SECs Top 20 players: Georgias Jones No. 1; USCs Lattimore 6th, Clowney 10th
Comparing college football players who play different positions and ranking them is a challenge, especially when examining the Southeastern Conference.
The league has no shortage of talent, as evidenced by its six straight national championships spread among four schools — Florida (two), Alabama (two), LSU and Auburn. At the end of last season, SEC teams were ranked first, second, fifth and ninth by The Associated Press.
Any list of rankings is sure to elicit some healthy bar-stool and water-cooler chatter, so over the next two days, we will rank our top 20 players in the SEC and the Atlantic Coast Conference. Here now, the SEC’s top 20. Let the debate begin.
1. Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
A Butkus Award finalist (best linebacker) and first-team All-American last season, Jones had 19½ tackles for loss, 13½ sacks (second nationally) and led Georgia to a No. 5 ranking in total defense. Jones, a junior, is projected by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. to go second in the 2013 NFL draft.
2. Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU
His redshirt freshman season, 2010, was cut short after five games because of a knee injury, but he showed no ill effects in 2011, when he had 13½ tackles for loss and nine sacks. The SEC is increasingly becoming a defensive league — it had four of the nation’s top five defenses last year — and Montgomery helped LSU claim the No. 2 spot. He is Kiper’s No. 5 projected overall pick.
3. D.J. Fluker, RT, Alabama
He plays on the nation’s best offensive line, and while center Barrett Jones is more celebrated, having won the Outland Trophy last season, Fluker is regarded as an elite prospect. A two-year starter, he is 6-6 and 335 pounds, but has quick feet. That’s why Kiper projects him at No. 6.
4. Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas
The best quarterback in the country’s best league ought to be high on this list. He threw 24 touchdowns and six interceptions last season while averaging 8.3 yards per attempt (18th nationally) and throwing 33.7 passes per game. He was a big reason why Arkansas ranked No. 15 nationally with 36.8 points per game. And at 6-3 and 220 pounds, he has a durable body.
5. Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU
Hey, did you hear he has a quirky nickname? While TV talking heads beat the “Honey Badger” thing into the ground last year, Mathieu became one of the sport’s biggest playmakers. He returned two punts for touchdowns, broke up nine passes, picked off two more, forced six fumbles and recovered five. He was a Heisman Trophy finalist as a sophomore. Not bad for a guy who is 5-9 and 175 pounds.
6. Marcus Lattimore, RB, South Carolina
He is maybe the league’s toughest player to rank. As a freshman in 2010, he ran for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns. He played just seven games last season because of a knee injury but had 10 touchdowns and 818 yards — a 116.9 yards-per-game clip that was well ahead of his 92.1 in 2010. Will he be the same player when he returns this season?
7. Bacarri Rambo, FS, Georgia
He will miss the first four games because he tested positive for marijuana. But he is still a tremendous talent. As a junior last season, he was a first-team All-American, with eight pass breakups and eight interceptions. He has a chance to help his pro prospects this season if he keeps himself on the right track.
8. Barrett Jones, C, Alabama
The reigning Outland Trophy winner can’t fall too far, even if Kiper doesn’t project him as a first-round pick. Jones has been plenty productive as a college player and is versatile enough to move from left tackle to center for this season — two totally different positions in terms of footwork, blocking recognition and the size of the opponents plowing into you.
9. Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
The Tigers’ defensive end combination of Montgomery and Mingo rivals South Carolina’s of Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor — and many would say LSU’s is better. Mingo started just four games last season as a sophomore, but had 15 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Kiper actually puts Mingo ahead of Montgomery in his projection for 2013 at No. 3.
10. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Last season he showed why he was the nation’s top-ranked recruit. Despite not starting and, by his position coach’s admission, not knowing many of the plays, Clowney tied for sixth nationally with five forced fumbles. He also had 12 tackles for loss and eight sacks. And much to their delight, the Gamecocks have him on their roster for two more seasons.
11. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
The junior is confident enough to admit that he is a huge Harry Potter fan. He enters his third season as the starter with 6,198 yards, a career completion percentage of 60, 59 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. His yards per attempt dropped slightly from 2010 to 2011 (8.9 to 7.8), but he is still the guy who makes the Bulldogs’ offense go.
12. Eric Reid, FS, LSU
He was a second-team All-American last season, when he tied Mathieu for the team lead with 76 tackles, 53 of which were solo.
13. Knile Davis, RB, Arkansas
An ankle injury robbed him of his 2011 season after he ran 1,322 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2010.
14. Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State
Kiper projects him to go No. 22 overall next year. He had nine pass breakups and five interceptions last season and is a preseason first-team All-American by Athlon.
15. Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee
He missed five games with a broken thumb last season, but still threw 17 touchdowns, compared to six picks — an improvement on 18 and 10 as a freshman.
16. Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn
The junior has excellent speed, as evidenced by his 13½ tackles for loss, 9½ sacks and 15 quarterback hurries last season. Kiper projects him at No. 23.
17. Da’Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee
He had 1,040 yards and nine TDs as a sophomore last season. Those numbers could improve if Bray stays healthy for all of 2012.
18. Cobi Hamilton, WR, Arkansas
With the departure of Jarius Wright and Joe Adams, Hamilton is now Wilson’s top target. He ranked third on the team last season with 542 yards and had four touchdowns.
19. Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M
As a junior last season, he was first-team all-Big 12, with 17 tackles for loss and 9½ sacks. He was a preseason first-team all-SEC selection.
20. Philip Lutzenkirchen,TE, Auburn
Yes, he is still around. Now a senior, he already has the school record for TD catches (14) by a tight end, including seven last season. He is the best at his position in the league.