Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Wrapping up our Top 25 player countdown
By Chris Low
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.