We are handing out superlatives in the SEC Country film room today. It’s the best players, at the best things, across the best conference:
Best rhythm passer
Austin Allen, Arkansas – Allen is the best rhythm thrower in the conference. Whether it’s a three-, five-, or seven-step drop, he gets the ball out on time and within the flow of the offense. It certainly helps that he’s under center more than most in the league, but he gets rid of the ball quickly and with very good ball placement (allowing receivers to run after the catch). Allen has had two rough outings, against Alabama and Auburn, both opponents tormenting him with a relentless pass rush. But no other quarterback in the league plays as well within the structure of a rhythm-based system.
Best off-platform thrower
Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss— Throwing off-platform means throwing from awkward body positions, arm angles, and with a cluttered pocket. Now, here’s where it gets a bit tough. Kelly shows the ability to throw from any platform to anywhere on the field. The problem is that it isn’t always to his own players. Kelly has flashes of excellence, with great accuracy and velocity control down the field. All too often he makes mind-numbing decisions, but more than anyone he can get the ball to spots from the most awkward of body angles.
Most elusive running back
Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee — Thankfully, Kamara does not need surgery on a knee injury he sustained against Alabama. Whether we see him again or not remains up in the air. When he’s on the field, he is as dynamic a runner as anyone in the nation. Kamara has the rare ability to accelerate while he’s cutting. And it always feels like he’s able to find small areas of space that others simply can’t. Added to that is his ability to line up as a receiver and make plays in space, forcing missed tackles and creating explosive offense.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU — I mean, is there even an argument, how could it not be Fournette? No one poses the same combination of size, speed, power, vision and top-end breakaway speed. In fact, Fournette is the most talented player I have ever personally covered.
Offensive game-plan wrecker
Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss — Engram is the key to Ole Miss’ explosive passing attack. So far this season, only LSU has been able to slow down Engram, with bracket coverage and using Jamaal Adams in single coverage. Engram creates mismatches against safeties and linebackers, and lines up anywhere across the offensive formation. Facing Engram takes an opponent out of its base defense, allowing Ole Miss to dictate the game through the alignment of one player.
Lester Cotton, G, Alabama – It seems like Cotton’s sole goal is to flatten as many humans who play defense as possible. Filling in for Alphonso Taylor at right guard, Cotton has been a force in the run game. In pass protection he has iffy feet, but that’s not what this award is about. Whether he’s pulling, or playing head on, Cotton has explosive in-line power and delivers multiple pancake blocks per game.
Top true freshman
Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama — I could have gone with Williams’ teammate Jalen Hurts, but I wanted to show the big guy some love. Williams is as impressive a true freshman lineman to come into the conference in years. In fact, he has been outplaying fellow lineman Cam Robinson, a projected first-round NFL draft pick. Williams is a mauler in the run game, and is refined in pass protection for such a young a player. His combination of quick feet, length, and ability to anchor against power, is a special blend. Through eight games this season he has conceded just nine total pressures, per College Football Film Room. With some future NFL pass-rushers remaining on the Alabama schedule, it will be fascinating to see how he competes.
Most exciting true freshman
Trayveon Williams, RB, Texas A&M — Ok, so I snuck this category in so that I could show some love to the other Williams. His stop-and-start ability is special. And while he splits time with Keith Ford, I expect Williams to gain a bigger role as the season goes along.
Defensive game-plan wrecker
Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama — This was a toss-up between Allen and Myles Garrett. But I was swayed by the best defensive play of the season.
I wrote earlier this week about how teams could try to slow down Alabama’s dominant pass rush. Yet every avenue you try to consider is almost immediately closed off by Allen. All the traditional methods are thrown out the window: chipping with a running back, using misdirection plays, trapping a defensive lineman, double-teaming Allen, and running perimeter plays, are all rendered null-and-void by Allen clogging the middle and his interior pressure.
Two things separate Allen from other pass rushers, and make him near impossible to defend: He has exceptional hand usage, and he’s sensational against combination blocks. And yeah, every now and then he’ll undress a true freshman guard and launch himself over a chipping running back for a sack.
Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida — Wilson’s exceptional season – and his talking – has made him a larger part of the SEC lexicon. Yet he’s still not put into the same top-tier category of cover corners.
For me, Wilson has had a better year than teammate Jalen Tabor. On the field, I love Wilson’s attitude, his ability in press-coverage and the way he locates the ball downfield. He can be prone to be being overly aggressive against double-moves, but over the course of the season he more than makes up for it by being aggressive and making plays on the ball.
Best sideline-to-sideline linebacker
Zack Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt – First, I love how Cunningham makes every “underrated” list. At this point, I think he’s properly rated: he’s great.
The SEC is blessed with some of the best sideline-to-sideline linebackers in the country. Some of them play with incredible athleticism, others with terrific instincts. The rare ones; Reuben Foster, Jared Davis and Zack Cunningham, have both.
Cunningham’s diagnose-and-attack instincts are off-the-charts. My favorite way to evaluate linebackers is to cue up every screen pass. I watch for three things: how quickly they diagnose it, how quickly they get there, and how they get there. Cunningham grades out as a high as possible.