SEC Football: Power Ranking the Top 10 Players of 2013

Kurt WirthCorrespondent IJanuary 13, 2014

SEC Football: Power Ranking the Top 10 Players of 2013

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    The SEC is once again the nation's best conference, with the best bowl record, despite the first national title game loss in eight years. The conference is consistently stocked with elite players like Johnny Manziel, Tim Tebow and Trent Richardson. Securing the nation's best athletes makes the SEC the most competitive conference in the nation, and 2013 was no disappointment.

    Much like the conference as a whole, with upstarts Auburn and Missouri surprising the league's power teams, 2013 was the year of surprise players. Jadeveon Clowney, arguably the SEC's best overall player a year ago, disappointed, while some relative unknowns made their presence felt in his stead.

    Each year the SEC loses a tremendous amount of talent to graduation and the NFL draft, followed by the next season and its stars who fill bigger and bigger shoes. With the recruiting offseason looming, we look back at this season and review the conference's best players.

    For more commentary and embarrassment, follow me on Twitter @SEC_Nerd.

10. Odell Bechkham, LSU

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    Beckham is most impressive not for his stats or his skills, but for his versatility.

    One of two LSU players to accumulate at least 1,000 yards receiving, Beckham ranked fourth in the conference with 1,152 yards and eight touchdowns. The would-be senior was also the Tigers' most dynamic athlete, returning kicks and punts for 1,005 yards.

    Beckham was reliable and elusive. His leadership and experience will be missed, as he'll join several other LSU players to declare early for the NFL.

9. A.J. McCarron, Alabama

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    As the second-most efficient quarterback in the league for 2013, A.J. McCarron graduates after leading Alabama to only four losses in three years and two national titles.

    A second-team All-SEC selection, McCarron passed for 3,063 yards with a 167.2 passing efficiency, 28 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. An undeniable leader, those 3,063 passing yards is now the benchmark for passing yards in a season at Alabama and his legacy will remain in the history books as one of the most efficient quarterbacks the program has ever seen.

    His graduation means question marks for head coach Nick Saban at the position, with backup Blake Sims and incoming recruit David Cornwell competing for the starting job.

8. Dee Ford, Auburn

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    As the best player on an Auburn defense that played for a national championship, Dee Ford grabbed national attention in 2013.

    Auburn's defensive unit struggled at times this year, though Ford shone. Ranked second in the SEC with 10.5 sacks despite missing two games due to a knee injury, the graduating defensive end also placed second with 14.5 tackles for loss.

    The 6'2" athlete has great speed for his size, enabling him to run down players in the backfield that most would miss. Finishing his career as an All-SEC First Team selection, Ford is expected to go in the NFL draft's first two rounds.

7. Ramik Wilson, Georgia

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    The Bulldogs ranked second in the SEC in sacks, thanks in large part to the defensive weight carried by rising senior Ramik Wilson.

    Wilson recorded an impressive 20 more tackles than any other player in the conference, 76 of those solo. For comparison, the next-most solo tackles by an SEC player was Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler's 63. Wilson also reached opposing quarterbacks for four sacks on the season, leading an opportunistic Georgia defense.

    The conference's leading tackler will return in 2014, heading up a unit that will need to compensate for the loss of talented quarterback Aaron Murray.

6. Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

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    The Crimson Tide allowed just 17 sacks this season, and Cyrus Kouandjio played a major role in protecting quarterback A.J. McCarron.

    For a unit ranked tied for 23rd nationally in sacks allowed, Kouandjio's long arms and excellent balance made him a part of nearly every offensive play. An Outland Trophy semifinalist and All-SEC First Teamer, Kouandjio will be leaving school early for a likely first-round pick in the NFL.

5. Michael Sam, Missouri

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    In the place of South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and his subpar 2013 performance stepped Missouri's Michael Sam.

    Sam was simply the most explosive defensive player in 2013. He led the SEC with 11.5 sacks and was always a threat to opposing quarterbacks. His 19 tackles for loss also led the conference, leading Auburn's Dee Ford by 4.5 tackles in the backfield. When watching the Tigers play, it always seemed Mizzou's breakout defensive star was playing offense for the opposing team.

    Adding 48 tackles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown, Sam's graduation is a huge loss for Missouri's defensive unit.

4. Mike Evans, Texas A&M

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    Mike Evans is good friends and roommates with A&M quarterback and former Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. Whether the friendship happened as a result of their on-field success or vice versa is up to speculation.

    Either way, the connection shows. Evans grabbed 69 passes for 1,394 yards this season, leading the conference with an incredible 20.2 yards per catch. Evans' slick run moves and ability to mangle his body in yoga-style moves made him absolutely lethal downfield.

    After catching a pass for a touchdown 12 times this season, Evans will join his buddy in the NFL draft. The Aggies will have a lot of rebuilding to do on offense in 2014.

3. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State

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    Close your jaw...you looked shocked. If you want an explanation, just look at the numbers.

    Dak Prescott ranked tenth in the SEC with 1,940 yards through the air, 11th with 829 yards on the ground despite his position as a quarterback and third overall in scoring. Factor in the fact that the rising junior battled injuries and often played behind former starting quarterback Tyler Russell, and these numbers are wildly impressive.

    Prescott oozes athleticism, as his sturdy 6'2", 230-pound frame makes him difficult to tackle. His accuracy through the air is good, not great, but his decision-making skills are way ahead of his age and, similar to a certain other SEC West mobile quarterback, his passes while on the run are usually spot-on.

    Comparisons of Prescott to another player head coach Dan Mullen has mentored by the name of Tim Tebow are not entirely unfounded. Prescott's break-out season may just be a year later.

2. Tre Mason, Auburn

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    Not since Darren McFadden in 2007 has an SEC player rushed for at least the 1,816 yards that Tre Mason put up on teams this season.

    Despite knowing Mason was a threat, despite Auburn's run to the national championship game and despite the Tigers' heavily run-focused offense, Mason averaged a first down every two touches. That, in one word, is remarkable.

    His yardage dwarfed any other conference running back, as did his 23 touchdowns, and the NFL has taken notice. After a Heisman finalist season, playing for the national title and putting up the kinds of numbers against the competition he faced in 2013, no one can blame him for taking the early leap.

1. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

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    Winning the Heisman Trophy as a freshman, which is no small task mind you, Johnny Manziel returned to Texas A&M with national championship aspirations.

    Unfortunately for him and fans of the Aggies, it wasn't meant to be. The conference's best all-around player simply wasn't enough to avoid a few losses in 2013. Still, A&M had a great season and much of it was centered around Manziel.

    The controversial signal-caller put up a ridiculous 4,114 yards through the air this season on 300-of-429 passing. That's an almost unheard-of 69.9 percent pass completion rate, particularly considering how often he was counted on to air it out. His passing efficiency rating was 172.9, best among SEC starters, and he added a mere 759 rushing yards for pizzazz.

    Responsible for 93 touchdowns in just two years, Manziel will now get his shot at the NFL.