With the way its teams are recruiting, the SEC West has separated itself as the most talented division in college football. Almost every team in the division has players who could start anywhere in the nation.
Thirty-one SEC West players were selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, including 12 in the first two rounds. However, the level of talent in the conference still remains high.
Here are the 15 best players in the SEC West heading into the 2016 season.
DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
Since the second he first took the field for Texas A&M, DE Myles Garrett has been a freak. He accumulated 6.5 sacks in his first three games on campus, and has only continued to get better as his career has gone on. If he can replicate his elite performance from last season, 19.5 tackles for loss and 12.5 sacks, Garrett should be a consensus top-five pick in next year’s NFL draft.
RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
It’s rare for a skill position player to be the consensus top prospect in his class, but that should tell you how highly-regarded RB Leonard Fournette was coming out of high school. He showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman, but truly broke out as a true sophomore. In just 12 games, Fournette rushed for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns. LSU is a popular pick to win the SEC West next season. Should the Tigers pull off this feat, combined with another strong season, Fournette should receive major Heisman buzz.
LT Cam Robinson, Alabama
Even taking into account his off-the-field concerns stemming from a May arrest, OT Cam Robinson is one of the most intriguing linemen in the nation. Since starting as a true freshman, Robinson has established himself as one of the top blockers in college football. Alabama is losing several key contributors, but Robinson should help ensure the new pieces transition in seamlessly.
QB Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
In a league that has struggled to move the ball in recent years, QB Chad Kelly stands above. In his first season at Ole Miss, Kelly threw for over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. He also became the first quarterback in Rebel history to lead his team to wins over Alabama, LSU and Auburn in the same season. Many of his favorite targets are gone, but Kelly should singlehandedly keep Ole Miss’s offense among the nation’s best.
DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama
Alabama DE Jonathan Allen could have been a first round pick in 2016 after posting 12 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles as a junior for the national title-winning Crimson Tide. However, Allen opted to get his degree and return for his senior season in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Now, Allen is one of the most fearsome prospects in the nation.
SS Jamal Adams, LSU
When Jamal Adams committed to “the university of LSU” in 2013, his status as a superstar in Baton Rouge, La., was all but solidified. After contributing heavily during his freshman year, Adams took over the safety position as a sophomore and left his mark. In 12 games, Adams accumulated 67 tackles and nabbed four interceptions. Teams are learning not to throw it in Adams’ direction.
SS Eddie Jackson, Alabama
When playing with a terrifying front seven, it makes the secondary’s job easier. Eddie Jackson has taken advantage, and now sits as one of the top prospects in the SEC West. Jackson had a breakout season in 2015 for the national champions. In his first season at safety, Jackson led the conference with six interceptions and was named All-SEC First Team. Jackson is a special playmaker at the position, and will step into a leadership role next season.
DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss
On a defense with several star players, Marquis Haynes managed to stand above. A former prep school recruit, Haynes has posted 25.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks in two seasons in Oxford, Miss. It is rare to see a player of his talent still be locked into at least one more year of eligibility. Haynes should take the opportunity to dominate the conference.
FS Armani Watts, Texas A&M
It’s rare to see a defensive back lead his team in tackles, but FS Armani Watts is that kind of playmaker in the backfield. Watts was second in the SEC with 126 tackles, 45 stops ahead of Texas A&M’s second-leading tackler Shaan Washington. Watts has the ability to make plays all over the field, including six tackles for loss and a pair of forced fumbles last year. He should continue to improve next season.
WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
When Amari Cooper left for the NFL, critics almost completely wrote off Alabama’s passing game. While QB Jake Coker was not asked to do nearly as much with a Heisman Trophy winner in the backfield, Calvin Ridley ensured that the passing game remained dangerous. Ridley led the Crimson Tide in receiving yards as a true freshman and finished No. 2 in SEC receiving yards overall. He can continue to make Alabama’s passing game viable.
LB Tim Williams, Alabama
Even though he could have been another Alabama draft pick, LB Tim Williams opted to stay in school. As a junior, Williams recorded 12.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks, meaning that nearly two-thirds of his tackles last season were for loss. With All-SEC talent Reggie Ragland gone to the NFL, the linebacker squad belongs to Williams.
Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
This was the year of the freshman wide receiver in the SEC, and Christian Kirk electrified. Kirk was one of four freshmen, and two major-conference freshmen, to post a 1,000-yard receiving season, along with Calvin Ridley. Even as the Aggies’s quarterback situation fluctuated between Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, Kirk continued to make plays. With Trevor Knight now definitively under center, Kirk will only continue to grow.
CB Tre’Davious White, LSU
LSU likes to refer to itself as “DBU,” and players like Tre’Davious White are why it can get away with it. White was highly-regarded out of high school and lived up to the hype immediately. As a true freshman, he wrested the starting position from more experienced players and has been there ever since. White is one of the few four-year starters in the conference, especially at cornerback.
DE Carl Lawson, Auburn
If he could just stay healthy, Carl Lawson could be contending to be one of the best players in the conference. But with a combination of knee and hip injuries, Lawson has been limited to just seven games over the last two seasons. Lawson’s return could completely revitalize a defense that struggled at times last season in a disappointing 7-6 season.
WR Fred Ross, Mississippi State
Mississippi State has its work cut out trying to replace All-SEC QB Dak Prescott. Whoever wins the quarterback battle will have some outstanding weapons around him. Ross caught 88 passes for 1,007 yards last season to lead the Bulldogs offensively. He nabbed nearly seven balls a game, but still has the ability to make defenders miss. Especially with De’Runnya Wilson on the other sideline, Ross could have a monster year.