once he gets the ball in his hands, Waddle’s combination of agility and speed is second to none. How many times has Waddle squirted through a tiny opening at the second level and taken it to the house? More than I can count.
The closest thing we’ve seen to Tyreek Hill is going to be coming to an NFL team near you in 2021. The definition of an angle eater.
— Ray G 🏁 (@RayGQue) August 4, 2020
He’s now entering his pre-draft year, which means that he could theoretically opt out and leave school early. Obviously, that would be a hit to an offense that is still set up to put up big numbers with Steve Sarkisian back calling plays.
9. Trey Smith, Tennessee OL
After all that Smith has been through in his career with battling a blood clot issue, nobody could ever say that he’d be “taking the easy way out” if he elected not to play in 2020. Someone like Smith who not only has a preexisting condition but also plays in the trenches would have an understandable case to opt out. I’d still miss getting to watch him create holes for Eric Gray and Co. Since he arrived in Knoxville, Smith has been one of the nation’s best offensive linemen when healthy. He did that despite the fact that he had limited help up front for the majority of that time. It’d be fun to see him finally surrounded by players with equal talent like Cade Mays and Wanya Morris.
10. Terry Wilson, Kentucky QB
I’m looking forward to the final chapter of Wilson’s wild college career. A journey that started with him losing a starting job at Oregon to Justin Herbert is finally coming to a close, albeit under fittingly strange circumstances. He was one of my most intriguing players entering last season, and then he went down with a season-ending injury in Week 2. What I think is forgotten by many was that Wilson played through a knee injury in the middle of Kentucky’s historic 2018 season. It limited his mobility in a major way. Now healthy, I’m looking forward to seeing how complete of a player.
It’s worth keeping in mind that Wilson has a daughter on the way in the coming weeks. He already said that the 2020 season, which is his 5th year of college at 3 different schools in 3 different timezones, will be his last. While it’d be understandable, opting out would be an anticlimactic end to Wilson’s college career.