Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama
The 6-foot-3, 283-pound senior led the Crimson Tide in sacks last year with 13, and likely would have been a first-round NFL Draft pick had he elected to come out this year. Instead, he chose to return in hopes of boosting his stock even further and maybe winning another national title. Allen probably will play on more early downs this year, which should give him more value for pro teams.
Carl Lawson, DL, Auburn
Whether it’s Will Muschamp or Ellis Johnson, whoever has coached the Tigers’ defense the last few years said the biggest difference between good Auburn defense and bad Auburn defense is whether Lawson is on the field. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound junior end has been off and on the field for two seasons because of injury, but he’s a dynamic talent when he’s healthy. Lawson could be a top-10 draft pick next year if he can stay healthy.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Not only is he the best running back in the SEC and one of the best in the nation, Fournette seems the most likely to take a non-football stance in his Media Days appearance. A player who already has proven himself aware of public events by auctioning off a game jersey to help South Carolina flood victims last year, Fournette last week tweeted a picture of himself wearing a shirt with a photo of Alton Sterling. Sterling, a black man, was fatally shot by a white police officer in Baton Rouge last week.
Josh Dobbs, QB, Tennessee
South Carolina fans remember Dobbs as the young quarterback who cut them up in the fourth quarter two years ago. Now, he’s a senior and everybody else knows him because of his fascinating academic story. Dobbs is an aerospace engineering major and was second-team All-SEC last year. A longshot Heisman pick, Dobbs could pay off at the end of the year if the Volunteers win the SEC East and have a good showing in the SEC title game.
Myles Garrett, DL, Texas A&M
If Deshaun Watson is not the first pick in next year’s NFL Draft, it could be Garrett, a 6-foot-5, 262-pound junior end. He had 12.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss, 59 tackles, five forced fumbles and an interception last year. Garrett is the top edge rusher in college football, which means this is likely his last year in college football. Gamecock fans will get to see him in person in Williams-Brice this season.