Editor’s note: The following is part of a larger collaboration projected conducted by SEC Country. If you would like to view the entire Top 32 draft of SEC players, click here.
In the spirit of last weekend’s NFL draft, SEC Country decided to hold a draft of its own — with a college twist, of course. Four of our writers set out to draft a 7-on-7 “playground” football team comprised of the SEC’s current best players for the 2016 season. Each roster consists of seven starters and one sub, so that there were 32 overall picks in this snake-style draft. Because it is 7-on-7, players play both ways. The allotted roster spots were:
- 1 QB/DB
- 1 RB/LB
- 2 WR/DB
- 3 OL/DL
- 1 All-purpose
The goal was to assemble the best team possible (duh). Grades were handed out based on overall roster construction and draft savvy. Each writer has explained his picks in a separate post, which you can find here. Below are each writers’ takes on his team:
My draft philosophy coincided with two objectives: My draftees should either 1) rank among the SEC’s top players at their respective positions, like LSU tailback Leonard Fournette, Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen, Arkansas O-lineman Dan Skipper and Auburn defensive lineman Carl Lawson, or 2) project as first-round picks for the 2017 NFL Draft.
- RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
- LB Tim Williams, Alabama
- WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
- DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama
- WR Fred Ross, Mississippi State
- OT Dan Skipper, Arkansas
- DL Carl Lawson, Auburn
- QB Trevor Knight, Texas A&M
Fournette (1,953 rushing yards, 23 total TDs last season) is the SEC’s most talented and famous returning player. On the presumption of 2,000 rushing yards, the LSU product should be a Heisman finalist come December; however, Fournette might only be a lock for the award if he can dominate the voting in the East and Southeast regions. Otherwise, Stanford sensation Christian McCaffrey (the nation’s greatest all-purpose threat) stands as the early front-runner.
Williams (11.5 tackles for loss) ranked third in SEC sacks last season (11), trailing only Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and Alabama teammate Jonathan Allen. As a finishing kick, the senior-to-be tallied seven sacks in his final five outings. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay believes Williams — who finished second in SEC sack-yardage lost last year (minus-78) — could be the first defender off the board next spring. It’s a just reward for anchoring perhaps the nation’s most dominant defense.
I felt obliged to land one of the SEC’s three best wideouts in the first four rounds. Enter Kirk, who notched two multi-touchdown games and four 100-yard efforts as a freshman. His best two outings: Racking up eight catches, 173 yards, two TDs vs. Arkansas (SEC opener) and 10 catches, 84 yards, one TD against Louisville (narrow defeat in Music City Bowl). For Year 2, the supremely athletic Kirk (six games of seven-plus catches in 2015) could be an All-American performer, with the potential for 85 catches, 1,200 yards and double-digit touchdowns.
Allen (12 sacks; 17 over the last two years) finished one sack shy of matching Myles Garrett for the SEC crown last season. The rush end also notched double-digit tackles for loss in back-to-back campaigns (25.5 during that span). Allen (All-SEC Team performer, conference leader in negative sack yardage) had a sublime finishing kick to last season, collecting six sacks in his final five games — including two in the College Football Playoff semifinal rout of Michigan State.
Ross (second in the SEC last year with 88 receptions) was the conference’s most prolific receiver for November/December, averaging 9.6 catches, 115 yards and 0.8 touchdowns during that five-game span. As part of that, Ross and Ole Miss star Laquon Treadwell were the only SEC wideouts to register four consecutive outings of 100-plus yards last season.
The SEC will be loaded with household names this season, covering the positions of quarterback, running back, receiver, defensive line, linebacker, cornerback and safety. But after Alabama’s Cam Robinson, there’s a lot of parity among the crop of top-notch offensive linemen. At the very least, the 6-foot-10 Skipper will be the best at blocking out the sun. Jokes aside, Skipper has the chops to be an All-SEC performer as a senior.
There were options galore for the final defensive spot, riding either Lawson, Auburn teammate Montravius Adams or Alabama safety Eddie Jackson. The oft-injured Lawson is a risky pick here, given his brief career of only 18 total games played. On the plus side, he likely has the highest upside of any remaining D-lineman — with the possible exception of Alabama’s Dalvin Tomlinson.
I had convinced myself to draft either Knight (who shredded Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl) or UGA true freshman Jacob Eason (5-star recruit from Washington state) at quarterback. The tiebreaker: In fantasy football terms, it makes good business sense to “handcuff” a good quarterback and prolific receiver from the same team … and the same principle applies here with Knight and Christian Kirk.
- DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
- DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
- RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee
- LB Arden Key, LSU
- DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
- WR Malachi Dupre, LSU
- OT Isaiah Wynn, UGA
- QB John Franklin III, Auburn
Garrett led the SEC with 12.5 sacks last season and was second in the conference with 11.5 during his freshman campaign. Before he leaves Texas A&M (presumably after his junior year), he told Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated he wants to “make sure I get out of here and I break the single-season record (for sacks), I break the career record—pretty much I want to break all the records I can possible for a defensive end.” He’s got the talent to do just that and be a top-5 draft pick next year as he enters the NFL.
While Garrett certainly has the best numbers in the SEC at getting after opposing quarterbacks, Barnett might be the better pure pass-rusher. Barnett (along with Garrett) was one of two defensive linemen with double-digit sack totals in 2014 and 2015 and Barnett has vowed to improve for the 2016 season. With Garrett and Barnett anchoring this defensive line, opposing passers don’t stand a chance of staying upright.
Hurd didn’t get the attention the Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry got last season, and Fournette, Nick Chubb and maybe even Bo Scarbrough may be bigger hype machines heading into 2016. But Hurd is the most complete back. He won’t churn the yardage Fournette will, but he’ll be on the field more frequently because he’s a receiving weapon out of the backfield. He has 57 career receptions and four touchdowns through the air. He can also hold his own as a blocker.
Key enjoyed a formidable freshman season with 6.5 tackles for loss and five sacks, and he should flourish in his new role as a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end. Key’s going to attack the passer and well as drop into coverage, and he freakishly athletic enough to excel in both areas. Oh yeah, Key will be flying after ball-carriers as well, and succeeding there too.
Fitzpatrick set the bar high with as a freshman with 13 passes defensed (fifth in the SEC), 45 tackles, two interceptions and two sacks, mostly from the nickel spot. If he moves outside to play cornerback, he’ll build off those cover skills and lock down one side of the field for the Crimson Tide. If he stays inside, he’ll continue to be that do-everything star that makes it so tough to move on the Alabama defense.
There’s been an emphasis at LSU to bolster the passing game, which in turn would help Fournette, at running back, become an even deadlier ball-carrier. Dupre should be the receiver that helps turn these Tigers into a deadly passing team too. He finished 10th last season with 58.2 yard per game and sixth with a 16.2 yards-per-catch average. He’ll grow during his junior season and if Brandon Harris does too, Dupre could be a 1,000-yard receiver and turn into a first-round NFL draft pick.
Georgia’s best lineman took some reps at left tackle during spring practices, but likely will stay at guard. Why? His supreme athleticism should be a huge benefit to new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s diverse running game. Wynn’s smart and excels at getting into space to find a would-be tackler to punish. But the versatility he learned from playing tackle could come in handy.
It’s growing more and more impossible not to compare Franklin to Cam Newton. Both were junior college transfers, both possessed superior athleticism at the college level and both can make plays with their arm or legs. Franklin wowed with his sub-4.3 speed and seems a perfect fit for Gus Malzahn’s uptempo offense.
My overall draft philosophy was two-fold: 1. I wanted to draft as many players as many elite players as possible, especially from position groups where elite players were scarce. 2. I wanted to participate in this draft without getting kicked out of this imaginary league, because I have pretty much been ejected from every fantasy league I’ve ever been a part of for all the annoying behaviors you hate about your most irritating friends.
- RB Nick Chubb, UGA
- QB Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee
- DB Jalen Tabor, Florida
- DE Charles Harris, Missouri
- WR Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
- RB Sony Michel, UGA
- WR Travin Dural, LSU
- OT Greg Little, Ole Miss
Taking Nick Chubb in the first round is admittedly a pretty big risk given that he suffered a serious knee injury last season, but the potential upside is too much to pass on. When Chubb was fully healthy in 2014 he had eight consecutive games with more than 100 yards rushing. No player has done that at UGA since Herschel Walker. Not to mention draft sites like Pro Football Focus have Chubb listed as a first rounder for 2017. If they are convinced Chubb will be ready to go, that’s plenty good enough for me.
Selecting Dobbs is an example of paying attention to the relative scarcity of proven players at quarterback in the SEC. Given that Chad Kelly from Ole Miss was already off the board, Dobbs was one of the few trustworthy options left. It seemed too risky to let him slip away.
This is the single best pick I made. Jalen Tabor will be in the conversation for best overall player in the SEC this season — to get him in the third round is an absolute steal. The same value that the departed Veron Hargreaves gave Florida at the cornerback position last year, Tabor will provide this year. Tabor should have no trouble keeping any receiver he’s matched up against in check — including the others selected in this fantasy draft.
Harris is easy to forget about for a couple of reasons: First of all there are a lot of outstanding pass rushers in the SEC this season including Myles Garret from Texas A&M and Derek Barnett from Tennessee — who had already been selected in our draft when I picked Harris. Not to mention Harris plays on a Missouri team that isn’t expected to be very good in 2016. However, Harris won’t be the reason the Tigers lose games. He’ll fit nicely into the long list of outstanding defensive ends who’ve emerged from that program in recent years. He’s also an excellent addition to my team with a fourth round pick.
Reynolds surprised many when he decided to return to Texas A&M for his senior season instead of opting to enter the NFL draft. In two seasons with the Aggies he’s put up 1749 receiving yards and has 18 touchdowns. Plus, he’s the kind of elusive route runner that would be took to guard in our make-believe playground game.
Michel fills the all-purpose role on my roster, and he’s a perfect fit. He had 1136 rushing yards last season, and also added 270 receiving yards as well. He’s the kind of hybrid player that could make my team unbeatable.
One thing that the recent history of college football shows is that it’s hard to go wrong drafting an LSU receiver. Whether it’s Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Dwayne Bowe, or a long list of other NFL wideouts — these guys can play. Travin Dural isn’t going to be confused with anyone from this list just yet, but he represents great value with a seventh round pick.
No doubt Greg Little is the biggest reach of any of my picks given that he’s only a true freshman. However, the fact that Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is going to trust him to be Laremy Tunil’s replacement with the Rebels is all the endorsement I need.
- WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
- QB Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
- DB Cam Sutton, Tennessee
- OL Cam Robinson, Alabama
- DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss
- LB Reuben Foster, Alabama
- DB Jamal Adams, LSU
- DL Deatrich Wise, Jr., Arkansas
The passing game is king in playground ball, so I’m pleased to land the conference’s top wide receiver with my first selection. There aren’t many elite wideouts in the SEC this season, and Ridley is already one of the country’s best going into his sophomore year. He blew past many of Julio Jones’ and Amari Cooper’s freshman records in 2015, totaling 89 receptions for 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns while shooting into the Top 10 of the 2018 NFL Draft class.
With the second of back-to-back picks, I’ll gladly take the SEC’s best quarterback. There’s a big dropoff after Kelly and Tennessee’s Joshua Dobbs, so I had to snag the game’s most important position here. Other squads are likely going to struggle in the passing game, so locking down the best quarterback-receiver combo — by far — allows me to build up a defense that takes advantage of other teams’ offensive inefficiency.
If Tabor had slipped past Team Adams and onto my roster, you probably could’ve just mailed the trophy to me. But Sutton is a damn good consolation prize. A projected first-round pick next spring, the All-American cornerback will be able to shut down opposing receivers while we beef up our run defense against names such as Fournette, Chubb and Hurd.
Team Smith needs to protect its most valuable assets — quarterback and wide receiver — by giving them time to connect through the air. The 6-foot-6, 330-pound Robinson is perhaps the conference’s best pass blocker, and he will be able to fend off any pass rusher in his zip code.
Time to focus on the defensive front. Despite an average frame — 6-foot-3, 220 pounds — Haynes is a potential first-round NFL pick because he terrorizes offensive lines with his speed. That’s going to be key in our format, where the game is a bit more wide open. Haynes can move use his agility to shut down screen passes or dump-offs when he’s not up in the quarterback’s grill.
Foster is considered the next great Alabama linebacker, following in the footsteps of Reggie Ragland, Dont’a Hightower and C.J. Mosley. And that’s not a statement strictly based on potential; he was second on the Crimson Tide with 73 tackles last season. All signs point to an All-American season and high NFL selection for this smasmouth dude.
Who needs a running back? We’re opening up the field with Kelly and Ridley, so let’s go with All-SEC safety Jamal Adams to help shut down opposing offenses in our “all-purpose” slot. Team Smith is closing out the draft with an emphasis on defense, where position groups are much deeper than the offensive side of the ball.
Wise was one of the conference’s top sack guys last season, and completes a defense that is clearly the best of this lot. Good luck passing against us. Or running. Or doing much of anything, really. See you on the field.