Which 5 SEC players have the most game-breaking potential?
No major American sport relies on teamwork quite like football does. The championship contenders often have deep teams full of talent, which allows them to take advantage of mismatches anywhere on the field.
But we aren’t here to talk about that.
We are here to celebrate the SEC players who are most capable of exploding in any given game and making everyone find the nearest TV. Even in a conference featuring the best athletes in college football, some are still a cut above.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a ranking of the best players in the SEC, just the ones whose “heat-check” games are nearly unmatchable. We also won’t take non-conference games into consideration, unless it comes against another Power 5 opponent.
This list is subjective in nature, so there is obviously room for debate (which you can do in the comments below), but let’s try to lay out some criteria that will help us reach a conclusion.
For starters, past performance will be a big factor. If a player has already put together a massive stat line, then he obviously has that potential. The team around a player will also be taken into account: If two guys have similar numbers and ability and one is clearly on a worse team, that player might get the nod.
Finally, with all due respect to linemen, this ranking is geared more toward skill players and pass rushers. How often has the phrase, “Goodness, that left guard single-handedly took over the game!” been uttered? Exactly.
Since there are more than five players who belong in the discussion, here are some honorable mentions who deserve special recognition.
Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M: Over the past two seasons, only fellow Texas A&M wide receiver Josh Reynolds has produced more than Kirk. He already has seven games with over 100 receiving yards and is one of the most dangerous players with the ball in his hands. He impacts the game on offense and special teams.
Damarea Crockett, RB, Missouri: Crockett might not have much conference-wide name recognition, but the freshman came on strong late in the year. If his 24-carry, 225-yard performance against Tennessee is any indication, he is a player who can show out.
Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama: The true freshman quarterback had some rookie moments last season, but he is a phenomenal dual-threat athlete. Once his passing ability matches the devastation he can cause on the ground, Hurts will have plenty more 400-plus total-yard performances like he did against Mississippi State.
J’Mon Moore, WR, Missouri: The SEC’s top returning receiver was just one of two players to top 1,000 receiving yards in 2016. Against Georgia, Moore gained 196 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches, torching the Bulldogs’ defensive backs in the process.
Kamryn Pettway, RB, Auburn: Despite missing three games, Pettway was one of the SEC’s leading rushers in 2016. He slipped a little on this list, however, because Pettway appears to need a few more touches than other running backs to put up elite numbers. Still, once he gets in a rhythm, few backs are scarier.
Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: Before his knee injury, Chubb would have had a strong case for the top spot on this list. His 266-yard performance against Louisville set a Georgia bowl record and is second only to Herschel Walker’s 283-yard outing against Vanderbilt in 1980.
Trenton Thompson, DL, Georgia: Hopefully Thompson can take care of his personal issues because the defensive tackle is a joy to watch on the field. Thompson’s eight tackles and three sacks in the Bulldogs’ bowl victory demonstrate his game-changing ability from the interior of the defensive line.
Now, it’s time for the SEC players who are capable of the biggest individual performances.
No. 5 – Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama
2016 stats: 66 Tackles, 5 TFL, 7 PBU, 6 INTs, 2 TDs
Best performance: 5 Tackles, 2 PBU, 3 INTs, 1 TD (2016 at Arkansas)
It’s difficult to overlook anybody on Alabama’s defense, but Fitzpatrick might not get the amount of credit he actually deserves. His eight interceptions over the past two seasons are among the most in the SEC, and Fitzpatrick has steadily improved, going from two interceptions as a freshman to six last season.
Fitzpatrick’s impact was most apparent against Arkansas, when he secured five tackles, broke up two passes and reeled in three interceptions, including a 100-yard pick-six. It’s possible that Alabama’s pass rush takes a step back in 2017, which means Fitzpatrick should have even more chances to make a big play.
— RollTideRoll (@CrimsonTider74) October 9, 2016
No. 4 – Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama
2016 stats: 125 Att., 812 Yards, 6.50 YPC, 11 TDs
Best performance: 19 Att., 180 Yards, 9.47 YPC, 2 TDs (2016 vs. Washington)
Scarbrough showed the nation just how dominant he can be in the College Football Playoff last season. The 6-2, 230-pound running back accounted for over half of Alabama’s offensive output in the Crimson Tide’s win against No. 4 Washington. Scarbrough’s 180 yards were the most by an Alabama running back in a postseason game since Eddie Lacy gained 181 yards against Georgia in the 2012 SEC Championship game.
— Chat Sports (@ChatSports) December 31, 2016
The bruising back was well on his way to another big outing against Clemson before an injury sidelined him for the rest of the game. Scarbrough will be part of a crowded Alabama backfield next season, but he is undoubtedly the player with the most single-game potential.
No. 3 – Nick Fitzgerald, QB, Mississippi State
2016 stats: 2,423 Passing Yards, 21 TDs, 10 INTs; 1,375 Rushing Yards, 16 TDs
Best performance: 69.7 Comp. %, 328 Yards, 2 TDs; 17 Att., 131 Yards, 4 TDs (2016 vs. Arkansas)
In his first full season as Mississippi State’s starting quarterback, Fitzgerald exceeded expectations and led the Bulldogs to a bowl game. Dak Prescott’s leadership and experience were missed, but Fitzgerald’s playmaking ability might surpass the former Bulldogs star. The redshirt sophomore accounted for more yards than any player in the SEC last season and tied LSU’s Derrius Guice for most rushing touchdowns.
With a full year under his belt, Fitzgerald should only have more confidence in his abilities. He still needs some polish as a passer, but there is no questioning Fitzgerald’s speed or running instincts. His performance against Arkansas, in which he accounted for 459 total yards and all six of Mississippi State’s touchdowns, might have been the best in the SEC last year.
— CFBonESPNRadio (@CFBonESPNRadio) November 20, 2016
No. 2 – Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
2016 stats: 183 Att., 1,387 Yards, 7.58 YPC, 15 TDs
Best performance: 37 Att., 285 Yards, 7.70 YPC, 4 TDs (2016 at Texas A&M)
The player formerly known as Leonard Fournette’s backup will enter the 2017 season on nearly everyone’s Heisman Trophy radar. A multi-faceted runner, Guice feeds off a large workload and seemingly gets better as the game wears on. Guice recorded 16 or more carries in eight games last season, only failing to reach 100 yards twice in those outings.
His signature performance last season was one of the best by any running back in college football. Against Texas A&M, Guice gained 285 yards and four touchdowns, breaking Fournette’s single-game rushing record set earlier in the year. Now that he’s the main guy, there might not be a more potent weapon than Guice.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) November 25, 2016
No. 1 – Rawleigh Williams III, RB, Arkansas
2016 stats: 245 Att., 1,360 Yards, 5.55 YPC, 12 TDs; 15 Rec., 220 Yards, 1 TD
Best performance: 16 Att., 205 Yards, 12.81 YPC, 4 TDs (2016 at Mississippi State)
Williams narrowly edges out Guice because of his ability to produce on a limited number of touches. The Arkansas running back put everyone on notice when he gained 191 yards and four touchdowns on just eight carries in the first half of a win against Mississippi State. Williams displayed breakaway speed on a 72-yard touchdown run and excellent patience and vision on touchdown runs of 42 and 33 yards.
— CFBonESPNRadio (@CFBonESPNRadio) November 20, 2016
Had the Razorbacks decided to give Williams the ball 25 or 30 times, he likely would have surpassed 300 yards on the ground and could have had a shot at surpassing the SEC’s single-game rushing record of 321 yards set by former Arkansas legend Darren McFadden. Because we’ve seen a glimpse of the type of special night Williams is capable of, he’s earned the top spot on this list.