It happens every year. A college team, in football or basketball, looks incredibly impressive. An NFL or NBA team is dubbed the worst of all time. Talking heads then toss back and forth the idea that a college team could beat a team of professionals.
Most fans put down this idea because it would seem ridiculous that a college team, such as Alabama, could beat an NFL team, say the winless Cleveland Browns. The NFL team is full of former college stars, and the college team is limited by how much it can practice and prepare for the game.
But what if we gave a group of current SEC stars, and an entire offseason to train and practice together? And let’s say we dropped that team in the AFC South, the trashiest division in football. Would it be unrealistic to say that they could win the AFC South?
Dak Prescott has the Dallas Cowboys atop the NFC East. Odell Beckham hauled in more than 1,300 receiving yards in his rookie year. Imagine what a team of SEC stars could do.
So with those parameters in mind, we’ve put together a group of 53 current players — an NFL roster has 53 players — and SEC coaches to contend in the AFC South:
Coaching staff: Nick Saban (head coach), Lane Kiffin (offensive coordinator), Mel Tucker (defensive coordinator)
Beyond the fact these three were all on the Alabama staff last year, they each have NFL experience. Saban was the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, while Kiffin was the head coach for the Oakland Raiders. Mel Tucker served as the defensive coordinator for the aforementioned Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears before coming to the college ranks.
While there might be better options — Dave Aranda or John Chavis for defensive coordinator — Tucker’s experience and familiarity with Saban makes him an understandable choice.
Quarterbacks: Austin Allen (Arkansas), Chad Kelly (Ole Miss), Jalen Hurts (Alabama)
Allen is our starter, as he’s been the best quarterback to date. Allen leads the conference in passing yards and touchdowns and has shown that he can take a beating. While he lacks ideal size, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson have shown that smaller quarterbacks can excel.
While Kelly isn’t the most beloved quarterback, his size and experience give him the ability to hold up in the NFL. And with expanded NFL practice rules, Hurts can continue to develop under Kiffin’s tutelage and come in should both get injured.
Running backs: RB Leonard Fournette (LSU), Alvin Kamara (Tennessee), Nick Chubb (Georgia), Trayveon Williams (Texas A&M), Derrius Guice (LSU)
Despite their injuries this year, Fournette and Chubb are too talented to leave off this team. They both would benefit from having a rotation at running back. Kamara is the best pass-catching running back in the league and could be a real third-down weapon if used properly.
The additions of Williams and Guice might seem like overkill, but we need special teams players on this team, and these guys fill that role. And given that Fournette, Kamara and Chubb all have picked up injuries, depth never hurt anyone.
Fullback: Christian Payne (Georgia)
Payne might not factor much into the offensive game plan, but that shouldn’t prevent him from helping out on special teams. Payne has graded out as the conference’s top fullback in the past two weeks, per Pro Football Focus.
Wide receivers: Calvin Ridley (Alabama), Josh Reynolds (Texas A&M), Christian Kirk (Texas A&M), D.J. Chark (LSU), Quincy Adeboyejo (Ole Miss), Fred Ross (Mississippi State), Drew Morgan (Arkansas)
The SEC has a variety of talented pass catchers. With this list, we’ve tried to put together a group of guys who can do a little bit of everything. You’ve got guys who can play in the slot, Kirk and Morgan, as well as wide receivers who can get physical on the outside, Reynolds and Adeboyejo. Ridley and Ross are great route runners, and Chark is one of the fastest players in the conference.
Again, like the running backs, some of these guys will have to make contributions on special teams.
Tight Ends: TE Evan Engram (Ole Miss), O.J. Howard (Alabama), Isaac Nauta (Georgia)
Engram currently leads the SEC in receiving yards and is a matchup nightmare for opposing secondaries. Howard has shown he’s reliable when called upon, but also can play on the line and block. Nauta, like Hurts, is a developmental project but he’s shown flashes of being a dominant player. The Rob Gronkowski comparisons aren’t too far away for the Georgia freshman.
Offensive line: LT Cam Robinson (Alabama), LG Isaiah Wynn (Georgia), C Frank Ragnow (Arkansas), RG Ethan Pocic (LSU), RT Jonah Williams (Alabama), Ross Pierschbacher (Alabama), Alex Kozan (Auburn), Jermaine Eluemunor (Texas A&M)
This position group is the biggest concern. With guys like J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney in the division, the offensive line position group will have its hands full every week. Robinson is a potential first-round pick for the Crimson Tide, while Wynn, Ragnow and Pocic all have plenty of experience and talent. Williams is just a freshman for Alabama, but per Pro Football Focus, he’s given up just 2 pressures in 234 pass-blocking attempts. Pierschbacher, Kozan and Eluemunor are just as talented as their counterparts and offer a variety of potential options.
Defensive line: DE Myles Garrett (Texas A&M), DT Jonathan Allen (Alabama), DT Montravius Adams (Auburn), DE Derek Barnett (Tennessee), Arden Key (LSU), Tim Williams (Alabama), Trent Thompson (Georgia), Caleb Brantley (Florida), Dalvin Tomlinson (Alabama)
Before you get mad about excluding Carl Lawson of Auburn or Charles Harris of Missouri, you can’t field a defensive line full of pass-rushing defensive ends. A great defensive line has guys that can play both the run and the pass, both on the inside and on the edge.
Garrett, Allen and Barnett are no-brainers for this list, as they are the best player on each of their teams and all figure to go in the top 15 of next year’s NFL Draft. Adams has been huge for the Auburn defense. Key and Williams are the two best pass rushers in the conference, and Thompson, Brantley and Tomlinson are some of the conference’s best run stoppers.
Linebacker: LB Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt), LB Reuben Foster (Alabama), Kendell Beckwith (LSU), Jarrad Davis (Florida), Jalen Reeves-Maybin (Tennessee), Roquan Smith (Georgia)
Like the defensive line, there are lot of linebackers who excel at playing both the run and the pass. Cunningham racked up 19 tackles for Vanderbilt in its upset of Georgia last week, while Foster is the latest in a long line of Alabama stars at the position. Beckwith, Davis and Smith all have shined this year, and all six of these linebackers have shown that they can play special teams. If Reeves-Maybin is healthy, he might be the best linebacker in the conference.
Defensive backs: CB Quincy Wilson (Florida), CB Tre’Davious White (LSU), STAR Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama), FS Armani Watts (Texas A&M), SS Jamal Adams (LSU), Eddie Jackson Alabama, Dominick Sanders (Georgia), Jalen Tabor (Florida), Cam Sutton (Tennessee)
A bunch of shutdown corners and perhaps even more talented safeties. Wilson and White as starters over Tabor might be controversial, but the two have just been better than Tabor this season.
SEC cornerbacks allowing the lowest QB Rating on passes thrown their way
Quincy Wilson, UF, 0.4
Tre White, LSU, 23.6
John Gibson, MIZ, 28.2
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) October 18, 2016
Tabor still leads the conference in interceptions, with Fitzpatrick just behind him. You change out Watts and Adams for Jackson and Sanders and see almost no drop-off in skill. Sutton probably would be in the running for a starting spot had he not broken his ankle.
Kicker: Daniel Carlson (Auburn)
Carlson has been nearly perfect this year (13 of 14 on field-goal attempts). He hit all six of his tries in Auburn’s win against LSU.
Punter : JK Scott (Alabama)
There’s a surprisingly stiff competition for the conference’s top punter, with three averaging over 47 yards per punt. But Scott’s 48.0 yards per punt average in his 2014 season is the best by an SEC punter since 2009, just giving him the edge.
Starting Depth Chart
|Austin Allen (Arkansas)||QB|
|Leonard Fournette (LSU)||RB|
|Calvin Ridley (Alabama)||WR1|
|Josh Reynolds (Texas A&M)||WR 2|
|Christian Kirk (Texas A&M)||WR 3|
|Evan Engram (Ole Miss)||TE|
|Cam Robinson (Alabama)||LT|
|Isaiah Wynn (Georgia)||LG|
|Frank Ragnow (Arkansas)||C|
|Ethan Pocic (LSU)||RG|
|Jonah Williams (Alabama)||RT|
|Myles Garrett (Texas A&M)||DE|
|Jonathan Allen (Alabama)||DT|
|Montravius Adams (Auburn)||DT|
|Derek Barnett (Tennessee)||DE|
|Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt)||LB|
|Reuben Foster (Alabama)||LB|
|Quincy Wilson (Florida)||CB|
|Tre’Davious White (LSU)||CB|
|Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama)||Star|
|Armani Watts (Texas A&M)||FS|
|Jamal Adams (LSU)||SS|
|Daniel Carlson (Auburn)||K|
|JK Scott (Alabama)||P|
Players by school