We take a look at 10 players to keep an eye on in the SEC in 2017.
Like every year in college football, graduation and the NFL draft offer a natural source of attrition on football rosters. Talent churns our and is replaced by ever-evolving, new generations of gridiron stars.
The SEC sends more players to the NFL than any other conference, and 2017 was no different. First overall pick Myles Garrett led the way, followed by others such as Leonard Fournette, Jamal Adams and Ruben Foster. Per usual, the cupboard remains stocked in the SEC. Here’s a look at the top returning talent in the SEC.
1. Arden Key, EDGE, LSU
Key is the ideal long, explosive pass rusher and arguably the best in the country,. He posted 12 sacks in 11 games as a sophomore in 2016. With added weight and strength, look for Key to be even more of a terror in 2017.
2. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
You’d think the loss of Fournette would be tragic for the LSU program. However, it was Guice who actually led the Tigers in rushing in 2016 with 1,387 yards, as Fournette nursed an ankle injury.
3. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
Cooper’s numbers dropped in 2016, from his 2015 freshman season. But, he’s the most talented receiver in the conference and his numbers should skyrocket now that quarterback Jalen Hurts has more experience.
4. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
Kirk is neck-and-neck with Ridley as the top receiver in the SEC. His versatility and playmaking ability are second-to-none. He is a threat from outside, in the slot or lined up in the backfield.
5. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Recovering from an ugly knee injury in 2016, Chubb just didn’t look like himself for most of the season. Now fully healthy, expect the powerful, explosive Chubb to return to form in 2017. He and backfield mate, Sony Michel will tear up defenses.
6. Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S, Alabama
With six interceptions — two returned for touchdowns — in 2016, Fitzpatrick is one of the best ballhawks in the nation. With the ability to play all over the defensive backfield, he will be the focal point of the Crimson Tide attack.
7. Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas
Ragnow was graded by Pro Football Focus as the best offensive lineman in the country for 2016. Allowing zero sacks and just 12 pressures will do that. He is back for his senior season to lead the talented Razorbacks’ offensive line in 2017.
8. Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama
Payne is a throwback defensive tackle, eating up blocks and clogging up the middle of the line. Rarely, does he receive the notoriety that his play deserves, but he’s the reason those Bama linebackers get to run around and make plays.
9. Rawleigh Williams, RB, Arkansas
Definitely not a household name, but he’s got some serious talent. He broke out during his 2016 sophomore campaign with 1,360 yards rushing. With his ability and the talent up front, Williams should be just as good moving forward.
10. Braden Smith, OT, Auburn
Smith is the anchor of the Auburn offensive front and has the ability to play all along the line. He’s arguably the best offensive line NFL prospect in the SEC and looks to end his Auburn career with the same dominance he’s shown thus far.