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)
Let’s kick off the inaugural SEC 101:
101. Jacob Eason, Georgia quarterback
Freshman | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 235 | Hometown: Lake Stevens, Wash.
There’s little doubt the 5-star über recruit will be a prominent SEC figure in coming years, but can he make a difference in 2016? He’s currently dueling with fifth-year senior Greyson Lambert for the starting job under center. If he indeed gets the call, Eason will get some relief from Heisman-hopeful running back Nick Chubb and a sturdy offensive line.
100. Avery Gennesy, Texas A&M offensive tackle
Senior | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 305 | Hometown: Southaven, Miss.
A standout on the field and in the classroom, Gennesy started every game for the Aggies at left tackle last season while earning a spot on the SEC Academic Honor Roll. A&M is hoping to put a year of quarterback turmoil in the rear-view, as former Oklahoma star Trevor Knight is now under center. Gennesy will be a key cog in that transition, especially against elite defensive ends Eddie Vanderdoes (UCLA), Carl Lawson (Auburn) and Deatrich Wise (Arkansas) in Weeks 1, 3 and 4, respectively.
99. Brandon Holloway, Mississippi State all-purpose
Senior | Height: 5-7 | Weight: 165 | Hometown: Tampa, Fla.
Few players are as well-rounded as the tiny Holloway, who was one of two players in the nation to hit 400 rushing yards, 300 receiving yards and 500 kickoff return yards last season (The other? Heisman finalist Christian McCaffrey of Stanford). He started the final eight games of the season at running back, and should be an across-the-board force for the Bulldogs again in 2016.
98. Rawleigh Williams, Arkansas running back
Sophomore | Height: 5-10 | Weight: 223 | Hometown: Dallas, Texas
Williams is slated to sit behind Kody Walker to open the season, but given Walker’s lengthy injury history (more than two dozen missed games), the Razorbacks are thankful to have some experience behind him. Williams has dealt with his own health issues, though; his promising freshman year was cut short by a neck injury in late October.
NFL draft expert: “The SEC All-Freshman Team member has the opportunity to thrive as the feature weapon in the Razorbacks offense. With sudden acceleration to his top speed, a low center of gravity within the hole and the deep speed to finish long runs, Williams should see a massive build on his lighter workload as a freshman in 2016 and offer the opportunity to emerge in a loaded college running back crop.” (Eric Galko, SportingNews.com)
97. Damien Harris, Alabama running back
Sophomore | Height: 5-11 | Weight: 214 | Hometown: Richmond, Ky.
Put Harris at 90 other schools, and he’d be the unquestioned starter. The Madison Southern High School product was the nation’s top-ranked running back in the Class of 2015, but is now locked in a battle for supremacy with fellow beast Bo Scarbrough in Tuscaloosa. Regardless of who gets more carries, the one-two punch should be deadly.
96. Isaiah Wynn, Georgia guard
Junior | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 280 | Hometown: St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Bulldogs have plenty of strong athletes up front, meaning Wynn could switch between guard and tackle as the coaches see fit. For now, he appears wedged at left guard, as Tyler Catalina has shown enough promise at left tackle to be the preseason favorite there. Wynn was a nice surprise for Georgia last year; he started 13 games and earned one of the team’s “Most Improved Player” awards. He’ll be a big part of running back Nick Chubb’s All-American push this season.
95. Dominique Reed, Arkansas wide receiver
RS senior | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 175 | Hometown: Camden, Ark.
The transfer from Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College made a name for himself in the SEC last autumn when he recorded a touchdown catch in six straight games. Among his highlights was a 54-yard touchdown reception that put eventual national champion Alabama on the ropes in Tuscaloosa, and his breakout game against Ole Miss (7 receptions for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns) helped Arkansas win a 53-52 overtime thriller.
94. Kody Walker, Arkansas running back
RS senior | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 240 | Hometown: Jefferson City, Mo.
Two lost seasons mean Walker is now in his sixth year on campus, and he’ll be battling with sophomore Rawleigh Williams III for the bulk of the carries. The bad-luck back totaled 394 yards and 6 touchdowns last season, including a two-score performance against Auburn, but fans likely won’t be holding their breath for big 2016 totals until Walker proves he can stay on the field.
NFL draft expert: “For such a big running back, Walker has nimble feet and decent one-cut quickness. He maintains good balance, keeping his feet below him, but he doesn’t seem to have impressive speed and doesn’t use his natural power as much as expected. Some teams may negatively perceive him because of his age — Walker will be a 25-year-old rookie playing at a position with traditionally a short NFL life expectancy.” (Dan Kadar, SBNation.com)
93. Trenton Thompson, Georgia defensive tackle
Sophomore | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 309 | Hometown: Albany, Ga.
If Kirby Smart’s “Alabama East” is to come to fruition, Thompson will need to step up as point man in Georgia’s new 3-4 defense. He showed flashes of potential as a freshman (including an 8-tackle day vs. Tennessee), but will need to consistently navigate double-team attempts in order to free up his teammates and plug run gaps.
92. Austin Golson, Auburn center
Junior | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 314 | Hometown: Prattville, Ala.
The former Ole Miss guard spent 2014 sitting out as a Tigers transfer, then held down center duties for the bulk of last season. He’s part of a veteran Auburn line that should ease the transition for JUCO quarterback John Franklin III if he wins the starting spot, and the emergence of sophomore center Xavier Dampeer means we might see Golson spend time at left tackle in 2016.
91. Evan Berry, Tennessee all-purpose
Junior | Height: 5-11 | Weight: 207 | Hometown: Fairburn, Ga.
Berry was lethal in the return game last year, and there’s little question he will make a tremendous special-teams impact in 2016. But can he break through to get more snaps on defense? Fans remember his 100-yard interception-return touchdown in the Outback Bowl, and they’d love to see him use his speed to neutralize opponents’ deep passing games or contain field-stretching runs.
NFL draft expert: “Berry was a dominant kick returner last year with a ridiculous average of 38.3 yards per kick return on 21 attempts and three touchdown returns. However, he has to earn a starting job on defense and perform well in order to be an NFL defensive back prospect. Berry has only 23 tackles and one interception over two seasons.” (Charlie Campbell, WalterFootball.com)
90. Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama defensive tackle
RS senior | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 305 | Hometown: McDonaugh, Ga.
It’s finally Tomlinson’s time to shine. He was a key contributor to a pair of deep defensive lines as a sophomore and junior and now he has a chance to spearhead one of the best defenses Nick Saban has ever assembled. The fifth-year player has showed a knack for batting down passes at the line of scrimmage, and his 60 career tackles should give Crimson Tide fans assurance that this “new” starter can take care of business in the trenches.
89. Caleb Brantley, Florida defensive tackle
RS Junior | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 297 | Hometown: Crescent City, Fla.
Brantley’s career stat line (50 tackles, 3 sacks) is not flashy, but draft analysts love his combination of size and speed, which allows him to make plenty of big plays that don’t show up in the box score. A few of his defensive teammates get more love, but Brantley’s work on the line of scrimmage makes life easier for the headliners.
88. Maea Teuhema, LSU offensive tackle
Sophomore | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 315 | Hometown: Keller, Texas
He stepped in at guard as a true freshman and helped LSU build one of the country’s best rushing attacks. Now, Teuhema is expected to start at left tackle as the Tigers chase a championship. That’s a tough task in a conference full of future NFL pass rushers, but Teuhema’s stellar play in 2015 (including nine knockdown blocks against Ole Miss) proved he’s just as freakish as the guys he’s facing.
87. William Clapp, LSU center
RS sophomore | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 309 | Hometown: New Orleans
During his first full season, Clapp made 88 knockdown blocks, allowed zero sacks and earned Freshman All-America honors, all while starting at guard for an LSU offensive line that helped Leonard Fournette run for 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns. Now, Clapp is starting at center as the Tigers begin their national title chase.
NFL draft expert: “Looked like a future early round pick last season as just a redshirt freshman guard … Clapp shows good initial quickness off the snap, as well as the agility to pull and adjust to moving targets at the second level. Shows impressive strength and aggression for a young player, blocking through the echo of the whistle.” (Rob Rang, CBSSports.com)
86. Michael Scherer, Missouri linebacker
RS senior | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 235 | Hometown: St. Louis
Scherer has been on the Missouri roster during all four of the school’s SEC seasons. As such, he’s seen severe lows (5-win seasons in 2012 and 2015) and soaring highs (SEC championship games in 2013 and 2014). If the Tigers are to sniff Atlanta again, Scherer will need to anchor an elite defensive performance in Columbia. He has the experience (213 career tackles) to give Mizzou fans faith.
NFL draft expert: “With Kentrell Brothers off to the NFL, Scherer will be in the spotlight in the middle of Missouri’s defense. Last season, Scherer was much better at getting into the backfield to stop the run, and will need to have a similar season to land a critical All-Star game invitation where he can show out to scouts. Scherer’s future is likely as a special-teams player and backup because he’s not a top athlete.” (Dan Kadar, SBNation.com)
85. Ross Pierschbacher, Alabama center
RS sophomore | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 304 | Hometown: Cedar Falls, Iowa
An open competition to replace All-America center Ryan Kelly was essentially decided in spring ball, when Crimson Tide coaches decided to try out Pierschbacher — who mostly played guard last season — at first-team center. He quickly proved to be a capable replacement. Alabama has yet to decide on a quarterback, but whoever it is should be in good hands with this Midwest kid running the line-of-scrimmage show.
84. Isaiah McKenzie, Georgia all-purpose
Junior | Height: 5-8 | Weight: 175 | Hometown: Miami, Fla.
Arguably the greatest returner in Georgia history, McKenzie still has two seasons of eligibility left in Athens. He’s tied at the top of the Bulldogs’ history books for the most career return touchdowns (5) and punt return touchdowns (4), and he’s contributed 385 total yards and two scores from scrimmage to boot.
NFL draft expert: “The first thing you think about with McKenzie is his ability to flip the field and create big plays with his punt-return ability. If he has another strong year returning punts, he could create draftable value at some point. Right now, he’s a guy who specializes in jet sweeps and doesn’t have much production as a wide receiver, but he has the athleticism and speed to become a bigger factor as a pass catcher.” (Lance Zierlein, NFL.com)
83. Brandon Kublanow, Georgia center
Senior | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 293 | Hometown: Marietta, Ga.
Thirty-five career games and 26 consecutive starts make Kublanow the perfect center to help freshman QB Jacob Eason get acclimated to Division I football (if Eason wins the job, that is). The real-estate major will be counted on to help clear interior space for Heisman hopeful Nick Chubb and Chubb’s star backup, Sony Michel.
82. Oren Burks, Vanderbilt linebacker
RS junior | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 222 | Hometown: Fairfax Station, Va.
The linebacker/safety hybrid was a key member of last season’s Vanderbilt defense, which was borderline elite but received little attention thanks to a struggling Commodores offense. Burks proved himself as a physical force and ballhawk last season, racking up 58 tackles and 3 interceptions. He’s also a hard worker in the classroom, with three SEC Academic Honor Roll semesters to his name thus far.
81. A.J. Jefferson, Mississippi State defensive end
RS Senior | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 280 | Hometown: Summit, Miss.
Offensive lines have not figured out how to keep this unassuming wrecking ball out of the backfield. Jefferson led the Bulldogs with 13.5 tackles for loss last season, and also recorded 5 sacks. He’s never had a “monster” game, but that could change in 2016 as 5-star freshman Jeffery Simmons will draw plenty of attention on the other side of the line.
80. Davon Godchaux, LSU defensive tackle
Junior | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 299 | Hometown: Plaquemine, La.
Godchaux has started on the interior of LSU’s defensive line for the past two seasons, but he has a new challenge in 2016: playing nose tackle in new coordinator Dave Aranda’s defense. The switch bodes well for the Tigers, as Aranda coached the nation’s second-best defense at Wisconsin last season (268.5 yards per game), and has a well-deserved reputation as a defensive mastermind.
NFL draft expert: “Powerfully built defensive tackle/nose guard prospect with broad shoulders, long arms and a thick lower half, which helps him anchor in the running game. Inconsistent with his initial get-off but can surprise opponents with his burst, lateral agility and closing speed.” (Rob Rang, CBSSports.com)
79. Alphonse Taylor, Alabama guard
RS senior | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 345 | Hometown: Mobile, Ala.
Taylor’s been to the mountaintop; he started all 15 games for the Crimson Tide last season as Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy and Alabama went 14-1 to claim another national title. His 57 knockdown blocks led the team, and 17 of those came during an impressive three-game stretch to finish out the year.
NFL draft expert: “Outstanding size for an offensive guard and is actually more agile than you expect when he pulls and finds targets to hit. I think the problem for Taylor is that he doesn’t sustain his power as long as you like and tends to fall off of blocks when faced with a defender who uses his hands well. His size will help him, but I can’t see him going any earlier than a late round selection.” (Lance Zierlein, NFL.com)
78. Ryan Anderson, Alabama linebacker
RS Senior | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 253 | Hometown: Daphne, Ga.
One of many Alabama players who could’ve left school for the NFL this past spring, Anderson is back to rush the passer for perhaps the nation’s best defense. He was a late bloomer in 2016, recording 9.5 tackles for loss in the final 10 games, including two each in consecutive games against Florida and Michigan State. No one should be surprised if he surpasses his career sack total (10.5) in his final Crimson Tide campaign.
NFL draft expert: “In 2015, Anderson notched 11.5 TFL and 6 sacks primarily as a pass rush specialist. While he lacks a great NFL size, Anderson can get to the quarterback in a number of ways and is consistently effective. He struggles a bit as a run defender, lacking agility and quickness to chase runners or play in coverage. Anderson projects as a situational pass rusher as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment.” (Eric Galko, SportingNews.com)
77. Johnny Townsend, Florida punter
RS Junior | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 211 | Hometown: Orlando, Fla.
Florida’s offense did plenty of punting in the second half of last season. Townsend collected All-SEC honors from several outlets after recording the third-best average in the country (45.4 yards on 83 punts). Gators fans hope they don’t see him as much this year, but they can count on his consistent leg to get the offense out of trouble when it needs help.
76. Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M defensive end
Senior | Height: 6-6 | Weight: 260 | Hometown: Seattle, Wash.
Teams that focus their energy on shutting down A&M star Myles Garrett will need to be OK with leaving a single blocker on Hall. The senior had a breakout year in 2015 — racking up 7 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss — as Garrett battled double teams. SEC offensive coordinators will be saying a few extra prayers each Friday this autumn.