Who is the SEC's most underrated player of the 21st Century?
Rushing records have been broken. Passing records have been obliterated. Six SEC stars have won the Heisman Trophy. Seven SEC stars were taken No. 1 overall in their respective NFL Draft.
That’s just since the calendar flipped to 2000.
SEC football is utterly dominating the 21st Century. With all of that talent, it’s easy to forget just how great some of these guys were.
Who is the most underrated of this era? That’s something we’ve been discussing for a while.
Jon Cooper, SDS co-founder
I’m going with a little bit of a different player here. There are plenty of ridiculously talented players who never won the big-time awards, but, to me, former South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw is the most underrated player I’ve ever seen in the SEC.
Underrated can be defined in many, many ways. “The Warrior” is one of the most underrated movies of all-time. Eric Church is the most underrated songwriter/singer/entertainer in music regardless of genre. Shaw was a nitty-gritty throwback player who defined the Steve Spurrier era in Columbia. All Shaw did was win games. He finished his career with an 18-0 record at Williams-Brice Stadium. That’s remarkable and won’t be duplicated, maybe ever, at USC.
Shaw was so effective that Spurrier changed his entire throw-it-all-around-the-yard offensive identity for a dual-threat quarterback who wasn’t expected to do much in college. During his 4-year career, Shaw threw for over 6,000 yards and 56 touchdowns, while rushing for nearly 1,700 and 17 touchdowns. He’s the greatest South Carolina quarterback in history in the greatest age in Gamecocks football.
Michael Bratton, News editor
For all the praise that James Franklin and Bob Shoop have received over the years for Vanderbilt’s historic run in 2012 and 2013, Matthews deserved to be the first player mentioned when it comes those Commodores teams, in my opinion.
It’s one thing to put up big numbers in college, it’s another to do it in the SEC. Taking that one step further, it’s another thing to do that at Vanderbilt when the opposition knows where the ball is going and they simply cannot stop it.
My favorite moment of Matthews’ college career came against Ole Miss during the 2013 season opener. With just over three minutes remaining in the game, Matthews took a tough shot when he went over the middle to make a catch. He was hit so hard, Matthews started puking on the field and needed assistance from the Vanderbilt training staff. One minute later in the game, guess who made the big play on 4th and 18? Matthews converted thanks to this 42-yard conversion:
Matthews had over 200 catches with 2,800 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns in his final two seasons in Nashville.
When it comes to the best SEC receivers of his decade, Matthews deserves more respect.
Neil Blackmon, Florida columnist
There are only two possible correct answers to this question.
Chris took the first one, which is Darren McFadden, who continues to chop that wood and who should have won the 2006 Heisman Trophy. McFadden isn’t the best running back in college football history, but he’s the best one I’ve seen live in my lifetime and that includes a list of Heisman winners like Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry as well as some absolute stars like Sony Michel, Nick Chubb and Leonard Fournette.
The other correct answer is Percy Harvin of Florida.
Harvin was essentially the SEC’s version of Reggie Bush, the jack-of-all-trades who was a threat to go the distance any time he touched the football. Urban Meyer recently called Harvin “the most special talent he ever coached” and it’s easy to see why he felt that way. The truth is Florida was almost invincible with him on the field. The most electrifying Gator in program history, Harvin averaged more than 11.5 yards a touch in his career, despite attempting 60 more rushes (194) in his career than receptions (133). Harvin averaged 9.8 yards a rush in games against SEC defenses — high school type numbers that are almost impossible to believe.
Had he not played Robin to Tim Tebow’s Batman, he would have been on every awards list as a junior. As it is, he had to settle for being a consensus All-American and the X factor in Florida’s national championship game win over Oklahoma, where he busted off two 50+ yard runs — while playing on a broken bone in his foot.
Connor O’Gara, Senior national columnist
Is it weird to also say Jordan Matthews?
I realize the Vanderbilt receiver was super decorated, but I felt like Amari Cooper’s rise somewhat coinciding with his overshadowed just how good he was. And incredibly, he did his damage at a place where he was the obvious star in that offense. I’m not sure the average SEC fan would think of him as one of the conference’s best receivers of the 21st century, but he obviously still owns the SEC receiving and receptions record. Two seasons of 90-plus catches and 1,300 yards is an incredibly difficult feat in the SEC (with an average of 103 catches and 1,400 yards).
He wasn’t deemed as physically gifted as Cooper, Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones or Jarvis Landry, which is probably why he’s a bit forgotten by the casual fan, but Matthews still ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at the combine. All he did was get separation and make big plays during Vanderbilt’s best 3-year run in program history. I mean, Cooper is the only SEC player within 600 career receiving yards of Matthews. That’s wild.
I realize that there are other good names to bring up here. Darren McFadden and James Franklin were two of the others who immediately came to mind for me. But dare I say, the SEC’s all-time leading receiver is still underrated.
Adam Spencer, Newsletter editor
I don’t think Connor Shaw gets enough love for what he did at South Carolina, particularly during the 2013 season. The man threw for 24 touchdowns and only 1 interception while leading the Gamecocks to an impressive 11-2 overall record. Oh, and he also ran for 558 yards and 6 touchdowns and even had a touchdown reception that season.
Those were some really good South Carolina teams and he was the heart and soul of those squads. I graduated from Mizzou after the 2012 season, so I thankfully didn’t have to watch in person as the Gamecocks came to Missouri and beat the Tigers 27-24 during Shaw’s senior year in 2013. He was awesome in that game, throwing for 201 yards, 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. I’m glad that’s the only time Shaw got to play at Faurot Field. He definitely doesn’t get the love he deserves.
Chris Wright, Executive editor
I’ll start by saying I’m a bit surprised that Shaw was selected twice but nobody mentioned Aaron Murray, who left as the SEC’s record-holder for passing yards and TDs. Given the recent trend that most great QBs only play 3 years, those records might stand forever. Yet, when discussing the greatest SEC QBs, Murray rarely is mentioned in the top 5. Heck, given the fact we just saw 2 more great ones in Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa, Murray might not crack some people’s top 10.
Moving on, as for my choice, Neil already revealed him.
If I asked you: Who are the 3 best running backs in SEC history? You’d say Herschel, Bo and, depending on your age and school of choice, you’ll probably jump ahead to Fournette, Henry, Ingram, Chubb, etc.
I’d argue Darren McFadden is the 2nd-best running back in SEC history. Ahead of Bo.
McFadden twice led the SEC in rushing. Bo did too, but Bo’s 2nd time came as a senior. McFadden, like Herschel, left after his junior year. Had he returned, McFadden would have broken every significant SEC rushing record.
When McFadden left Arkansas, he ranked No. 2 in SEC career rushing yards (he’s now 3rd) and was No. 2 and No. 6 on the single-season rushing yards list.
He did this for a team that went a pedestrian 13-11 in the SEC during his time in Fayetteville. The outlier was 2006, when he carried the Hogs to the SEC West title. I’m preaching to the choir in Arkansas. They absolutely knew what they had and celebrate McFadden’s greatness. (Though it’s long past time the Hogs retired that No. 5, no?)
But the masses? Where’s McFadden, the 2-time Heisman runner-up, on this list?
Who is the best player in college football history to wear No. 5? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/1XeQM5hTTC
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) May 5, 2020
McFadden is never the first guy you think of. That’s the definition of underrated.
As No. 5s go, Reggie Bush and Jameis Winston won the Heisman, fine. Christian McCaffrey was a contender, too. But McFadden had far better numbers than Edgerrin James, Pat White and Donovan McNabb. Manti Te’o was hyped to be more than he was. LaDanian Tomlinson was great for 2 years at TCU — and 1 of those was his senior year.
No Run DMC? Oh, the indignity.
Can you imagine a similar listing of No. 34? Herschel and Bo would be the first 2 players listed. Outside of Arkansas fans, who even noticed McFadden wasn’t in that collage?