As the 2016 season draws nearer, we’re tired of All-SEC predictions and position-based lists. We want to know who the conference’s best players are, regardless of whether they throw, run, catch, block, tackle or kick.
We asked 20 SEC writers — including at least one based in each SEC town — to pick their favorites using a six-tiered voting system, and then asked five NFL draft experts to break down dozens of the writers’ choices.
Voters: Zach Abolverdi (SEC Country), Bill Bender (Sporting News), Marq Burnett (SEC Country), Jason Butt (The [Macon] Telegraph), David Cloninger (The State), Joel Coleman (Starkville Daily), Richard Croome (The [Bryan-College Station] Eagle), John Davis (Oxford Citizen), Mike Griffith (SEC Country), Shehan Jeyarajah (SEC Country), Jason Kersey (SEC Country), Mitch Light (Athlon), Dave Matter (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), Scott Rabalais (The [Baton Rouge] Advocate), Alec Shirkey (SEC Country), Alex Martin Smith (SEC Country), Christopher Smith (SEC Country), Adam Sparks (The Tennessean), Dana Sulonen (The Opelika-Auburn News), Kyle Tucker (SEC Country)
Analysts: Charlie Campbell (WalterFootball.com), Eric Galko (Sporting News), Dan Kadar (SBNation.com), Rob Rang (CBSSports.com), Lance Zierlein (NFL.com)
Here’s Part 2 of the inaugural SEC 101:
75. Lorenzo Carter, Georgia linebacker
Junior | Height: 6-6 | Weight: 242 | Hometown: Norcross, Ga.
This will be Carter’s first season as a full-time starter, and it will be interesting to see how much Georgia uses him as a down lineman against an outside linebacker in pass-rushing situations. He’s shown an ability to do both. That flexibility makes him an important — if unproven — asset as Kirby Smart begins his defensive-minded tenure in Athens. Carter’s size and agility makes him a disruptive force, and he’ll have plenty of opportunities to get his career numbers (60 tackles, 4.5 sacks) up.
74. Johnathan Ford, Auburn cornerback
Senior | Height: 6-0 | Weight: 204 | Hometown: Big Cove, Ala.
He’s vacillated from safety to nickel corner in his career. The former running back has an elite ability to tackle anywhere on the field, and his 2015 total (118 tackles) was the best Auburn had seen in 14 years. Ford is back to lead one of the team’s strongest units in a make-or-break year for Gus Malzahn.
NFL draft expert: “Ford impressed in 2015, leading Auburn in tackles each of the last two seasons on rosters that included a ton of talent and quality linebackers. Ford can play corner or safety, but more suited as a free safety. He has NFL-quality size & speed (4.4). Ford finishes tackles in the run game and is no slouch in coverage. Look for Ford to be considered one of the top five safeties in the upcoming draft class.” (Eric Galko, SportingNews.com)
73. Jashon Robertson, Tennessee guard
Junior | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 305 | Hometown: Nashville, Tenn.
Two years ago, Robertson joined a short list of Volunteers offensive linemen who started in their first career game on campus. He made it 19 consecutive starts before injuries slowed him in 2015, and appears to be back to full speed as Tennessee tries to break last year’s mark of 2,908 rushing yards (second best in school history). If All-SEC running back Jalen Hurd has another successful year, you can bet Robertson will be a key factor.
72. Richie Brown, Mississippi State linebacker
Redshirt senior | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 225 | Hometown: Long Beach, Miss.
Brown already has his industrial technology degree, so he is now pursuing a master’s in business and trying to help Mississippi State stay relevant A.D. (After Dak). If the Bulldogs stay in contention in the mighty SEC West, it likely will be because of Brown’s leadership on defense. He led the team in tackles (109) and sacks (6.5) last season after becoming a full-time starter for the first time. A pair of strong defensive ends — A.J. Jefferson and Jeffery Simmons — in front of him should ease Brown’s burden.
71. Greg Little, Ole Miss offensive tackle
Freshman | Height: 6-6 | Weight: 332 | Hometown: Allen, Texas
Little chose Mississippi over Alabama this year, giving the Rebels a 5-star replacement for NFL pick Laremy Tunsil at left tackle; though it’s not clear whether he will be a full-time starter, as Ole Miss buried him on the August depth chart. When the 18-year-old gets on the field, he will be responsible for holding off some of the nation’s best pass rushers as they try to get to his Heisman-hopeful quarterback.
70. Jeb Blazevich, Georgia tight end
Junior | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 242 | Hometown: Charlotte, N.C.
Any time a ball carrier as talented as Nick Chubb is in your backfield, pass catching likely will not be a top priority for a tight end (ask O.J. Howard about the first three years of his Alabama career). Blazevich is a reliable run blocker. He complements a talented offensive line that should pave the way for a big season from No. 27. He can catch the ball when needed, too; Blazevich has 413 yards and 3 touchdowns after two seasons.
69. Jon Toth, Kentucky center
Redshirt senior | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 310 | Hometown: Indianapolis
How many linemen in the history of the SEC can say they started in 35 consecutive games? Toth is Lexington’s gridiron warrior, a steady presence on the line of scrimmage who helped the Wildcats reach nearly 2,000 yards rushing last season. Quarterback Drew Barker finally appears ready to lead, and he’s blessed to have Toth snapping him the ball.
NFL draft expert: “Toth is entering his fourth season as a starter for Kentucky, and that experience shows on the field. He’s a technically sound blocker who knows how to use his long arms to his advantage. He’s taller than some teams may like in a center and isn’t the best athlete to get out on the move.” (Dan Kadar, SBNation.com)
68. Javon Patterson, Ole Miss guard
Sophomore | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 307 | Hometown: Petal, Miss.
Barely 19 years old, Patterson will be counted on to help keep the SEC’s best quarterback upright this season. He also will allow Ole Miss to stay two-dimensional with elite run blocking. The first Rebel to start in his college debut since 2006, Patterson is the “other” wunderkind (true freshman Gregory Little is expected to start at tackle) on the left side of the Mississippi line.
67. Armani Watts, Texas A&M safety
Junior | Height: 5-11 | Weight: 200 | Hometown: Forney, Texas
There are few better tacklers in the conference. Watts led the Aggies with 126 last year (including 20 in one game against Ole Miss), and he has 170 after two seasons in College Station. The smallish playmaker has not been much of a force in pass coverage — only 1 interception and 11 pass breakups in 25 career games — but that’s partially because of his aggressive run-stuffing approach.
66. Quincy Adeboyejo, Ole Miss wide receiver
Senior | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 195 | Hometown: Cedar Hill, Texas
This is the guy that will make a habit of appearing on SportsCenter in 2016. Adeboyejo tends to make big plays; He scored 7 touchdowns and had 604 yards on 38 catches last year. Look no further than his 66-yard touchdown catch against Alabama — when a deflected ball miraculously landed in his hands — for evidence that he has a knack for fireworks.
65. David Sharpe, Florida offensive tackle
Junior | Height: 6-6 | Weight: 357 | Hometown: Jacksonville, Fla.
Sharpe, a former 4-star recruit, played in six games as a true freshman in 2014. He took over as Florida’s full-time left tackle in 2015, and he has the size (and then some) to thwart SEC pass rushers. The first half of the season will be a true test of his abilities. Florida has contests against three elite pass rushers (Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, LSU’s Arden Key and Missouri’s Charles Harris) before mid-October.
64. Montravius Adams, Auburn defensive tackle
Senior | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 309 | Hometown: Vienna, Ga.
Auburn’s defensive line output has been lackluster in Adams’ first three seasons, but having All-America candidate Carl Lawson healthy beside Adams should make a big difference. Adams has 107 career tackles in 23 starts, and his impressive combination of size and agility allows him to beat offensive linemen to the gaps.
NFL draft expert: “NFL sources told me that Adams impressed them last season. He has size, speed and the ability to be very disruptive. However, he is inconsistent with his production and motor. If he plays motivated football and produces up to his potential, he could really rise as a prospect.” (Charlie Campbell, WalterFootball.com)
63. Robert Foster, Alabama wide receiver
Redshirt junior | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 191 | Hometown: Monaca, Pa.
Those who followed Alabama’s national title run last year likely forgot about Foster. He was arguably the team’s No. 1 receiving option before a season-ending rotator cuff injury against Ole Miss. In his stead, superfrosh Calvin Ridley became an overnight All-SEC player, and ArDarius Stewart developed into a reliable option. The Tide also added Bowling Green transfer Gehrig Dieter (94 receptions for 1,033 yards and 10 touchdowns last year), but Foster’s speed and experience should help keep him on the field.
62. Drew Morgan, Arkansas wide receiver
Senior | Height: 6-0 | Weight: 193 | Hometown: Greenwood, Ark.
After a quiet sophomore year, Morgan opened the 2015 season as an afterthought, but he quickly shot up the depth chart to become Arkansas’ leading receiver. He led the team in receptions (63), yards (843) and touchdowns (10) to help the offense break out of an early-season slump. Although Morgan etched his name in the school record books last year, he will need to bond with new quarterback Austin Allen to keep up his scorching pace.
61. Speedy Noil, Texas A&M wide receiver
Junior | Height: 5-11 | Weight: 192 | Hometown: New Orleans
Folks in College Station quickly became familiar with Noil during his freshman season in 2014, when the Louisiana native posted a strong receiving line (44/559/5) and led the team in all-purpose yards, kickoff return yards and punt return yards. He cooled off a bit in 2015 — and the depth chart is stacked this fall — but he’ll provide an explosive target for transfer quarterback Trevor Knight.
NFL draft expert: “Contrary to his flashy nickname, Noil’s unique characteristics are his body control, timing and strong hands. He shows some savvy in sliding off of press coverage, as well as the awareness to settle in holes against zone. Noil is competitive at the catch point and as a blocker, but could improve in both areas with more strength. The high-cut Noil may run well in workouts, but he doesn’t explode out of his cuts or show the elite top-end speed that his reputation suggests.” (Rob Rang, CBSSports.com)
60. Bryan Cox Jr., Florida defensive end
Redshirt senior | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 269 | Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The son of a three-time Pro Bowl player showed flashes of greatness last season, and he likely would require double teams this year if not for Florida’s plethora of front-seven talent. Plenty of 1-on-1 matchups will give Cox an excellent chance to build on his 2015 stats (10.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks).
NFL draft expert: “He keeps showing improvement, and he saw an increase in production last season. He has decent size and arm length, but he’s not a pass rusher who is really going to threaten the edge, so he has to learn to diversify his pass-rush attack. I like his quickness and ability to move laterally to chase quarterbacks and running backs. I think he’s probably a late middle-rounder.” (Lance Zierlein, NFL.com)
59. Brandon Harris, LSU quarterback
Junior | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 218 | Hometown: Bossier City, La.
It’s a groundhog year for Harris, who faces several of the same questions he failed to answer in 2015. Most important: Can he be accurate enough to keep defenses from loading the box against Heisman-hopeful running back Leonard Fournette? Coach Les Miles’ job depends on the streaky junior, who could bring a national title to Baton Rouge if he makes strides in the passing game.
NFL draft expert: “There are some very desirable check marks in Harris’ favor like his size, arm strength and athleticism, but he’s still a ways away from being an NFL passer. Harris needs to improve on his footwork and overall mechanics so he has fewer throws sail on him. He has talented wide receivers, so it might be in his interest to quit being so fine with some of his throws and just let his receivers have a chance to go up and attack the football.” (Lance Zierlein, NFL.com)
58. Martez Ivey, Florida guard
Sophomore | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 305 | Hometown: Apopka, Fla.
He’s lived up to the hype thus far. Ivey was one of the nation’s top recruits last season and started the season’s final eight games as a true freshman. There are some injury concerns (offseason shoulder surgery and iffy knee history), but he appears ready for another successful season in the SEC trenches.
NFL draft expert: “Projecting Ivey out to the NFL will be wholly dependent upon his health keeping up. He’s already had two surgeries at Florida, including shoulder surgery, which is concerning for lineman prospects. When he’s healthy and on the field, Ivey is an athletic tackle who moves off the snap quickly. The tools are there; he just has to stay healthy.” (Dan Kadar, SBNation.com)
57. Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M wide receiver
Redshirt junior | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 240 | Hometown: Sealy, Texas
Knee surgery ended a promising start to his true freshman year in 2013, but the former high school All-American has bounced back well, totaling 94 catches for 1,025 yards and 8 touchdowns in the two seasons since. He’s part of a receiving corps that landed four players on the SEC 101 list, though his height and athleticism could set him apart in the red zone.
56. Travin Dural, LSU wide receiver
Redshirt senior | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 207 | Hometown: Breaux Bridge, La.
If Leonard Fournette is going to get any breathing room this year, Dural will need to continue to get open behind the defense. Despite some rough outings from quarterback Brandon Harris last season, his top target finished with an average of 19.04 yards per catch, totaling 533 yards and 3 touchdowns on 28 grabs. Those numbers should shoot up if Harris gets his act together in the pocket.
55. Cece Jefferson, Florida defensive end
Sophomore | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 261 | Hometown: Glen St. Mary, Fla.
Jefferson formed an impressive tandem with Bryan Cox Jr. last season, earning SEC All-Freshman honors after racking up 29 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 14 appearances (4 starts). Those two will be on the field together a lot more this year, bookending a strong line that should receive plenty of support from the elite group of defenders lining up behind them.
54. Damore’ea Stringfellow, Ole Miss wide receiver
Junior | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 211 | Hometown: Perris, Calif.
Along with Quincy Adeboyejo, the former Washington receiver will be the beneficiary of a Heisman-level quarterback and the gobs of receptions that departed Laquon Treadwell left behind. Stringfellow provides a solid veteran option for Chad Kelly, and the presence of tight end Evan Engram means defenses will be forced to let Ole Miss’ talented receivers run free against 1-on-1 coverage several times a game.
53. Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M wide receiver
Senior | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 195 | Hometown: San Antonio
Hey, another one! The Aggies have perhaps the nation’s best group of receivers (Alabama might have something to say about that), with Reynolds, Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones providing a trio of headaches behind elite wideout Christian Kirk. Transfer quarterback Trevor Knight could not have asked for a better bunch of players to track down his tosses. Reynolds would be a No. 1 option on most teams; He had a team-best 17.8 yards per catch last season and reeled in 13 TD catches two years ago.
52. Trevor Knight, Texas A&M quarterback
Senior | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 215 | Hometown: San Antonio
Knight will have a group of elite receiving options in his final college season. He also will have few excuses if he fails to deliver a strong season. The Oklahoma graduate transfer burst onto the national scene with a huge Sugar Bowl performance (32-of-44 passing, 348 yards, 4 touchdowns) against Alabama in January 2014, but he finds himself starting over after a disappointing postscript that featured injury problems and the emergence of eventual Heisman finalist Baker Mayfield.
NFL draft expert: “Aggies fans may be reminded of Johnny Manziel (at least on the field) with the dual-threat Knight signing on as a graduate transfer from Oklahoma. A classic spread-option distributor of the ball, Knight possesses the smarts, vision and quick release to make an immediate impact for Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies, though NFL teams may question his ability to duplicate this success at the next level. Knight lacks ideal size at 6-1, 215 pounds and throws shorter than that due to a relatively low release point. He is a creative passer who can drop his arm slot to sneak throws past oncoming rushers, showing a quick triggger and enough arm strength to zip passes all over the field. Further, Knight can frustrate rushers with his agility and awareness.” (Rob Rang, CBSSports.com)
51. Dominick Sanders, Georgia safety
Junior | Height: 6-0 | Weight: 193 | Hometown: Tucker, Ga.
The ballhawking defensive back already has 25 starts after two seasons in Athens, and he cemented his reputation as a big-play artist by setting the Georgia career record for interception return yards (205) last season. Sanders isn’t a tackling machine, but he can be counted on to swing momentum when the Bulldogs need a spark.
NFL draft expert: “Sanders had a very impressive 2015 season, as he showed serious ball skills with 6 interceptions and 6 passes broken up. He could stand to get stronger and improve his tackling as a junior, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Kirby Smart helps develop Sanders into a complete player.” (Charlie Campbell, WalterFootball.com)