With the annual SEC Media Days starting next Tuesday in Hoover, Ala., here’s a look at the top players in the conference.
1. JADEVEON CLOWNEY
South Carolina’s 6-foot-6, 275-pound junior defensive end has game-wrecking potential every time he’s on the field. He’s also the most time-consuming defensive player in the league for an offensive coordinator the week he faces the Gamecocks.
2. JOHNNY MANZIEL
Texas A&M’s sophomore quarterback has more chances to make plays than Clowney and provides as much game-breaking ability. Two things keep him from the top spot — the potential for really bad things to happen when he freelances and the fact defensive coordinators will throw a lot more at him this year.
1,409 rushing yards, 47 TDs
3. T.J. YELDON
There aren’t as many running backs as you would expect on this list, but the ones who are on it are beasts. Let’s start with the Alabama sophomore who averaged 6.3 per carry last year. His offensive line won’t be as dominant this year, so more of the load will be on Yeldon.
4. AARON MURRAY
Georgia’s senior quarterback will become the SEC’s all-time leading passer this year barring injury. That feat is part longevity and part talent. Murray needs a signature win and has several chances this year.
5. C.J. MOSLEY
It seems unfair that the Crimson Tide get Mosley back for his senior season. A consensus All-American and finalist for the Butkus Award last year, the LB led Alabama with 99 tackles.
6. TODD GURLEY
Georgia’s sophomore running back might be Yeldon’s equal and could be better. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry with a running style much like Yeldon’s, powerful with enough burst to break long runs.
7. A.J. MCCARRON
Manziel and Murray have the athletic advantage, but Alabama’s senior quarterback has the hardware advantage. He has a pair of national championship rings and will be a heavy favorite to get a third.
8. JAKE MATTHEWS
The Texas A&M senior offensive tackle will be without last year’s bookend partner Luke Joekel. Matthews will try to prove he is worthy of the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft (the spot Joekel occupied this year).
9. HA HA CLINTON-DIX
He’s real name is Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix. Thankfully, he’s fine going by Ha Ha. Along with having the best name in the SEC, the Alabama junior is the league’s best defensive back.
10. AMARI COOPER
Another Alabama product, this sophomore wide receiver broke Julio Jones’ freshman receiving records and has Jones-like ability. Blazing fast, he has Heisman potential.
11. JORDAN MATTHEWS
The second best Matthews in the league behind Jake, the Vanderbilt senior wide receiver considered going pro early but returned, boosting the Commodores’ chances to post back-to-back impressive seasons.
12. ANTONIO RICHARDSON
Tennessee’s junior offensive tackle handled Jadeveon Clowney for most of last year’s game. He got beat on the game’s decisive play, but playing Clowney that close counts for a lot. Richardson started 12 games at left tackle last season.
13. A.J. JOHNSON
Granted there was a lot of tackling to do for Tennessee’s defense last year, but notching 138 stops is impressive. Johnson even took a couple snaps at wildcat quarterback against Florida.
14. CYRUS KOUANDJIO
The Alabama junior left tackle allowed 3.5 sacks last season while starting all 13 games. It wasn’t a dominant performance, but he’ll be better and he’ll be the star this year on an offensive line that returns one starter.
15. ANTHONY JOHNSON
The LSU defensive tackle is nicknamed “Freak,” which is an endorsement in itself. He started three games last year, but he’ll move into a starting role this year and figures to be the next in a long line of dominant Tiger tackles.
16. LOUCHEIZ PURIFOY
Florida’s junior cornerback will end up on a lot of All-SEC ballots in the all-purpose slot when the season is complete. He’s a very good cornerback, one of the league’s best special teams players (he forced three fumbles and blocked two kicks on special teams last year) and the Gators are threatening to use him on offense at wide receiver.
17. ADRIAN HUBBARD
You could fill a lot of all-star teams with Alabama linebackers. This Crimson Tide junior, who plays the strongside, could be Mosley’s equal. He’ll get plenty of chances to post gaudy sack numbers this year.
18. KELCY QUARLES
The second Gamecock to appear on this list, the junior will need to be disruptive in the middle this season, taking advantage of all the attention that will be paid to Clowney and Chaz Sutton.
19. DOMINIQUE EASLEY
The Florida senior defensive tackle has seen his past two years slowed by injury, but he seems to be rounding into form. Easley had 3.5 tackles for loss in an otherwise forgettable performance for Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
20. GABE JACKSON
The Mississippi State junior guard considered heading to the NFL last season. He could be the top guard taken in the pro draft next year, and he’ll be the marquee lineman for the Bulldogs.