Every SEC team has showed bright spots this season, but a couple of players have set themselves apart for their respective teams.
The SEC continuously produces some of the nation’s top performers and 2016 has been no different. An SEC East player has proved to be perhaps the best individual linebacker in the country, while another defensive lineman might be the nation’s best defensive player.
Offensively, several first-time starters in the SEC West have made their presence felt. But perhaps more surprising, injuries have kept mainstays like Leonard Fournette and Nick Chubb off the list and opened opportunities for surprise players to earn a spot.
Without further ado, here is every SEC team’s most valuable player with half the season complete:
Alabama: QB Jalen Hurts
Stats: 113 of 178 for 1,385 yards, 9 TDs, 3 INTs; 74 carries for 428 yards, 8 TDs
It’s hard to find a player who’s stood out for Alabama this season because the entire roster has been so ridiculously efficient. However, Hurts might be the most surprising story in the SEC this season. The true freshman from Channelview, Texas, is already establishing himself as one of the most dynamic playmakers in the conference. His ability to pass and run has given Lane Kiffin perhaps his best offense.
Arkansas: QB Brandon Allen
Stats: 138 of 219 for 1,861 yards, 18 TDs, 6 INTs
This isn’t just going to be a list of every team’s quarterbacks, promise. However, Allen has been incredible for the Razorbacks this season. Despite coming into the season with just 19 career pass attempts, Allen leads the conference in passing yards and touchdowns through seven games and has been as good as his brother was last season. If Arkansas can develop better offensive line and running play — an oddity under coach Bret Bielema — it could realistically win the rest of its games this season.
Auburn: DE Carl Lawson
Stats: 15 tackles, 7 TFLs, 6 sacks, 11 QB hurries
This is the season Lawson has been waiting to have. After being named a freshman All-American, Lawson missed the bulk of the last two seasons with nagging injuries. However, Lawson has turned back into the monstrous force that Auburn fans have waited to see. Even when he can’t get all the way to the quarterback (he ranks No. 2 in the conference in sacks), Lawson has pressured the QB 11 times in just six games. His presence has eased the pressure on the rest of the defense and allowed it to become elite.
Florida: LB Jarrad Davis
Stats: 48 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, 4 pass breakups, 3 QB hurries
Picking the MVP of this freakish Florida defense is darn near unfair. The secondary has been the best in the nation and the Gators rank No. 2 nationally in pass defense. Cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor both deserve strong mention for their elite play — both could be All-Americans. But this honor goes to Davis, who still remains the vocal leader in the middle of the defense for coordinator Geoff Collins. He leads the team in tackles and has consistently secured the middle of the field. Former coach Will Muschamp had a bevy of weaknesses at Florida, but he recruited incredible defensive players to Gainesville before he was let go.
Georgia: WR Isaiah McKenzie
Stats: 30 catches for 415 yards, 5 TDs; 15 carries for 74 yards, TD; 16 punt returns for 105 yards
What record would Georgia have if McKenzie wasn’t on the roster? He caught the winning touchdown to launch the Bulldogs over Missouri, grabbed a key 17-yard touchdown against North Carolina to spark a run and caught 10 passes and added a 55-yard punt return against Nicholls State to set up a field goal drive. The biggest issues for Georgia has come up front, but McKenzie has been the lone consistent offensive player.
Kentucky: RB Stanley Williams
Stats: 76 carries for 540 yards, 2 TDs
Williams has been one of the most efficient offensive options in the SEC, and that’s continued this season despite a bevy of difficult opponents. The junior has equaled his sophomore mark of 7.1 yards per carry this season and has accumulated at least 5.5 yards per carry in every game except the one against Alabama. He really should be getting more carries, no matter how slight he might be. The two games he’s received 15 carries, he’s averaged 152 yards per game and 9.2 yards per carry.
LSU: DE Arden Key
Stats: 29 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 7 sacks, 8 QB hurries, 3 forced fumbles, pass breakup
Like with Florida, how do you pick a standout player from this defense? Cornerback Tre’Davious White might be the best in the nation and also is a factor in the return game. Safety Jamal Adams has lived up to his recruiting hype and should be a first-round NFL Draft pick after his true junior season. Linebacker Kendell Beckwith deserves consideration for being a steady piece. However, the honor goes to Key, who has been a devastating playmaker. Key leads the SEC in sacks and has added 8 QB hurries and 3 forced fumbles. He’s a home-run threat whenever he steps onto the field.
Mississippi State: LB Richie Brown
Stats: 51 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, sack, pass breakup, QB hurry, forced fumble
Brown could have likely left for the NFL after a standout 2015 campaign but chose to stay and add to his legacy as a second-year starter for the Bulldogs. He currently leads the team with 51 tackles and has added 2.5 tackles for losses and a forced fumble. Mississippi State has been inconsistent everywhere, but Brown is a lone exception.
Missouri: LB Michael Scherer
Stats: 52 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 2 pass breakups, 2 QB hurries, INT
Missouri’s defense has been inconsistent this season, but don’t blame Scherer. The linebacker has been the epitome of a senior leader in his final season with the program, ranking top 5 in the conference in tackles and ranking second in tackles for losses behind teammate Charles Harris. Mizzou’s defense has been inconsistent, but Scherer remains a bright spot.
Ole Miss: QB Chad Kelly
Stats: 113 of 213 for 1,849 yards, 14 TDs, 5 INTs; 52 carries for 213 yards, 3 TDs
Kelly hasn’t necessarily taken the step forward many hoped, but he still remains one of the best overall quarterbacks in the conference, and maybe the second-best pocket passer behind Allen. He’s also broken out the running ability as of late, including an 89-yard performance against Arkansas in Fayetteville last weekend. The biggest issue is that Kelly has been perhaps the only consistent offensive option — the Rebels ranked No. 12 in rushing offense in the SEC.
South Carolina: DE Darius English
Stats: 28 tackles, 6 sacks, 3 QB hurries, 2 forced fumbles
He was listed as a reserve coming into the year, but English has broken out to become coach Will Muschamp’s most dynamic defensive player and is tied with Auburn’s Carl Lawson and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett for second in the conference in sacks. English’s emergence has played a big part in South Carolina’s defensive improvement by more than 30 yards per game.
Tennessee: DL Derek Barnett
Stats: 32 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, 6 sacks, 5 QB hurries, INT, forced fumble, 2 pass breakups
Barnett’s numbers are awesome, but they don’t even start to show just how devastating the defensive lineman has been this season. Even though the Vols have lost Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Cameron Sutton and Darrin Kirkland to injuries, Barnett has ensured that the Tennessee defense remains among the best in football. He’s a freak of nature, bull-rushing quarterbacks and still being a major factor in the run defense. He even forced a fumble for a touchdown in the win over Georgia. Barnett is undoubtedly the SEC Defensive Player of the Year at this point and has a great argument for the Bednarik Award.
Texas A&M: QB Trevor Knight
Stats: 115 of 215 for 1,500 yards, 9 TDs, 5 INTs; 65 carries for 502 yards, 9 TDs
It hasn’t always been pretty, but Knight has been the catalyst behind the Aggies’ resurgence this season. The graduate transfer from Oklahoma has revitalized the running game and paved the way for Texas A&M to shockingly possess the conference’s best rushing offense, more productive per game than even vaunted Alabama. Leading the Aggies to a win this weekend over the Crimson Tide would make him an instant legend. Safety Justin Evans also deserves mention as he has surprisingly become one of the best in the SEC.
Vanderbilt: LB Zach Cunningham
Stats: 81 tackles, 13.0 TFLs, pass breakup, QB hurry, forced fumble, fumble recovery
Cunningham is the best linebacker in the SEC, period. He came into his game against Georgia leading the conference with 62 tackles and left third in the nation with 81 tackles, best among Power Five players by a whopping 14 tackles. Cunningham is the motor that makes Derek Mason’s defense go and even added the clinching tackle against Georgia on Saturday. He should be in consideration for the Butkus Award.