In star-studded SEC, one man’s list of Top 25 players

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Florida defensive back CJ Henderson knocks a pass away that was intended for LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson during last year's at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Henderson is one of the nation's best cornerbacks. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

There are too many.

I mean it, there are too many to choose from.

This used to be easy. These days it is difficult.

In fact, I could put together a list of the 25 best players in the SEC and not include anyone ON THIS LIST, and you probably would nod your head in agreement (with the possible exception of a certain quarterback whose name you learned how to pronounce last season).

This league is ridiculously stacked, even more so than normal. The best players keep flocking to the SEC like Kardashians to silicone.

Usually in the summer, we give you our top 25 SEC players one-by-one leading up to SEC Media Days. This year, we have a different project, which will start Thursday at Gatorsports.com, and hopefully you will enjoy it.

But my penchant for lists and rankings makes it impossible to go another day without giving you my Top 25. Don’t @me. There are a lot of great players not on this list.

1. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama quarterback — OK, so he was benched in the SEC title game. The guy is still the straw that stirs this conference and could well be the first player taken in the 2020 NFL draft.

2. Andrew Thomas, Georgia offensive lineman — One reason there is optimism in Athens is an offensive line that could be special. We already know Thomas is.

3. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama wide receiver — There is not a better big-play guy in the league or maybe the country. Darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate.

4. Grant Delpit, LSU safety — Nose for the ball may be a cliche, but Delpit had three SEC games with double-digit tackles last year.

5. Derrick Brown, Auburn defensive lineman — It was a bit of a surprise that he returned for his senior year after starting the previous three. We’re about to find out why, a big season could make him a top-10 NFL pick.

6. Jake Fromm, Georgia QB — You get the feeling Fromm may be on the verge of a Heisman-like season. OK, I get that feeling.

7. Raekwon Davis, Alabama DL — He didn’t have the kind of dominant junior year that was expected, so he’s back to give it another shot with a chip on his shoulder.

8. CJ Henderson, Florida defensive back — The only thing that will keep his stats from being All-America worthy is that nobody is going to want to throw his way.

9. Dylan Mises, Alabama linebacker — Heat-seeking missile and a freak athlete. The latest in a long line of standout Tide linebackers.

10. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt running back — Maybe I have him too high, but I think he’s as explosive as any running back in the league.

11. Kristian Fulton, LSU DB — If he comes back from foot surgery 100 percent, watch out.

12. Najee Harris, Alabama RB — He averaged 6.7 yards per carry last year and figures to get more of the load in 2019.

13. Albert Okwuegnunam, Missouri tight end — Talk about a guy with untapped potential. Expect it to be tapped this season.

14. Lynn Bowden, Kentucky WR — He had 67 catches last year, 24 of them in his last five games. Love his athleticism.

15. D.J Wonnum, South Carolina DL — Injuries held him back last season. If he can stay healthy, could be dominant.

16. Nick Poe, Auburn DL — The NFL loves this guy and his seven sacks last year show he can be productive.

17. Feleipe Franks, Florida QB — I’ll say it one more time. Last year he took a big step. If he takes another one, Florida has a chance for a special year.

18. Anfernee Jennings, Alabama LB — If his knee is OK, he’s one of those SEC freaks who is big, strong and fast.

19. DeMarkus Acy, Missouri DB — He played his best football against Mizzou’s best opponents.

20. Kellen Mond, Texas A&M QB — He is either way too high or way too low. Jimbo Fisher has a way with quarterbacks, but is he consistent enough?

21. Jabari Zuniga, Florida DL — He was overshadowed by Jachai Polite last year, but was a major impact player. This is his turn.

22. Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt TE — He put up great numbers in 2018, including the most catches by a Vandy tight end in 34 years.

23. Lloyd Cushenberry III, LSU OL — After two years as the starting center for the Tigers, he may be the key to getting them over the hump.

24. Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina, DL — Another guy who had a decision to make and decided to return. There’s a pattern here.

25. Rashard Lawrence, LSU DL — Stats may not be overwhelming, but he’s the force in the middle every team needs.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Tua should change his name to Kaiser Soze. He has sucked badly against quality opponents, getting benched not only in the SEC Championship game but also the National Title game. Look at what he did versus Mississippi State– 164 yards, one TD, One Pick. Truly amazing! Maybe Pat should put him in the ring of honor.

    Of course, whenever he plays a quality defense Tua starts limping around so as to have an excuse for his suckism, but it is probably more about his mental weakness than anything else. The most over-rated QB in the SEC in my opinion, whose whole rep is built on a quarter of football when the other team wasn’t ready for him.

    • Jaws, you might be a tad over critical of Tua, unless you actually believe that GA was the only good competition in the SEC last year. Seems like he did pretty well in Baton Rouge last year where they made Fromm look horrible. I’m more surprised by seeing Pat put Franks in the top 25. I can’t wait to see if the end of last season was really that much improved play, or just against some poor playing defenses.

      • Do Tua’s stats versus LSU equal the Heisman hype? Do they equate to best player in the SEC? I don’t think so. They are good, but not amazing: 295 yards, 2 TDs 1 Pick. He ran for one also, so throw that in, and you have a good game but hardly anything legendary. Consider, also, the fact that he is surrounded by NFL talent, and how good is he really, especially given his epic fails in the two biggest games of the season?

        I just don’t see a guy who chokes in the two biggest games of the year and gets benched as being the “best” of anything. Winners finish. Tua fakes a limp.

  2. Notice how many Alabama players appeared on this list published by what we consider to be a Gator homer? When our Gators get an equal number of players on a future Dooley Top 25 list, they’ll be ready to take on the “Evil Empire” for supremacy in the SEC.

    Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not disagreeing with Pat on the merits of all who made his list (Jaws’ trollish opening comment not withstanding 😉). I’m simply pointing out that our Gators are still a ways from having the across-the-board talent to compete on even footing with the likes of Alabama for supremacy in the SEC.

    Winning future recruiting battles in the State of Florida will really matter.

    GO GATORS!!!

  3. I am looking for our top tailback, Lamical Perine, to have a breakout year with over 1,000 yards rushing. I realize that several SEC teams are “loaded for bear” with talent. Perine has the size, power, speed and agility to take it to the house, and I bet he does this at least 2-3 times this year against SEC teams or teams with similar caliber. As Felipe Franks continues to progress in his reads and his understanding of Dan Mullen’s multifaceted offense, I believe we will see Perine and our other tailbacks contribute in a major way. The key to the Gator’s offensive success is the O-Line, and I am confident that they are being well prepared to get the job done. With adequate blocking, Franks and the many weapons Florida has on offense will set the field on fire.

    • The one thing that may hold Perine back is that he may not get enough carries. I think Mullen is committed to the idea of fresh legs, and the other backs will get significant carries. But, I do think you make a great point about his talent being elite!

  4. Defense wins you championships!!! We all know this. I think if we can replace some of the talent on the D we could be in for a special year. In fact our D has been the one thing that has kept us in a lot of games over the last 10 years but this season our Offense will be the one that shines. The offense will be even better than we saw last year and probably the best it’s been in about the last 10 years. Over that time you couldn’t name but 2 or 3 guys on the offense that were playmakers. This year we have them at every position except the unproven o-line. That’s going to be our biggest concern the o-line. If we get that together OMG we are going to be in for a real treat.

  5. ”In fact our D has been the one thing that has kept us in a lot of games over the last 10 years…” -Jim.
    Well, wth all due respect, Jim, sarcasm intended now: you mean like in the Mizzou game the last 2 years? Or that great Gator ‘D’ in J’ville last year? Because I can still see that damn UGA T.E. running a simple down and out, and how he burned our LBs in that game, all day long.
    So until the 2019 Gator ‘D’ plays like some of the ”storied Gator D’s” of the past 30 years (like some of the 90’s, the 2006, or the 2008 Gator D’s) then this Gator ‘D’ will NOT dominate games, like some of the other great ‘D’s in college football do today (‘Bama, Clemson, etc…). Go Gators & Just win baby!

    • GI you beat me to it. I was at the FL/GA game and was wondering when our LB’s were going to cover the TE it seemed they TE’s came on a delay and by then the LB was committed to someone else not catching the ball. I think I have that on DVR I’ll watch a few minutes to agonize myself and make sure there was a delay or maybe it was my eyeballs shouting, “I see what’s happening why don’t you?”