Eddie Lacy never got his fair shot at being an elite Alabama running back.
After Trent Richardson capped off a wonderful college career, Lacy was in line to be the next star Alabama running back. But in the first game of the 2012 season, freshman TJ Yeldon rushed for 111 yards on just 11 carries. Lacy’s abilities got partially obscured by splitting time with Yeldon, just as he had done under Richardson and Mark Ingram.
Yeldon, Lacy, Richardson, Ingram and Derrick Henry were all drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL draft. Lacy had the fewest amount of carries and was the lowest selected of the five, going 61st.
But Lacy was still an incredible running back. He still rushed for 2,402 yards in his three years at Alabama and managed to average a whopping 6.8 yards per carry for his career.
While Lacy might be the biggest underrated SEC star in recent memory, there are still plenty in the SEC today. Here are just some of the guys who could be stars, if not for the guys in front of them on the depth chart.
Derrius Guice: LSU running back
Guice might already be the next Lacy. He won’t command the bulk of LSU’s carries as he plays with Heisman favorite Leonard Fournette. But when Guice has been able to get touches, he’s made the most of them. He led the conference in yards per carry last year with 8.5. His closest competitor was Kentucky’s Boom Williams, with a distant 7.1 per carry.
Fournette ranked fourth in the conference in yards per carry. With Guice spelling Fournette, the Tigers might have the best one-two punch at running back in the nation.
Shea Patterson: Ole Miss quarterback
Despite all the hype Jacob Eason is getting, according to the recruiting experts, the Georgia freshman was not the best high school quarterback last year. That would be Patterson, who was also a 5-star quarterback. But while Eason is getting mentioned as a potential starter and savior of the Georgia program, nobody is talking about Patterson. Mostly because Ole Miss already has a bona fide star at quarterback in Chad Kelly.
Patterson may become the best quarterback in his high school class, but something would have to go terribly wrong for him to start a game for the Rebels in 2016.
Any Texas A&M wide receiver not named Christian Kirk
The Aggies a lot of really talented receivers beyond Kirk. Josh Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones or Speedy Noil all could be the best receiver for a lot of SEC teams. Part of the problem with having so many talented wide receivers is that there is only ball to distribute between them. And when a team has the issues at quarterback (and offensive line, and within the offensive coaching staff) like the Aggies did last season, it’s easy to see why these guys aren’t bigger names.
Davin Bellamy: Georgia outside linebacker/defensive end
Bellamy finished third on the team in sacks last year. Of the players Georgia has coming back, he ranks second in tackles for loss. The two guys ahead of him in sacks last year both got drafted by NFL teams.
So who are people picking to break out among the Georgia defenders? Former 5-star recruit Lorenzo Carter, who finished last season with zero sacks. The media voted Carter as a preseason third-team All-SEC selection. Leonard Floyd said Bellamy might be better than him, and Floyd was taken ninth overall by the Chicago Bears. Bellamy probably deserves some of the love Carter is getting.
Alvin Kamara: Tennessee running back
When Kamara’s name is usually brought up, the first thing mentioned is that he used to play at Alabama. What they don’t mention is that Kamara may be Tennessee’s most dynamic running back. Kamara finished third in the conference last year in yards per carry. He also hauled in 34 catches, the most by any running back in the SEC. While Jalen Hurd is more of a bruiser, Kamara is capable of going the distance on any play.
Walter Brady: Missouri defensive end
Charles Harris gets a lot of attention for Missouri, as he finished with 7.0 sacks last season. So does Terry Beckner Jr., who was one of the highest-rated recruits in the 2015 class. Lost between the two of them is defensive end Walter Brady. In his freshman season, Brady outperformed Beckner Jr. and equaled Harris in sacks with 7.0. Good luck to opposing offensive lines trying to block any of these guys.
Da’Shawn Hand: Alabama defensive end
Usually, 5-star recruits don’t fly under the radar. But on a defense as deep and talented as Alabama’s, Hand kind of does. Hand was a 5-star recruit in 2014 and had he gone anywhere else, he’d probably be a household name. Instead, he sat behind the likes of A’Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen last year. He racked up just 3.0 sacks, but if he gets more playing time, that number could skyrocket. He showed signs of a breakout as he had 2.0 tackles for loss in the national championship game.
Jeremy Sprinkle: Arkansas tight end
Last year, Sprinkle was one of the better tight ends in the SEC, as he grabbed six touchdowns and 27 passes as a backup. But he was overshadowed by his teammate, Hunter Henry. With Henry off to the NFL, Sprinkle might be the best tight end in the SEC. But due to Henry’s shadow, Sprinkle remains somewhat of an unknown across the SEC.
Jarrad Davis: Florida linebacker
The Florida secondary gets a lot of love, and rightfully so. With the likes of Vernon Hargreaves III and Jalen Tabor manning the defensive backfield, opposing quarterbacks had a tough time against the Gators last year. But another reason the Gators defense is so formidable is because of Davis. The senior linebacker finished with 46 solo tackles last year, tied for second on the team. He also hauled in an interception, being the only non-defensive back to do so. While Davis may not have the star power of a Reuben Foster or Kendell Beckwith, he’s just as talented.
Zach Cunningham: Vanderbilt linebacker
Pretty much anyone good who has played for Vanderbilt is underappreciated. The Commodores made strides in Derek Mason’s second year, but only won four games. Cunningham would be a household name given his production if he played for an Ole Miss or Tennessee instead of Vanderbilt. Cunningham racked up 16.5 tackles for loss last season, the most by any linebacker in the conference. The junior is proof that even the lower-rung SEC teams have talented players.