Ranking the Top 25 Players in the SEC

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistAugust 5, 2020

Ranking the Top 25 Players in the SEC

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    Ja'Marr Chase
    Ja'Marr ChaseGerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The SEC has repeatedly proved itself as the best college football conference in the nation, so it's no surprise the 14-team league is stacked with talent.

    Alabama and LSU boast the most respected players, combining for five players in the top six and 11 on the list. Overall, 11 schools are represented in the top 25.

    The order considers a player's past production, expected role in 2020 and his projected performance this fall. In short, it's a subjective forward-looking ranking that factors in previous years. NFL draft potential, however, does not affect the order.          

25-21: Boyd, Shelvin, Costello, Rice, Dickerson

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    Rakeem Boyd
    Rakeem BoydAssociated Press

    25. Rakeem Boyd, RB, Arkansas

    In his first season with the Razorbacks, Boyd tallied 734 yards and two scores on the ground. Despite the team's struggles in 2019, he still scampered for 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns. The senior will try to cement himself as an NFL prospect in 2020.


    24. Tyler Shelvin, DT, LSU

    Shelvin is a tremendous run-stopper for LSU. Last season, the 6'3", 346-pounder had 39 tackles with three stops for loss. His next step is having a more regular impact as a pass-rusher.


    23. K.J. Costello, QB, Mississippi State

    Transferring in from Stanford, Costello is likely to put up huge numbers at Mississippi State. New head coach Mike Leach will rely heavily on Costello's arm in the Air Raid offense. The quarterback threw for 6,151 yards and 49 touchdowns to 18 interceptions in two-plus seasons as the starter in Palo Alto.


    22. Monty Rice, LB, Georgia

    After ranking third on the defense with 59 tackles in 2018, Rice notched a team-high 89 stops last season. He chipped in eight hurries and three pass breakups while helping Georgia stand out as one of the nation's toughest defenses.


    21. Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama

    The Florida State transfer quickly secured a first-string role with Alabama in 2019. Dickerson started all 13 gamesfour at right guard, nine at centerand earned second-team All-SEC recognition.

20-16: Pitts, Jackson, Stevens, Britt, Moses

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    20. Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

    Florida could be seeing the last of Pitts in 2020. As a sophomore, the tight end earned first-team All-SEC honors with 54 catches for 649 yards and five touchdowns. Pittsa 6'6", 239-pound targetwill likely have an NFL draft decision to make this winter.


    19. Drake Jackson, C, Kentucky

    Since the midway point of his redshirt freshman season in 2017, Jackson has controlled the line of scrimmage for Kentucky. He's logged 33 straight starts at center, earning first-team All-SEC last season.


    18. JaCoby Stevens, S, LSU

    Stevens does a little bit of everything for the LSU defense. Last year, he accumulated 92 tackles with nine stops for loss and five sacks. The second-team All-SEC safety added three interceptions and six pass breakups as LSU won the national title.


    17. K.J. Britt, LB, Auburn

    The leading returning tackler for Auburn, Britt has developed into a feared, hard-hitting linebacker. He managed 27 stops in his first two seasons and then posted 69 takedowns with 10 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in 2019.


    16. Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama

    Had an ACL injury not sidelined Moses last season, he probably would be in the NFL by now. Instead, the rangy linebacker is back to lead Alabama's defense. Moses enters the campaign with 116 career tackles, including 15.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.     

15-11: Mond, Trask, Leatherwood, LeCounte, Hill

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    Kellen Mond
    Kellen MondGerald Herbert/Associated Press

    15. Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M

    2020 is a make-or-break year for the senior. Not only is Mond trying to improve his NFL draft stock, but the Aggies also are returning a ton of production16th-most nationally, per ESPN's Bill Connelly. Mond needs to show he can be a high-efficiency thrower. He mustered 6.9 yards per attempt last season, which was tied for 79th in the country.

    His dual-threat talent is obvious, but Mond needs to perform much better against top competition for A&M to compete in the SEC and for the quarterback to have a professional future.


    14. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida

    After replacing Feleipe Franks early in 2019, Trask put together a superb year. He helped guide the Gators to an 11-2 record while throwing for 2,941 yards and 25 touchdowns to seven interceptions. Florida lost several key receivers, so the senior has an opportunity to shoulder a heavier burden in 2020 and impress NFL personnel.


    13. Alex Leatherwood, OT, Alabama

    Although he was considered a potential first-round prospect for the 2020 draft, Leatherwood returned to Alabama for his senior year. The 6'6", 310-pounder started at right guard in 2018 and left tackle in 2019. He's twice earned All-SEC recognition.


    12. Richard LeCounte III, S, Georgia

    LeCounte is a two-year starter and three-year contributor. Over the last two seasons, he's registered 135 tackles, five interceptions, four forced fumbles and five recoveries. LeCounte may emerge as the SEC's top safety in 2020.


    11. Kylin Hill, RB, Mississippi State

    From 393 rushing yards as a freshman to 734 in 2018 and 1,350 last season, Hill has enjoyed a steady increase in production. Given the Air Raid offense Leach is installing, that's unlikely to continue. But the pass-heavy system will give Hill an opportunity to prove himself as a pass-catcher; he has 44 receptions for 394 yards and five touchdowns so far at Mississippi State.

10-6: Newman, Surtain, Pickens, Smith, Harris

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    Jamie Newman
    Jamie NewmanAdrian Kraus/Associated Press

    10. Jamie Newman, QB, Georgia

    Georgia has a competition brewing with USC transfer JT Daniels and Newman, but the Wake Forest transfer holds the edge in past production. Newman threw for 2,868 yards and 26 scores to 11 interceptions last year, adding 574 yards and six touchdowns as a runner.


    9. Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

    This is probably Surtain's final year at Alabama. Through two seasons, the 6'2" cornerback has 79 tackles, three interceptions, 15 pass breakups and four forced fumbles. Surtain could best his father Patricka second-round draft pick in 1998 and All-Pro cornerwith a first-round selection in 2021.


    8. George Pickens, WR, Georgia

    No matter whether it's Newman or Daniels under center, Pickens will probably be the primary target. As a freshman, he posted 49 receptions for 727 yards and eight touchdowns. Pickens ended the season with a 12-catch, 175-yard showing against Baylor in the Sugar Bowl.


    7. Trey Smith, G, Tennessee

    Smith is returning for his senior year with enormous expectations. He's a two-time All-SEC honoree, including first-team recognition last season. Smith has the talent to compete for the Outland Trophy, which is given to the nation's top lineman.


    6. Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

    Harris shared the backfield in his first two seasons, tallying 1,205 yards from scrimmage. As the starter in 2019, he thrived. Harris rushed for 1,224 yards and 13 scores while catching 27 passes for 304 yards and seven touchdowns. Running backs aren't drafted in the first round as frequently as they used to be, but Harris has a shot.      

5. Nick Bolton, LB, Missouri

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    Nick Bolton makes the tackle.
    Nick Bolton makes the tackle.Associated Press

    Missouri lost standout linebacker Cale Garrett early in 2019, but Nick Bolton filled the void in a major way.

    After making 22 stops as a freshman, he emerged as the cornerstone of the unit. The team's second-leading tackler had 50 stops; Bolton brought down the ball-carrier 107 times. He played a pivotal role in the Tigers' ability to have a top-20 defense.

    Missouri defensive coordinator Ryan Walters has high hopes for the junior linebacker in 2020.

    "I told him he's getting all these preseason accolades, the fair expectation is he better have them at the end of the year," Walters said, per Dave Matter of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.   

4. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Jayden Waddle, one of the nation's top returners, averaged an FBS-best 24.4 yards on punt returns with one score last season. Plus, he only handled five kick returns yet scored another touchdown.

    While that alone makes Waddle a highly respected player, he's also a dangerous receiver.

    In two seasons at Alabama, he's reeled in 78 passes for 1,408 yards and 13 touchdowns. Most impressively, that production has mostly come in a backup role. Now a starter, even in a shortened year, Waddle is primed for the best season of his career.     

3. DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

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    Vasha Hunt/Associated Press

    The hero of the national championship to close 2017, DeVonta Smith put together a breakout year in 2019.

    Yes, he reeled in the season's most important pass as a freshman. Still, he only had seven receptions. And as a sophomore, Smith ranked fifth on the team with 42 catches, 693 yards and six touchdowns. But along with 68 catches last year, he amassed team-high marks of 1,256 yards and 14 touchdowns.

    Smith passed up a chance to enter the 2020 NFL draft and is returning to Alabama as one of the nation's premier pass-catchers.    

2. Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU

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    Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

    Perhaps the only receiver ranked higher than Smith in the entire country is LSU standout Ja'Marr Chase.

    As quarterback Joe Burrow rewrote the record books last season, Chase emerged as a rare high-volume, high-efficiency target. He led the nation in receptions of 10-plus yards and 50-plus yards, which is a unique accomplishment.

    Overall in 2019, Chase pulled in 84 passes for FBS-high totals of 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. He secured first-team AP All-America honors and won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver.    

1. Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The hype started when Derek Stingley Jr. enrolled near the end of the 2018 season. His freshman year didn't disappoint.

    Stingley notched 38 tackles, six interceptions and 15 breakups en route to first-team AP All-America recognition. He recovered one fumble and averaged 9.6 yards on 17 punt returns, which would've ranked 19th nationally had he qualified for the stat.

    Best of all for LSU, Stingley is a true sophomore. The lockdown cornerback has two more years in college before heading to the NFL, and he's already the best player in the SEC.


    Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.