With half a season in the books, a number of players around the Southeastern Conference have either not met, or perhaps exceeded, their preseason hype. Here’s a quick look at the players I believe to be the league’s most over- and under-rated players.
1. Tyler Bray, Tennessee quarterback – I actually had a lengthy discussion with South Carolina fans about Bray this summer about how talented Bray was, taking a pro-Bray approach. Among my defenses of Bray were that, before he got hurt in 2011, he was off to a monster start and that there was (at the time) a murmur that Bray’s career could turn out to be as good as Peyton Manning’s. Part of my defense was that some NFL draft sites, at various points of his career, have seen Bray as a potential No. 1 overall pick.
Those against Bray all said the same thing: something just doesn’t smell right here. And you know what? They’re right. Let’s take a closer look.
Bray’s overall stats are just fine, if not great: 58.5 percent completion rate, 8.1 yards per attempt, 51 touchdowns, 23 interceptions. But his track record in Southeastern Conference games tells a totally different story: 52.6 percent completions, 7.0 yards per attempt, 21 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
What about the intangibles? Well, Bray’s mobility (minus-184 career rushing yards) rivals that of his coach, Derek Dooley, and Dooley’s coming off hip surgery. He’s never been highly-regarded for his maturity or leadership. His team’s record in conference games in which he has played is 4-9, and three of those wins came back in 2010. For a talented guy who’s been surrounded with some big-time receivers, the production should be better.
2. Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina running back – I feel almost guilty even writing this. I root for Marcus Lattimore. By all accounts, he is a super human being and I admire his perseverance in returning for injury. But Lattimore has been mentioned as a lower-end Heisman candidate, and in this era of high-powered offenses, the numbers – 4.5 yards per carry on 129 attempts – just don’t scream, “Heisman,” especially when his high-water mark for a single game this season is 120 rushing yards against… Kentucky.
That was one of the only two games in which he’s eclipsed 5 yards per carry, the other being against a 1-5 UAB team. When the Gamecocks played LSU last weekend, his 35 yards on 13 carries weren’t even remotely impressive.
I’m not saying Lattimore’s not any good. And maybe one more year removed from injury, he’ll be a Heisman candidate. But if you put Lattimore in a jersey and called him “Joe Smith,” I’m not sure there’d be such a fuss over the guy who ranks seventh in the league in rushing yards per game.
3. Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri wide receiver – I was really looking to avoid putting any freshmen on either list, because it’s just not easy to evaluate a player in one year. But the discrepancy between Green-Beckham’s hype (No. 1 freshman in this year’s class) and his production (seven catches, 121 yards) is so glaring that he belongs here.
Green-Beckham is supposed to be a good kid, so we’ll cut him slack as a guy who just made a mistake. But barely a peep has been written about him since his suspension: Does that sound like a guy whose on-field contributions have been greatly missed?
Also worth a mention: Zach Mettenberger (QB, LSU), Andre Debose (WR, Florida)
1. Sheldon Richardson, Missouri defensive lineman – I greatly admire Phil Steele and his work, but when Steele released his mid-season All-SEC team, he had Richardson on his third team. Putting Richardson as a third-team All-American would be a slight, since only one defensive lineman in the SEC has more tackles, and he’s tied for fifth for tackles for loss among linemen.
Those are great numbers as-is, but here’s the thing: Richardson is primarily a tackle and it’s just not easy to rack up eye-popping stats there. A lesson to the reader: nothing gets a player penalized more so than playing for a poor or mediocre team, and Richardson’s primary “deficiency” is that he plays for a team that’s 3-4.
2. Jeff Driskel, Florida quarterback – In this era of inflated offensive stats, Driskel has no chance of earning all-conference due to the fact that the Gators don’t throw the ball. Furthermore, when he does, his receiving corps certainly ranks in the bottom half of the league.
But what does Driskel do? Three things: he makes plays (three TD runs and 177 yards against Vanderbilt last weekend,) wins (the Gators are 6-0), he doesn’t make mistakes (one interception and a 66.7 completion rate in 111 attempts), and most of all, he wins (the Gators are 6-0). Can you ask more of a player than that?
3. Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas receiver – In the long and glorious history of the SEC, Hamilton did something in a Sept. 22 game against Rutgers that nobody has ever done: eclipse 300 yards receiving in a single game. Of course, the Razorbacks lost, and nobody outside of Fayetteville realized it – and probably some inside of Fayetteville didn’t, given how poorly the Razorbacks played for the first month of the season and nobody wanted to talk about anything except who’ll succeed John L. Smith as coach. Hamilton and his 46-catch, 754-yard season are nowhere near the list of Heisman candidates, even though he’s having a much better season than Lattimore.
Also worth a mention: A.J. Johnson (LB/RB, Tennessee), Will Ebner (LB, Missouri), Shaq Wilson (LB, South Carolina), Jeff Scott (RB, Ole Miss), Jordan Matthews (WR, Vanderbilt)