Who are the SEC's Top 50 professional athletes right now?
With no games to play, now is a good time to pause and appreciate how dominant the SEC is across the sports spectrum.
Pick a sport, and you’ll find All-Pros and All-Stars from the most accomplished conference in America.
Who are the best of the best right now? As always, it’s worth noting only former SEC players are eligible in this exercise, including a couple who started there but left. Otherwise, Texas A&M’s Von Miller, an 8-time Pro Bowler and 2015 Super Bowl champ, certainly would have challenged for the top spot. And Missouri’s Max Scherzer, who is adding chapters to a Hall of Fame résumé with the Washington Nationals, would be a lock for the top 10.
Caveats concluded, here are the SEC’s Top 50 pro athletes right now, meaning where they are in 2020 and where they are heading is more important than where they were 5 years ago. That’s why deserving, but slightly older, candidates like Al Horford or injured stars like John Wall didn’t quite make the cut.
No. 50 Matthew Stafford (Georgia): Stafford’s career numbers are outstanding. A career Lion, he holds every significant franchise passing mark and ranks No. 19 on the NFL’s all-time list for TD passes with 256. He’s 18th all-time in passing yards (41,025), just ahead of Joe Montana and Johnny U. But he’s also 32, coming off an injury, entering his 12th season and will be 6 years removed from his only Pro Bowl nod.
No. 49 Odell Beckham (LSU): His star has faded a bit and he isn’t finding the end zone as frequently — just 4 times in 2019 — but he still turned in his 5th 1,000-yard receiving season.
No. 48 Todd Gurley (Georgia): A few years ago, Gurley would have been a lock for the top 10. Blame it on injuries. The yards-per-carry are slipping, but he still rushed for 12 TDs last season. Here’s hoping he can recapture the glory with Atlanta.
No. 47 Myles Garrett (Texas A&M): His reputation took a hit with the Mason Rudolph brawl, coupled by his uncorroborated and loudly rebuked accusation that Rudolph started it with a racial slur. But it’s hard to argue with the production. He’s already recorded double-digit sacks twice — Jadeveon Clowney still hasn’t done that once, which is why he didn’t crack the Top 50. Garrett made the Pro Bowl in 2018 and likely would have repeated if not for the Rudolph incident.
No. 46 Bryan Reynolds (Vanderbilt): Who? Reynolds was a freshman starter on Vandy’s 2014 College World Series championship team. As an MLB rookie in 2019, he hit .314 with 16 home runs for the Pirates. He was considered an elite prospect, but he never flashed that kind of power in the minor leagues. He’s very much a modern slugger with 121 Ks in 134 games last season. It’s just 1 season, so skepticism is understandable, but MLB Network panelists saw enough to rank him as the No. 3 left fielder in the game going into 2020.
No. 45 Julius Randle (Kentucky): He has bounced around and still hasn’t made an All-Star team, but he was on the verge of posting his first 20-10 season with the Knicks. He’s not flashy, but he just turned 25 and is developing into a proven, productive scorer. Horford, in particular, has had a better career, but Randle’s next 5 years will be superior.
No. 44 Bam Adebayo (Kentucky): The Wildcats’ 2017 team featured 7 eventual NBA players. Adebayo was part of the freshman class. The Hornets drafted and developed him for 2 seasons. An All-Star in his first year as a full-time starter, he’s averaging 16.2 points, 10.5 rebounds and 5.1 rebounds.
No. 43 Geno Atkins (Georgia): Is Atkins building a Hall of Fame case? He has been selected to 8 Pro Bowls and the 1st-team All-Pro twice. His problem? He has been in Cincinnati his entire career. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season.
No. 42 Devin White (LSU): White made plays as a rookie in the middle of the Bucs’ defense last season, recovering a team-high 4 fumbles and returning 2 for TDs.
No. 41 O.J. Howard (Alabama): For 3 seasons, Howard played with an inconsistent QB who largely ignored his tight end. That explains the somewhat modest numbers. For the next couple of years, at least, he’ll play with arguably the greatest QB in league history who turned Rob Gronkowski into a Hall of Famer. That explains his rising stock.
No. 40 Maurkice Pouncey (Florida): Centers don’t get much love — not a single one made the NFL’s Top 100 list — but his impact and ability are undeniable. The longtime Steelers centerpiece was just selected to his 8th Pro Bowl.
No. 39 Collin Sexton (Alabama): Sure, he’s 1-dimensional, but he’s just 21 and leads the Cavaliers in scoring at 20.8 points per game.
No. 38 Aaron Nola (LSU): He finished 3rd in the NL Cy Young vote in 2018 and has been the Phillies ace for 3 years. He’ll climb on this list with more years like that one, especially if the Phillies become the October player they envisioned after signing Bryce Harper.
No. 37 Kyler Murray (Texas A&M): Yes, he transferred and won the Heisman at Oklahoma, but it all started in the SEC. Murray was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019 after throwing for 3,722 yards and 20 TDs. He also was sacked a league-high 48 times, which is why he isn’t closer to the top 20.
No. 36 Bubba Watson (Georgia): It’s easy to forget about the big-swinging, lanky lefty. Watson has missed the cut in 6 of his past 9 majors, but he’s also a 2-time Masters champion who finished 5th in 2018 and 12th in 2019. He’s a threat on his home away from home course and ended the 2019 season ranked No. 25 in the world.
No. 35 John Isner (Georgia): No, he’s never won a major, but he cracked the top 10 a couple of years ago and closed 2019 at No. 19. He continues to be the highest-ranked American man on the ATP Tour. His game is as immune to aging as anyone on tour. Because he excels in 2-shot tennis, as long as his right arm holds up, he has a chance to do damage.
No. 34 Leonard Fournette (LSU): Too low? Maybe. Fournette has 2 1,000-yard seasons in 3 seasons, and last year added 76 receptions. The knock? He has battled injuries and has scored just 9 rushing/receiving TDs combined in the past 2 seasons after scoring 10 total as a rookie.
No. 33 A.J. Green (Georgia): He’ll be 32 next season and is coming off an injury and about to break in a new QB (Joe Burrow, perhaps), but let’s not forget he was trending toward another typical 1,000-yard, 10-TD catch season in 2019.
No. 32 De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky): He just turned 22 this season and is averaging 20 points per game for the 1st time. He’s a much better playmaker than Sexton, too.
No. 31 Fletcher Cox (Mississippi State): The Bulldogs aren’t quite DL U, but they’re producing their fair share. Cox recently made the Pro Bowl for the 5th consecutive year, and he helped the Eagles win the Super Bowl in 2017. He just turned 30, so he has several more years at an elite level.
No. 30 Marlon Humphrey (Alabama): The 3rd-year corner made the Pro Bowl and was a 1st-team All-Pro in 2019. He had 3 INTs and also returned 2 fumbles for TDs — something he learned well at Alabama.
No. 29 Jarvis Landry (LSU): Another 1,000-yard receiving season (his 3rd). Another Pro Bowl selection (his 5th consecutive). Landry continues to be one of the best in the game.
No. 28 Tre’Davious White (LSU): White led the NFL with 6 INTs in 2019, his 3rd year in the league and his 1st as a Pro Bowl and 1st-team All-Pro corner. The more he plays like this, the less Bills fans will remember that he was part of the draft-day Patrick Mahomes trade.
No. 27 Calvin Ridley (Alabama): Only injuries in Year 2 slowed him from posting better numbers than Julio Jones last season. Ridley finished with 866 yards in 13 games and still had 1 more TD than Jones (7 to 6). He’s not better than Jones. He’s the perfect complement.
No. 26 Cam Newton (Auburn): How much does he have left? That’s the only question for the former NFL MVP and 3-time Pro Bowler. A 25-year-old Cam Newton would lead this list. The 31-year-old free agent is coming off an injury and searching for a new home.
No. 25 Josh Jacobs (Alabama): Too high? Maybe, but I’m a huge fan. I wrote after the 2019 draft that Jacobs would have the best rookie season among SEC picks. He did.
No. 24 Whit Merrifield (South Carolina): The latest-bloomer on this list and one of the more underrated All-Stars in baseball, Merrifield hit .300 each and led the AL in hits each of the past 2 seasons. It’s been a remarkable journey for the 31-year-old, who is entering his prime after spending 8 seasons in the minor leagues.
No. 23 Dak Prescott (Mississippi State): Prescott ahead of Newton? Age and health are key reasons, but don’t sleep on Prescott’s ability, either. He hasn’t accomplished as much as Newton, yet, but he’s proven to be a more reliable passer.
No. 22 Jamal Adams (LSU): He’s already a 2-time Pro Bowler and was named to the 1st-team All-Pro in 2019. NFL players ranked him just behind Eddie Jackson. Fair enough …
No. 21 Eddie Jackson (Alabama): His INTs were down in 2019, but Jackson made the Pro Bowl for the 2nd consecutive year. Nobody is selling stock in his future.
No. 20 Ben Simmons (LSU): A triple-double threat, the 2-time All-Star is still more of a facilitator than shooter, but he’s a key reason the 76ers are a viable threat in the East. You just know there’s more there, and if he ever truly develops trust in his jump shot, he’ll be as unstoppable as anybody in the NBA and easily deserving of a top 5 spot on this list.
No. 19 Nick Chubb (Georgia): After just missing out on a 1,000-yard season as a rookie in 2018 (he finished with 996), Chubb cleared the hurdle with room to spare in 2019. He ran for 1,494 yards and 8 TDs, which matched his rookie total. He has been everything the Browns could have wanted.
No. 18 Patrick Reed (Georgia): Reed had a bumpy exit from Georgia and finished his college career elsewhere. He’s not for everybody, but he has 8 career wins on the PGA Tour, including the 2018 Masters, and has been a dominant performer in Ryder Cup.
No. 17 Josh Donaldson (Auburn): A 3-time All-Star and 2015 AL MVP, Donaldson is a playoff veteran who was picked up to push Minnesota over the top in 2020.
No. 16 Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama): He escaped Miami and dominated with the Steelers. His 5 INTs in 2019 tied for the team lead and helped him make the Pro Bowl for the 1st time.
No. 15 Patrick Peterson (LSU): The 8-time Pro Bowler is obviously closer to Canton than his draft night, but he’s still a Top 50 player in the NFL. All these SEC youngbloods are still chasing the standard he set.
No. 14 Mike Evans (Texas A&M): See: Howard, O.J. Change the position and add to the totals. Evans should be as unstoppable as Julio Jones. Too optimistic? He has had 1,000 yards receiving in each of his 6 seasons despite catching more than 75 passes just twice. His career yards per catch (15.7) is better than Jones’ (15.2).
No. 13 Devin Booker (Kentucky): Given the green light in Phoenix, Booker is averaging 26 points per game for the 2nd consecutive season and just made his 1st All-Star team. He’s still just 24.
No. 12 Josh Allen (Kentucky): He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie and figures to be the face of the revamped Jaguars for the foreseeable future after pacing all rookies with 10.5 sacks. In 5 years, he might climb into the top 5 of this list.
No. 11 Bradley Beal (Florida): He has fully escaped John Wall’s shadow and is one of the league’s most dangerous perimeter players. He’s 2nd in the league in scoring, averaging a career-high 30.4 points per game. He’s a 2-time All-Star who was noticeably (and wrongly) absent from this year’s game.
No. 10 Alvin Kamara (Tennessee): One of the NFL’s most versatile weapons, he went from lightly-used at Tennessee to a type of player every team wants in the NFL. How much respect has he garnered? He was ranked No. 14 on the NFL’s Top 100 list for 2019.
No. 9 Derrick Henry (Alabama): Henry was No. 99 on the NFL Network’s Top 100 player ranking last season. He might jump into the top 10 of this summer’s list after leading the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards and 16 TDs. The only drawback: His position. Running backs don’t last forever. Though running backs aren’t built like Henry, either.
No. 8 Karl-Anthony Towns (Kentucky): He’s not Anthony Davis, but he’s one of the most versatile big men in the NBA. The 2-time All-Star was enjoying his best season, too, averaging a career-high 26.5 points per game while maintaining his double-digit rebounding average (10.8).
No. 7 Walker Buehler (Vanderbilt): An All-Star last season, he is ready to supplant Clayton Kershaw as the Dodgers’ ace. If he stays healthy, always a concern for a pitcher, he’ll contend for Cy Young awards and postseason honors for the next decade.
No. 6 Alex Bregman (LSU): Save the trash can jokes for another story. Bregman is a 2-time All-Star who helped Astros win the since-tainted 2017 World Series title. MLB is enjoying a golden age of 3B, and Bregman sits at the top of the list after narrowly missing out on the 2019 AL MVP.
No. 5 Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina): He’s regarded as the best corner in the NFL, playing in the most prolific passing era in the sport’s history. He helped the Patriots win a Super Bowl in 2018 and has been named 1st-team All-Pro the past 2 seasons. He welcomes the challenge of “best on best” and wins those battles routinely.
No. 4 Justin Thomas (Alabama): How many SEC pros are in the top 5 of their respective sport? Thomas closed 2019 ranked No. 5 on the PGA Tour. Thomas has 12 career wins, including the 2017 PGA Championship, his 1st major. There will be more.
No. 3 Julio Jones (Alabama): About to enter his 10th season, Jones continues to set the bar. And, at age 31, he shows almost no signs of slowing down. He caught 99 passes for 1,347 yards and 6 TDs last season, which ended with a 7th Pro Bowl selection. Someday he’ll relinquish his title as the SEC’s best active NFL player, but we’re not there yet.
No. 2 Pete Alonso (Florida): After breaking the MLB record for home runs by a rookie with 53, Alonso was a unanimous pick as 2019 NL Rookie of the Year. In an era that revolves around the long ball, he already is being described as the face of baseball in New York.
No. 1 Anthony Davis (Kentucky): The No. 1 pick in 2012, Davis is a 7-time All-Star and 3-time All-NBA 1st-team selection. He joined LeBron James and has helped the Lakers build the best record in the Western Conference. The 2 biggest items missing on his Hall of Fame résumé — a championship and MVP — seem like foregone conclusions in the next few years.