The 2016 SEC football season is over, but it’s never too early to start looking ahead. With that in mind, we compiled a 2017 preseason All-SEC team — even though it feels way too early.
Finding the right players for this group is difficult. Many of the most productive SEC football players recently left for the NFL Draft. When evaluating for the 2017 season, production, talent and opportunity must be weighed against each other.
Obviously, several things must fall into place for this to make sense. Examples? South Carolina linebacker Skai Moore will have to return healthy from injuries. Georgia defensive tackle Trent Thompson will have to continue developing as expected. This projection will almost certainly change after teams get a chance to evaluate positions in spring camp.
Without further ado, here is SEC Country’s way-too-early preseason All-SEC team.
QB: Jalen Hurts, Alabama
2016 stats: 240-382 for 2,780 yards, 23 TDs, 9 INTs
The Hurts slander stops now. Obviously, he struggled in the College Football Playoff games and was a big part of losing to Clemson. He was also a true freshman thrust into an impossible situation. The most dynamic quarterback in the SEC will learn from it — and soon. If he can improve his downfield passing accuracy, Hurts is a superstar.
RB: Derrius Guice, LSU
2016 stats: 183 carries for 1,387 yards, 15 TDs; 9 catches for 106 yards, TD
Guice came into the season as a backup for Leonard Fournette, so he received double-digit carries in only eight games. He averaged 161.9 yards and 8.0 yards per carry in those games. To say the least, he was a monster with the ability to hurt teams with both short and long runs. He’s a safe pick to lead the conference in rushing.
RB: Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt
2016 stats: 250 carries for 1,283 yards, 13 TDs
Picking between Webb and Auburn’s Kamryn Pettway was difficult. However, Webb’s consistency within an inconsistent Vanderbilt offense gave him the edge. Webb could have left for the NFL after breaking Zac Stacy’s Vanderbilt rushing record, but he opted to return. If he can replicate his 2016 stats, Webb could move as high as No. 2 on the SEC’s all-time rushing list. That’s big time.
WR: Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
2016 stats: 83 catches for 928 yards, 9 TDs
Despite being 5-11, Kirk emerged as one of the SEC’s best possession receivers. He led the conference in receptions by 11. His yardage numbers declined from his 2015 freshman season, but Kirk finished No. 4 in the conference in receiving yards. With almost every other Texas A&M receiving option gone next season, Kirk will feast.
WR: Calvin Ridley, Alabama
2016 stats: 72 catches for 769 yards, 7 TDs
Ridley’s production dropped markedly with Jalen Hurts’ inconsistent passing. However, he deserves to be considered one of the SEC’s elite. Ridley tied for No. 2 in receptions. When Alabama opened the passing playbook against Kentucky and Western Kentucky, Ridley had 303 yards and three touchdowns in two games. His production will rise as Hurts improves.
TE: DeAndre Goolsby, Florida
2016 stats: 38 catches for 342 yards, 3 TDs
The SEC lost several top performers at tight end, including Evan Engram, Jeremy Sprinkle, and O.J. Howard. That leaves the well relatively dry. However, Goolsby showed promise in his junior season. He had seven catches and a touchdown in a big performance against Alabama in the SEC title game. However, he will also have to compete for touches with teammate Cyontai Lewis.
OL: Martez Ivey, Florida
The former No. 2 overall recruit made a name at left guard. With David Sharpe heading to the NFL, Ivey will get a shot at the marquee offensive line spot. Gators linemen were inconsistent in 2016, but Ivey has the talent to make his mark.
OL: Will Clapp, LSU
Football Outsiders graded LSU’s offensive line as the No. 5 unit in the nation. With Josh Boutte and Ethan Pocic gone, redshirt junior Clapp becomes the star in the unit. LSU averaged an SEC-best 6.1 yards per rush attempt in 2016.
OL: Frank Ragnow, Arkansas
Ragnow wasn’t supposed to be the top offensive lineman on the Razorbacks roster — Dan Skipper was meant to be the featured piece. However, Ragnow graded as the more consistent player. He could have gone to the NFL, but now he will solidify the line.
OL: Braden Smith, Auburn
Auburn quietly put together an excellent offensive line. The interior was especially good with Alex Kozan and Smith as guards. Despite losing several running backs to transfer, the Tigers led the SEC with 271.3 rushing yards per game running behind the line.
OL: Jonah Williams, Alabama
Cam Robinson was the big name on the line, but Williams made waves as a true freshman. He ranked among the best freshmen in college football and ultimately was No. 37 per Pro Football Focus among all offensive tackles in football — better than Robinson. PFF called it the best true freshman tackle performance it had seen in three years of grading the position. Williams should be even better with a year of experience.
DL: Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss
2016 stats: 53 tackles, 11.0 TFLs, 7.0 sacks, INT, 8 QB hurries, 3 forced fumbles
Many thought Haynes would leave for the NFL, but he now has a chance to force himself in to the 2018 draft’s first-round conversation. His production took a small step back in 2016, but he still finished with seven sacks in 12 games. He now is No. 2 on the all-time Ole Miss sack list, behind only Greg Hardy. He should easily get the record if he stays healthy.
DL: Trent Thompson, Georgia
2016 stats: 56 tackles, 9.5 TFLs, 5.0 sacks, 7 QB hurries
Even though he plays on the interior, Thompson accumulated impressive stats. He finished third on the Bulldogs in tackles, and best among all defensive linemen at Georgia. The former No. 1 overall recruit should only get better with another year of experience in Kirby Smart’s system.
DL: Jabari Zuniga, Florida
2016 stats: 25 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 5.0 sacks, 11 QB hurries, forced fumble
Standing out on a loaded Florida defensive line is difficult, but Zuniga managed to do it as a redshirt freshman. The former 3-star recruit led the Gators in sacks and was behind only Caleb Brantley in tackles for loss. His 11 QB hurries nearly doubled every other Gators player. Zuniga will be relied upon to be a more consistent force on the edge with all the departures.
LB/DL: Arden Key, LSU
2106 stats: 56 tackles, 14.5 TFLs, 12.0 sacks, 11 QB hurries, 3 forced fumbles
With so many stars gone to the NFL, Key has a case for the SEC’s best defensive player. Key is a dynamic pass-rushing hybrid, with the ability to line up different places on the field. He should once again lead the SEC in sacks.
LB: Jordan Jones, Kentucky
2016 stats: 109 tackles, 15.5 TFLs, 4 sacks, FF
No one was going to catch Zach Cunningham, and Reuben Foster had a couple extra games. But after those two All-SEC linebackers, no one in the conference had more tackles than Jones. Kentucky’s defense was inconsistent, but Jones was a presence in the middle.
LB: Skai Moore, South Carolina
2016 stats: N/A
Will Muschamp’s 2016 defense lost its best player before the season even started. Moore sat out with a neck injury but is expected back in 2017. Moore led the Gamecocks in tackles each of his first three seasons. He is easily the most proven defensive player on the roster.
LB: Roquan Smith, Georgia
2016 stats: 95 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, 5 QB hurries
Although other players on the defense were more disruptive at times, Smith was by far the most consistent producer. As a true sophomore, Smith finished sixth among SEC linebackers in tackles. No one else on Georgia’s roster was within 36 tackles of him.
DB: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
2016 stats: 66 tackles, 5.0 TFLs, 6 INTs, 7 pass breakups
Marlon Humphrey was named a first team All-American by The Associated Press, and for good reason. After Eddie Jackson went down with a broken leg, Fitzpatrick shifted to safety from corner and was hyper-productive. It’s unclear where Fitzpatrick will play in 2017. It also doesn’t matter in the slightest — he will be a preseason All-American.
DB: Jamarcus King, South Carolina
2016 stats: 56 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 3 INTs, 9 pass breakups, forced fumble
South Carolina’s defense needed an instant jolt, especially when Skai Moore went out for the season. After transferring in as the No. 1 overall junior college cornerback, King made his imprint right away. He finished sixth on the team with 56 tackles and added 3 key interceptions. South Carolina’s pass defense moved up to No. 46 in pass defense S&P+ and No. 50 in overall S&P+ defense.
DB: Mike Edwards, Kentucky
2016 stats: 100 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 8 pass breakups, 3 INTs
Kentucky’s defense was inconsistent, but Edwards emerged as a star in the secondary. Edwards led all defensive backs in tackles and was a disruptive force. His 11 passes defended led the team and 5.5 tackles for loss ranked fourth on the team. With several secondary players graduating, Edwards becomes the featured piece in the unit.
DB: Armani Watts, Texas A&M
2016 stats: 56 tackles, 6.0 TFLs, sack, 2 INTs, 3 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles
Watts took a step back from his dominant sophomore campaign. However, his dip in production also had to do with Justin Evans’ breakout season. With Evans gone, Watts should once again be the linchpin of Texas A&M’s defense.
PK: Daniel Carlson, Auburn
2016 stats: 28-32 on field goals, 44-44 on extra points
Carlson could have gone to the NFL if he wanted. He’s one of the best kickers in the nation. Carlson went a ridiculous 24-of-25 on field-goal tries within 50 yards and had 4 field goals of beyond 50 yards as well. That’s not normal at this level.
P: JK Scott, Alabama
2016 stats: 64 punts for 3,020 yards, 25 inside the 20, 15 fair catches
Scott is one of the better punters in the nation, as if it wasn’t already tough enough to advance field position against Alabama’s No. 1 defense. Out of his 64 punts, nearly half of them went 50 yards, and 25 of them were downed inside the 20-yard line. Only 12 went through the back of the end zone, which is a great ratio.
RS: Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
2016 stats: 14 punt returns for 282 yards, 3 TDs; 6 kick returns for 173 yards
Kirk is a rare gift: a returner who can actually change the game. Kirk averaged 20.1 yards per return on punts, and he scored 3 touchdowns. Even though he wasn’t the primary kick returner, Kirk also averaged 28.9 yards per return. He’s the kind of electric prospect who can force opposing teams to kick away from him.