Who is the SEC’s most underrated player on the national scene?
That’s a debate that likely has no clear resolution, but there’s a decent chance that Athlon Sports has identified some of the major candidates for the discussion.
Athlon Sports writer Steven Lassan recently released a list of the Top 50 underrated college football players for the 2016 season.
Eight SEC players were included, in alphabetical order (there was no 1-50 ranking):
Caleb Brantley, DT, Florida: The Gators defensive line is expected to again be one of the team’s strengths, and Brantley could be a big reason why. Lassan believes that Brantley gets lost on the national scene because of names like Cece Jefferson and Bryan Cox also drawing attention on the Florida defensive front, and the lack of big statistics for Brantley from the interior of the defensive line.
Richie Brown, LB, Mississippi State: The veteran linebacker piled up 109 tackles during the 2015 season, and seemingly no one is discussing the Bulldogs’ veteran linebacker as one of the conference’s key returners at the position. New defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon likely knows what he has in Brown, even if the rest of the nation seems to be sleeping on him.
Oren Burks, LB, Vanderbilt: Burks may be underrated for his work on the field for the Commodores, but those in the know within the SEC are well aware of the junior. Commissioner Greg Sankey referenced Burks twice in his opening remarks at SEC Media Days earlier in the month, citing him as a model student-athlete. He will step in the Star position on the Vanderbilt defense, which is an important linebacker/defensive back hybrid role in Derek Mason’s scheme.
Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee: Everyone seems to want to talk about backfield mate Jalen Hurd and senior quarterback Joshua Dobbs when discussing the Vols offensive options for the fall, but the former Alabama transfer should also be a significant contributor. He was voted as one of the Vols captains for the fall, so it’s likely that his teammates are aware of his value.
Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama: When it comes to the talented defensive lineman, Lassan again points to the propensity of fans and media types to look at the stat sheet when assessing the value of a player. On a defense full of star names, Payne should be a significant contributor for the defending national champions.
Aairon Penton, CB, Missouri: A quiet, yet effective contributor to a Tigers defense that allowed just 10 passing touchdowns last season. According to Lassan, he’s an all-conference type of talent on a defense that again be effective under former defensive coordinator Barry Odom’s watch.
Jon Toth, C, Kentucky: He’s on the Rimington Trophy watch list, so clearly those who care most about the play of offensive linemen have noticed Toth. But Lassan points to Toth’s experience and leadership (35 consecutive starts during the last three seasons) as his source of value to a Kentucky team that needs to find a way over the five-win hump in 2016.
Deatrich Wise, DE, Arkansas: Wise is certainly not underrating his own abilities, as he promised the SEC Media Days crowd he would match his career sack total (13) in the season ahead. The rest of the nation may not be aware that Wise recorded seven sacks in the final four games of the 2015 season, which is a major source of optimism for his chances at a standout senior campaign.