We’re onto the second edition of our weekly best-in-the-conference countdown after a weekend of separation in the SEC. Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU were among the notable Week 3 winners, and part of that was again due to a number of strong individual efforts.
Let’s dive right in:
ON THE RISE: J’Mon Moore, Trayveon Williams, D.J. Jones, Jalen Hurts, Ryan Pulley, Damien Harris, Jabari Zuniga, Shaan Washington, Aarion Penton, Van Jefferson
Through three weeks, the conference’s No. 2 sack man (Zuniga) is a Florida redshirt freshman who has outproduced the likes of Jonathan Allen, Myles Garrett and Charles Harris so far. Aggies freshman tailback Williams has the league’s third-best YPC average, behind only Damien Harris and John Franklin III. Harris, by the way, has been a smart, shifty runner and could start moving up this list quickly. Oh, and the SEC’s leading receiver is a Missouri junior who had 383 yards combined in his first two seasons (Moore). You’ve got to mention small sample size and all of that, but there are some bright futures in this group.
MISSED THE CUT: Dan Skipper, Tim Williams, Antonio Callaway, Zach Cunningham, Jaylen Reeves-Maybin, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Justin Senior, Ralph Webb, AJ Jefferson, Isaiah McKenzie, Daniel Carlson, Frank Ragnow, Stanley Williams, Rawleigh Williams, Drew Lock
If anyone foresaw McKenzie, Lock and Jefferson all becoming stars through the first quarter of 2016, well, you should probably have my job. McKenzie is on pace for 1,220 yards receiving, which would be a Georgia single-season record. Lock is likewise on a record-setting pace among Missouri quarterbacks. The LSU O-line gave Jefferson trouble at times on Saturday, but he’s still shooting up NFL draft boards after a strong start. One more gold star: Credit Williams for one of Alabama’s biggest defensive plays vs. Ole Miss.
25. Texas A&M S Justin Evans (Last week: Not ranked)
In Week 3: 12 tackles (10 solo), 1 TFL
Evans has been one of the best safeties in the nation in 2016, recording 25 tackles, 2 interceptions and 3 pass breakups in three games. He just won SEC Defensive Player of the Week after a strong performance against Auburn, and he entered that game as the Aggies’ second-highest graded defender, according to Pro Football Focus. The Tigers offense averaged just 4.4 yards per carry and 126 yards passing in that game. The biggest thing for Evans is that he’s playing with the savvy you’d expect from a senior. Watch below: Evans recognizes a pattern and aggressively tries to exploit it for a turnover. A big part of John Chavis’ defensive philosophy.
Justin Evans recognizes the formation and actually beats the throw to its spot. pic.twitter.com/UDirEAwyA7
— Justen Gammel (@gamscout) September 19, 2016
24. LSU LB Arden Key (Last week: NR)
In Week 3: 5 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Key has been good all season, but Saturday’s superb effort against Mississippi State really caught everyone’s attention, if only for his game-saving sack. The Bulldogs’ offensive line is one of the SEC’s better groups, too. The sophomore from Atlanta already has 5 sacks, a forced fumble and 3 QB hurries. It’s no wonder Ed Orgeron said he’s “never had” anyone like Key on his team.
NCAA average for edge rushers is roughly 1 pressure per 10 pass rushing attempts. Arden Key in 2016: 1 every 3.9 pic.twitter.com/15axyCLCG5
— Gordon McGuinness (@PFF_Gordon) September 18, 2016
23. Ole Miss TE Evan Engram (Last week: NR)
In Week 3: 9 catches, 138 yards, 1 TD
Twice already, Engram has carved up a top-ranked team’s defense. He leads all FBS tight ends in receptions and yardage, and when he’s on, the senior can be a matchup nightmare even for a stacked squad like Alabama. Returning to the Rebels for one more season was a smart, smart decision on his part.
22. Mississippi State WR Fred Ross (Last week: NR)
In Week 3: 6 catches, 89 yards, 1 TD
The quarterback situation might still be unsettled in Starkville, but Ross is getting his catches regardless, and this week he did so against a stout LSU secondary. He took the blame for not securing a pass in the end zone late in the game, but the pass could’ve been picked off had Ross not adjusted. I won’t assign too much blame. He’s a great player on a mediocre-at-best offense.
21. LSU C Ethan Pocic (Last week: #22)
In Week 3: LSU rushed for 177 yards and allowed zero sacks
The Tigers’ O-line looked great blocking a pretty solid Mississippi State front seven — the return of Leonard Fournette didn’t hurt — and Pocic played a big part in the effort. He also moonlighted at left tackle late in the game, so bonus points for versatility.
20. Alabama TE O.J. Howard (Last week: #16)
In Week 3: 2 catches, 24 yards
While Engram was tearing it up for the Rebels, Howard was quiet despite ArDarius Stewart missing most of the game. After he exploded against Clemson in the national title game, Nick Saban said Alabama should have used him more in 2015, so the assumption was that would happen this fall. So far, it has not. Whether that’s Jalen Hurts not looking his way or Howard not getting enough separation is unclear, but Ole Miss was the one game where you thought he’d make a mark. Puzzling.
19. Missouri DE Charles Harris (Last week: #20)
In Week 3: 7 tackles, 4 TFLs, 3 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 QB hurry
Mizzou fans have been waiting for a big-time performance out of Harris this year, and they got one on Saturday. Georgia’s offensive line has been a work in progress and Harris took full advantage. Third-and-long? Good luck, Rhode Island graduate transfer.
Charles Harris smoked Tyler Catalina to sack Jacob Eason pic.twitter.com/xtOjnIQ1ud
— ZouGifs (@ZouCast) September 18, 2016
18. Florida S Marcus Maye (Last week: #18)
In Week 3: 6 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 PBU
In today’s era of scoring tons of points, any shutout is impressive, even if the victim is North Texas. Maye’s dial doesn’t move much this week, but he did manage to make a few nice plays on Saturday. This defense has allowed 14 points in three games. Expect more of the same against Tennessee.
#Gators S Marcus Maye looks to be a step faster this season.
— Edgar Thompson (@osgators) September 18, 2016
17. Alabama S Eddie Jackson (Last week: #17)
In Week 3: 2 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, 2 punt returns for 95 yards and a TD
Jackson deserves credit for his electrifying punt return touchdown, which quickly changed the complexion of last weekend’s game for Alabama after the Rebels took a surprising 24-3 lead early. The speed he showed on that return was incredible. But considering the continued success Ole Miss had throwing the ball — Engram and freshman slot receiver Van Jefferson had especially good days — it’s hard to justify bumping up Jackson.
16. Tennessee DE Derek Barnett (Last week: #19)
In Week 3: 5 tackles, 1 TFL
The Vols looked shaky against Ohio, but that was no fault of Barnett, who was constantly forcing Bobcats quarterback Greg Windham to jettison his passes sooner than he wanted on Saturday. With star cornerback Cam Sutton going down early in the game with injury, Barnett was the MVP of another grind-it-out Tennessee win. He and the rest of the defensive front will play a crucial role in the coming weeks, as Tennessee has four straight games against currently undefeated SEC teams.
Derek Barnett registered just 2 hits and 2 hurries through opening two games. Had 3 hits and 9 hurries yesterday pic.twitter.com/X0Ta6LpZj9
— Gordon McGuinness (@PFF_Gordon) September 18, 2016
15. Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly (Last week: #13)
In Week 3: 26 of 40, 421 yards, 3 TDs, 43 yards rushing, 49-yard punt
Kelly is a frustrating player to watch at times. He can make throws like the one you see below, and then he can make bone-headed mistakes that wind up costing his team the game. For all the excellence he displayed against Alabama, he also coughed up two fumbles that turned into 14 Crimson Tide points. Perhaps dropping him to 15th is harsh. He’s still an elite talent. But come on, man. The Rebels had that one.
Note: The turnover Jonathan Allen returned for a touchdown has been recorded in the stats as a fumble, not an interception.
Here's the ball placement from Chad Kelly. Threw it from the 43-yard line, left/center of field: pic.twitter.com/yEYleT2Yb2
— Alex Martin Smith (@asmiff) September 17, 2016
14. Alabama OT Cam Robinson (Last week: #10)
In Week 3: Alabama rushed for 334 yards, passed for 158 and allowed 6 TFLs.
Ole Miss only sacked Jalen Hurts once, but he got hit often. Part of that was because Robinson at times struggled in pass protection. He was flagged for a couple of false starts and got absolutely wrecked by Marquis Haynes in the clip below. He was still a road-grader on running plays, but as crazy as it sounds, freshman Jonah Williams has looked like the better Crimson Tide tackle this season. You can watch all of Robinson’s film from that game here.
More Marquis Haynes (top of screen). He just destroyed future NFL 1st rounder Cam Robinson… pic.twitter.com/u9Ai5cUVsa
— Alex Martin Smith (@asmiff) September 17, 2016
13. Florida LB Jarrad Davis (Last week: #15)
In Week 3: 6 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 QB hurry
Again, a shutout is a shutout. With top-notch closing speed and a tendency to lay the wood, Davis looks like a first-round NFL draft pick and has been flying around The Swamp for three weeks now. He’s about to do the same in Tennessee this weekend.
12. Auburn DE Carl Lawson (Last week: #11)
In Week 3: 1 tackle, 2 QB hurries
Auburn’s vaunted defensive line only sacked Trevor Knight once on Saturday, and Lawson was part of that quiet week. The Texas A&M offensive line played a great game. Left tackle Avery Gennesy in particular played a big part in keeping Lawson contained.
Bottom screen, this is what I mean by Carl Lawson doesn't have the bend or fluidity to dip and run the arc. pic.twitter.com/O6RtLC0Pd9
— Justen Gammel (@gamscout) September 19, 2016
11. LSU S Jamal Adams (Last week: #12)
In Week 3: 9 tackles, 0.5 TFLs
Adams might not have forced a turnover yet, but he’s quietly still making big plays all over the field. Mississippi State could only muster 270 yards of total offense last weekend, and more than a third of that production came on the two touchdown drives late in the fourth quarter. Adams has been a steady force for an LSU defense allowing just 16.3 points per game.
10. Alabama LB Reuben Foster (Last week: #14)
In Week 3: 12 tackles (4 solo)
Foster graded out as PFF’s top Crimson Tide defender against Ole Miss, which tallied just 101 yards on 33 rushes. He is doing quite a good job of carrying on Alabama’s proud tradition of having middle linebackers that ruin lives. This hit on Kelly is brutal (and really fun to watch).
Ryan Anderson on Reuben Foster's hit on Chad Kelly: "I stopped and I jumped like dang. I was scared for him." https://t.co/cFKzjb4Qqx
— Marq Burnett (@Marq_Burnett) September 19, 2016
9. Texas A&M WR Christian Kirk (Last week: #8)
In Week 3: 5 catches, 22 yards, 2 rushes, 24 yards
Like Lawson, Kirk didn’t make many waves in this matchup. Probably the biggest revelation was Auburn defensive back Carlton Davis, who had an excellent night in coverage. That doesn’t make Kirk any less talented or dangerous; the Tigers defense was clearly keying on him, and other Aggies receivers (Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones, Speedy Noil) made the catches instead.
8. Alabama WR Calvin Ridley (Last week: #9)
In Week 3: 8 receptions, 81 yards, 1 rushing TD
Ridley put forth another sweet performance, and more impressively, he did so with ArDarius Stewart sidelined for much of the game and O.J. Howard/Gehrig Dieter not showing up much as receivers. Ridley made the tough, short catches and a couple of nice long plays as well.
7. Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey (Last week: #6)
In Week 3: 5 tackles, 2 PBUs
Humphrey was the guy covering A.J. Brown on Kelly’s final touchdown pass — the one that cut Alabama’s lead to five points with 2:51 remaining — and he was in coverage on a couple of Kelly’s other long completions, too. Some of these were great throws, and others were ones where he could have played the ball better. Not his best game by any means, but he’s still one of the top corners in the country.
6. Georgia RB Nick Chubb (Last week: #4)
In Week 3: 19 carries, 63 yards
For once, Georgia didn’t need Chubb to be the star in a win. Of course, that was a dang-close win. Offensive line play looks like it could be the Achilles’ heel for Georgia this season and Missouri was loading the box, so you can’t penalize Chubb too much for this game. But ultimately, the tough tailback did look human against a Tigers team that allowed 241 rushing yards to West Virginia.
5. LSU CB Tre’Davious White (Last week: #7)
In Week 3: 4 tackles, 0.5 sacks
White has been tremendous this season, even if the stats don’t show it. He notched what should have been recorded as a full sack, kept his receivers quiet and made stops when he had to, which is pretty much all you can ask of a corner. There’s a reason Gus Malzahn said the Tigers need to know “where he is at all times.” It’ll be interesting to see how he performs against Ole Miss later this season, given how Humphrey struggled.
LSU CB Tre'Davious White has allowed an 8.3 QB Rating on passes thrown his direction in 2016, best of any Power 5 CB pic.twitter.com/rTi6C9CprY
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 19, 2016
4. Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett (Last week: #5)
In Week 3: 3 tackles, 2 sacks
Garrett was a force against Auburn, as he has been all season. He was the Aggies’ highest-graded defender against Auburn (PFF) and pretty much looks like your No. 1 NFL draft pick in 2017. His presence is Clowney-like in that it forces opposing offenses to game plan around him, whether it’s leaving a man in to chip block or throwing screens to the opposite side of the field. He’s a freak.
This pass rush by Garrett has it all. The get off, the inside spin and splitting the double team to get the QB hit. pic.twitter.com/tr0X6ZNGst
— Vinnie Ronca (@PFF_Vinnie) September 18, 2016
3. Florida CB Jalen Tabor (Last week: #3)
In Week 3: 1 tackle, 1 PBU
Like other top defenders, Tabor doesn’t need to show up on the stat sheet in order to dominate. There’s an argument that fellow Gators cornerback Quincy Wilson deserves a spot on this Top 25 countdown at some point, too.
2. Alabama DE Jonathan Allen (Last week: #1)
In Week 3: 4 tackles, QB hurry, 75-yard fumble return TD
OK, so maybe Tim Williams caused the fumble/interception/whatever and Allen was just the lucky duck to snag it. That doesn’t make the #FatGuyTD return any less glorious. Besides that, Allen and the rest of the Alabama front seven were forces on a day when the secondary had its hands full with Kelly and his receivers. The Tide machine ain’t shutting down yet.
1. LSU RB Leonard Fournette (Last week: #2)
In Week 3: 174 total yards, 2 rushing TDs
That stiff arm. Wow.
Leonard Fournette | #TheOpening CFB Alum POW Candidate
— The Opening (@TheOpening) September 20, 2016