Alabama Crimson Tide: Dante Fowler Jr.

SEC's lunch links

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
1:00
PM ET
Let them eat a late lunch!
We couldn't finish our lists of SEC all-stars without talking about the youngsters who help make this league go round.

For our all-underclassmen team, we decided to use players who are true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or true sophomores. That means Johnny Manziel, a redshirt sophomore, wasn't eligible. I mean he can't make every list!

The criteria for our other lists once again apply. We're basing things on the season they had in 2013, not who will be the better draft prospect in the future.

Here's what we came up with:

OFFENSE

QB: Maty Mauk, Missouri
RB: T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
RB: Todd Gurley, Georgia
WR: Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama
TE: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
OL: Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
OL: Jerald Hawkins, LSU
OL: Denver Kirkland, Arkansas
OL: Alex Kozan, Auburn
C: Evan Boehm, Missouri
AP: Mike Davis, South Carolina

DEFENSE

DL: Carl Lawson, Auburn
DL: Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
DL: Dante Fowler, Jr., Florida
DL: Chris Jones, Miss. State
LB: Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
LB: Leonard Floyd, Georgia
LB: Darian Claiborne, Texas A&M
DB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
DB: Rashard Robinson, LSU
DB: Josh Harvey-Clemons, Georgia
DB: Landon Collins, Alabama

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK: Colby Delahoussaye, LSU
P: Landon Foster, Kentucky
RS: Trey Williams, Texas A&M

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 4

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
11:45
AM ET
Hard to believe the first month of the college football season has come and gone.

And while it’s still hot throughout much of the South, that’s not necessarily the case for everybody in the SEC.

GLOWING EMBERS

SEC offenses: What’s with this offensive explosion in the SEC? Seven of the top 35 offenses in the country, in terms of total offense, belong to SEC teams. Texas A&M (No. 5), Georgia (No. 6) and Missouri (No. 7) are all in the top 10. Surprisingly enough, two-time defending national champion Alabama isn’t in the top 50 nationally in total offense and ranks 13th in the SEC. The running game simply hasn’t been very consistent for the Crimson Tide. Two of the more potent offenses in the SEC will go at it this coming weekend when LSU visits Georgia. Both teams have scored 35 or more points and racked up more than 400 yards of total offense in all of their games this season. Could yet another shootout be on the horizon in Athens? We've already seen more in this league than we're accustomed to seeing.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Landry
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsJarvis Landry has had at least four receptions in each game this season, including seven in the victory over Auburn.
HOT

LSU receiver Jarvis Landry: There’s not a hotter receiver in the SEC right now than Landry, who leads the SEC with six touchdown catches and has caught one in eight of his past nine games. He had a 32-yard catch and run for a score against Auburn and finished with seven catches for 118 yards. Landry is a baller, meaning he’d be a star no matter where you lined him up on the field.

NOT

Georgia’s special teams: At one point in the third quarter of Georgia’s 45-21 win over North Texas, it was a 21-21 game. Two of North Texas’ three touchdowns came on special teams, a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a blocked punt that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Remember, too, that the Dawgs had a high snap in the Clemson game that cost them on a short field goal attempt. Special-teams breakdowns always have a way of catching up to you.

HOT

Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.: The Vols never had any answers for Fowler, who finished with three tackles for loss and had a hand in two of the Gators’ six takeaways in the game. The truth is that not many people will have answers for Fowler, who’s quickly becoming one of the SEC’s premier defensive difference-makers.

NOT

Alabama on third down: No wonder Alabama is wallowing down at 13th in the SEC in total offense. The Crimson Tide have been awful on third down. They’re ranked 98th nationally and have converted just 11 of 33 third downs through their first three games. Part of the problem is that they’re not running the ball as consistently as they have in the past and have faced a lot of third-and-long situations. Of their 33 third downs this season, 17 have been third-and-9 or longer.

HOT

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott: Making his third consecutive start for the injured Tyler Russell, Prescott passed for 233 yards and a touchdown in the blowout win over Troy. He also rushed for a couple of short touchdowns and even caught a 36-yard touchdown pass. About the only thing he didn’t do was hand out cowbells before the game.

NOT

Arian Foster’s Vol For Life membership: Foster has always been a speak-his-mind kind of guy. But with Tennessee already on NCAA probation, the last thing the Vols needed was one of their former players coming out five years after he left and saying publicly that he took money on the side. Maybe Foster will get a taco endorsement out of the publicity. Tennessee is sure to get more scrutiny.

HOT

NCAA: Everywhere you look, the heat is being turned up on the NCAA, especially now with players openly protesting during games. The current model is archaic, and you can’t help but wonder if we’re headed toward a model where the bigger schools break off from the NCAA, take their ball and go form their own league.

NOT

Arkansas’ bowl chances: In blowing a 24-7 lead midway through the third quarter and falling at Rutgers, Arkansas’ pathway to a bowl game this season just got a lot more complicated. The Hogs’ next four games are against Texas A&M, Florida, South Carolina and Alabama. They also have to play at Ole Miss and at LSU later in the season. We'll see if the Hogs can win one nobody expected them to win.

FREEZER BURN

First half of Florida-Tennessee game: Don’t look for Florida’s 31-17 win over Tennessee to pop up on any instant-classic replays in the near future, particularly the first half of that turnover-fest. The teams combined for seven turnovers in the first half alone, and that doesn’t count a dropped snap by Florida punter Kyle Christy at his own 15. Tennessee managed just 31 total yards in 25 plays in the first half and turned it over four times. Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Peterman was making his first start for Tennessee and was swamped. He finished 4-of-11 for 5 yards and three turnovers and suffered an injury to his hand before taking a seat on the bench just before halftime. The Vols’ only touchdown in the first half came on an interception return of a Jeff Driskel pass. For the Gators, the first half was bad over and above their issues on the field. Driskel was lost for the season after breaking his fibula in the first quarter.
Now that our annual preseason countdown of the SEC's best 25 players is complete, I think we can all agree that there were no glaring omissions and that no deserving players were left off the list.

Yeah, right, and Texas A&M will be selling autographed Johnny Manziel jerseys at games this fall.

The truth is that it's impossible to pick just 25 players in the SEC. After all, there were a record-63 players from the SEC taken in the 2013 NFL draft. So, yes, there are plenty of great players in this league who didn't make our list. There were in 2012, and there will be again next season.

There's always a little projection with the preseason list, and when you're doing one of these, it's hard not to give priority to quarterbacks and offensive and defensive linemen. That's why eight of the top 12 spots were occupied by players from those three positions.

Five of the top 11 players were from two-time defending national champion Alabama, which led the way with six players total on the list. Georgia was second with four players, while Florida and Texas A&M each had three. The most popular positions were offensive line -- three tackles (Jake Matthews, Cyrus Kouandjio and Antonio Richardson) and one guard (Gabe Jackson) -- as well as wide receiver (Amari Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Donte Moncrief and Mike Evans).

And as a testament to the younger talent in the league, seven sophomores were selected, and three of those were in the top 10.

There were so many tough decisions on who to leave out, but below are five players who just missed the cut. They're listed alphabetically.

Dante Fowler, Jr., DE/OLB, Florida, So.: The Gators' defensive front should be scary good this season, and Fowler is a big reason why. He's in much better shape than he was a year ago and will be a force getting to the quarterback from his hybrid "Buck" position.

Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama, Jr.: The Crimson Tide want to generate a more consistent pass-rush this season, and Hubbard has all the skills to go from a good player to a great player. He's potentially a 10-sack player if he stays healthy.


A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee, Jr.: Johnson led the SEC with 138 total tackles last season and also pulled some double duty as a short-yardage specialist at running back. The challenge for him this season is to make more plays to help get Tennessee off the field on third down.

Denzel Nkemdiche, LB, Ole Miss, So.: There are a pair of Nkemdiches on the Ole Miss campus now, and while everybody in Oxford can't wait to see what kind of impact Robert has in his freshman season, Denzel has already proven that he's a big-time playmaker with 13 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles last season.

Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas, Sr.: One of the premier centers in America, Swanson should be an excellent fit for Bret Bielema's power running game. He's athletic enough to get out and pull, but he also more than holds his own in pass protection.
In order to make a stand in the SEC, you have to have a strong front seven. It starts with a stout defensive line, but don't forget about those cats behind that front line.

Linebackers need love, too:

1. Alabama: For starters, "Linebacker U" will enter the 2013 season with three linebackers -- C.J. Mosley, Adrian Hubbard and Trey DePriest -- who started 10 or more games last season. Then there's Xzavier Dickson, who started seven games at the rush-end "Jack" position. All four played in every game last year, making play after play. Mosley was considered one of the nation's best linebackers and could have opted for the NFL early. He'll get even more time with Nico Johnson gone. Hubbard is the team's top pass-rusher, DePriest has transformed into a top linebacker prospect in next year's NFL draft and Dickson is versatile enough to play linebacker and on the line. There is also a ton of young talent to watch, starting with sophomore Denzel Devall, who could really break out.

[+] EnlargeLamin Barrow
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesLamin Barrow should replace some of the production the Tigers lost when Kevin Minter moved on to the NFL.
2. LSU: Kevin Minter might be gone, but the Tigers still have some quality players roaming around the position. Lamin Barrow will anchor the group and is coming off a season in which he registered 104 tackles, including 52 solo stops. He's getting a ton of NFL love and will get help from very talented sophomore Kwon Alexander, who only played seven games, but would have seen plenty more action if hadn't suffered a broken ankle midseason. Alexander could be primed for a huge season and might be the team's best linebacker. Senior Tahj Jones only played in one game last year because of academic issues, but he'll have every chance to start outside. Sophomores Deion Jones, Lamar Louis and Ronnie Feist all saw good time last year and will be in the rotation along with incoming freshman Kendell Beckwith, who could immediately push for a starting spot.

3. Ole Miss: The Rebels work in that 4-2-5 defense, but have a lot of talent at linebacker, starting with big-hitting senior captain Mike Marry, who has 22 career starts and finished last season with 78 tackles with 10.5 for loss. The pleasant surprise from this group last year was Denzel Nkemdiche, who was a second-team All-SEC member as a freshman after leading Ole Miss in tackles (82), tackles for loss (13) and forced fumbles (four). The thing that makes Nkemdiche so valuable is that he knows all of the linebacker positions and covers a ton of ground with his speed. Long-time Rebel D.T. Shackelford is back after two knee surgeries, but had a very good spring and should provide quality depth and excellent leadership. Then you have talented reserve Serderius Bryant, who could start at a lot of schools. Don't forget about the hybrid "Husky" position that will feature top recruit Antonio Conner.

4. Tennessee: The Vols bring back the league's top tackler in A.J. Johnson and excellent pass-rusher Curt Maggitt, who had his 2012 season shortened because of injury. He should be back to full health this fall, but could move to defensive end. Johnson has a chance to play his way into the first round of next year's NFL draft. Senior Dontavis Sapp doesn't have a ton of experience, but was a star this spring and has the ability to play any of the linebacker spots. Four senior backups return and have combined to play in nearly 140 games. The only problem is that they've also combined for just one start. Senior Brent Brewer also moved from safety to linebacker to give the Vols a lot of speed on the outside.

5. Florida: The Gators lost two valuable players in Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, but they still have a ton of young talent to work with, starting with Antonio Morrison. He ran into legal trouble this summer, but he has a chance to be an All-SEC player after moving from outside to middle linebacker. Dante Fowler Jr. and Ronald Powell will rotate at the hybrid defensive end/linebacker "Buck" position, but Powell could see more time at strongside linebacker. If he's healthy after his two ACL injuries, he could be an elite pass-rusher. Hard-hitting and dependable Michael Taylor left spring as the starting weakside linebacker, while freshman Daniel McMillian had an outstanding spring at the Will position. Fellow freshman Alex Anzalone was a top recruit in the 2013 class and should vie for plenty of time, while vets Darrin Kitchens and Neiron Ball will push for starting spots.

6. Vanderbilt: This was supposed to be a concern for the Commodores last year, but it ended up being a strength. Do-everything leader Chase Garnham is back, along with his 43 solo tackles, seven sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. He's the heart of the defense. Hybrid linebacker/safety (Star) Karl Butler returns and should continue to put a lot of heat on opposing backfields. He registered 11.5 tackles for loss last season. Sophomore Darreon Herring has to replace the very reliable Archibald Barnes, but saw plenty of time last year as the Commodores' top reserve at linebacker. Sophomores Larry Franklin and Jake Sealand provide good depth after seeing significant time last year.

[+] EnlargeBenardrick McKinney
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreBenardrick McKinney was named to the Freshman All-SEC Team following last season.
7. Mississippi State: Starters Benardrick McKinney (102 tackles) and Deontae Skinner (62 tackles) return, giving Mississippi State a very sound foundation to work with. McKinney was quietly one of the league's top linebackers last year and could be even better this fall. Veteran Ferlando Bohanna, who has tremendous speed, will provide good depth, and the staff is excited about the versatility junior Matt Wells has. Losing Chris Hughes this summer hurts, but the Bulldogs will be able to cover a lot of ground with this group of rangy, athletic linebackers.

8. Georgia: Like every defensive position, the Bulldogs lost a lot at linebacker, but there is some promising young talent that should get better as the season goes on. Everything revolves around sophomore Jordan Jenkins, who could end up being an elite pass-rusher after learning under Jarvis Jones last season. Jenkins was second on the team in sacks last season with five and should be even more disruptive in Jones' old spot. Junior Amarlo Herrera started nine games and will be the captain of the unit inside. Junior Ramik Wilson had a very good spring and has found his spot inside, while sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons will play some linebacker when he isn't at safety and has a chance to be a star. Sophomore James DeLoach also had a very good spring outside. Freshmen Reggie Carter and Ryne Rankin will also have ample opportunities for good playing time this fall.

9. Kentucky: Having Alvin "Bud" Dupree moving to defensive end hurts, but the Wildcats still have two solid options returning in Avery Williamson and youngster Khalid Henderson, who has playmaker written all over him. Williamson enters his senior season with 194 career tackles. Finding someone to take the other linebacker spot is the goal of fall camp. Miles Simpson started 11 games and had 70 tackles last year, but has to be more consistent. Junior Kory Brown and sophomore Josh Forrest will compete for that spot too and might be more athletic, but they lack experience. Malcolm McDuffen still hasn't reached his potential and Demarius Rancifer has decided to transfer.

10. Texas A&M: The Aggies lost starters Jonathan Stewart and Sean Porter and are now surrounded by youth. Veteran Steven Jenkins is back, but he missed spring practice due to offseason shoulder surgery. He had time to work with junior college transfer Tommy Sanders, which will help a lot this fall, as he vies for a starting spot outside. The Aggies will have to rely on youngsters at linebacker, but junior Donnie Baggs looks like he'll start at middle linebacker. But after that it's all about newcomers, including new linebackers coach Mark Hagen. Freshmen Reggie Chevis and Brett Wade both went through spring practice, which helps, but expect growing pains from this unit.

11. Missouri: The Tigers are fortunate to have senior Andrew Wilson and his 23 career starts back, but there isn't a lot of experience beyond that. Wilson has also led the Tigers in tackles in back-to-back seasons (79 last year). Donovan Bonner, a senior, and Kentrell Brothers showed flashes this spring, but both have to be more consistent. The same goes for Darvin Ruise, who entered the spring as a starter and played primarily on special teams last year. Keep an eye on freshman Michael Scherer, who has the talent to be a stud. There is athleticism here, but tackling was a major issue with this unit last year.

12. Arkansas: The Razorbacks return veterans A.J. Turner and Otha Peters, but the best overall player at this position might be junior college transfer Martrell Spaight. That could be both good and bad, but the fact of the matter is that Turner and Peters have to improve and get over their injuries from the spring if they want starting jobs this fall. Senior Jarrett Lake had a good spring and could be the leader here. Freshman Brooks Ellis could make an immediate impact too. Experience is a bigger issue than talent with this unit. Also, the staff could spend the preseason moving everyone around.

13. Auburn: This unit really struggled last year with getting lined up right and making tackles. There should be improvement with Ellis Johnson taking over the defense, but players need to get better. Star hybrid Justin Garrett had a great spring and could be primed for a breakout year. He can play in the box and cover, so he'll really help this unit. The good news is that Johnson needs just two linebackers for his 4-2-5 scheme. But those players have to perform. Sophomore Kris Frost made strides this spring and Jake Holland is experienced, while Cassanova McKinzy and JaViere Mitchell should vie for the other linebacker spot.

14. South Carolina: The Gamecocks lost their entire two-deep at linebacker and had to move tight end Kelvin Rainey to linebacker to help with depth. There are a lot of bodies, but the experience is really lacking. Sophomore Kaiwan Lewis made strides this spring at middle linebacker, while junior Sharrod Golightly left spring with the edge at the hybrid Spur position. Freshmen T.J. Holloman and Jordan Diggs will compete for time this spring, but, again, they have no experience. Sophomore Cedrick Cooper missed spring while recovering from knee surgery, but should start at weakside linebacker.

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