Each SEC team has opened preseason camp, and we’re four weeks away from the start of the season.
Here’s a look at how each league team ranks at each position grouping.
Feel free to disagree.
The first thing about the offensive backfields: For the first time in a while, there are no bad offensive backfields in the SEC. Each of the 14 teams has either a running back or a quarterback as a “building block.” A handful have both. That bodes well for SEC offenses this fall.
Two more things: We give more credit to the quarterback than to the running back and proven production (generally) trumps potential.
The good: Junior Jordan Scarlett heads what looks to be a solid group of running backs. He has the potential to be just the Gators’ third 1,000-yard rusher in the past 10 years.
The bad: UF coaches inexplicably took more than half the season to realize Scarlett was the best back on the roster last season, and there needs to be a clearly established pecking order early. And, of course, Florida still needs to find a quarterback. The potential exists for UFs best quarterback play since 2009 – but, man, the bar is quite low in that regard.
The good: John Kelly has the look of a 1,000-yard back. He has a burst and a certain toughness, as well.
The bad: A lot of mystery here. Kelly isn’t the most proven back, and there is zero established depth behind him. And who’s the quarterback? Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano have upsides, but who gets the job? As maligned as Josh Dobbs was, he put up 3,777 yards of total offense last season.
The good: RB Benny Snell rushed for 1,091 yards and 13 TDs while sharing time with Stanley “Boom” Williams last season; this season, the job is all his. QB Stephen Johnson is a nice fit for this offense, and while he must improve as a passer, he is an effective runner.
The bad: While Snell is good, there is no proven backup. Can he handle the 225-plus carries he seems all-but-certain to get? In addition, coaches have said Johnson will have to fend off former starter Drew Barker and redshirt freshman Gunnar Hoak to keep his job. Yes, competition is good, but it sometimes can lead to a controversy.
11. Ole Miss
The good: Sophomore QB Shea Patterson has the look of a big-timer. He has a nice arm and a good receiving corps. At a minimum, he should throw for 3,500 yards.
The bad: Will Patterson get any help from the running game? There is no clear-cut starter at tailback, and Ole Miss seems likely to go with a share-the-wealth approach. One concern: While they may share the wealth, are any of these tailbacks truly SEC-caliber runners?
10. Texas A&M
The good: Sophomore Trayveon Williams is a big-play threat who rushed for 1,057 yards last season in a better-than-expected freshman campaign. And Keith Ford, a former five-star recruit who transferred from Oklahoma, showed last season that he can be an effective backup.
The bad: Who’s the quarterback? Senior Jake Hubenak, redshirt freshman Nick Starkel and true freshman Kellen Mond are vying for the job. Hubenak is the steadiest but also has the least upside; truthfully, he’s just “a guy” – he can’t win you a game. Starkel is the best passer of the bunch and has a big arm. Mond is a dual threat who is a great fit for A&M’s offense but also a guy who has the least grasp of the offense among the three. One big positive: This will be the fifth time in coach Kevin Sumlin’s six seasons that there will be a new starting quarterback, and his offense has averaged at least 424.7 yards in each season with a new quarterback and three times has averaged at least 455.4.
The good: Senior Ralph Webb continues to be underrated, even in his own league. He has a legit chance to move into second place, behind only Herschel Walker, on the SEC’s career rushing record. And he has reached those lofty heights while playing on a team with – we’ll be nice here – mediocre quarterback play. That means he is the focal point of every opposing defense, yet still produces. Vandy has solid backups, too.
The bad: Junior QB Kyle Shurmur has the potential to move into “the good” category; he played exceptionally well in November last season. But too often throughout his career, there has been no consistency. And we don’t mean week-to-week consistency; we’re talking series-to-series consistency. Considering he has one of the most productive SEC running backs in history in the same backfield, it’s time for Shurmur to produce – or hit the bench.
The good: QB Austin Allen performed at a high level last season, his first as the starter. He threw for a league-high 3,430 yards and was second with 25 TD passes. He’s a gritty competitor with the ability to raise his game when needed.
The bad: We think Devwah Whaley can handle being the feature back, but that’s not a given. Rawleigh Williams rushed for 1,360 yards last season but had to give up football after suffering a second severe neck injury in spring practice. That means Whaley goes from being a backup to playing a key role. He looks to have the talent to do so. But now there’s a concern about depth. Who’s the No. 2 back now? In addition, Allen needs to cut down on his picks; he threw a league-high 15 last season, and that needs to be cut in half.
7. South Carolina
The good: What’s this – a Will Muschamp-coached team with a potent backfield? Yep. Sophomore QB Jake Bentley showed a lot of good things last season, foremost among them an almost preternatural calm for a true freshman who should’ve been in high school. And South Carolina goes a legit three-deep at running back in Rico Dowdle, North Carolina transfer Ty’Son Williams and A.J. Turner.
The bad: Color us skeptical that Muschamp truly turns these guys loose. Plus, Bentley struggled against the only two “good” defenses he saw (Clemson and Florida; he completed 50 percent of his passes for 254 yards, two picks and no TDs against those two), and while there is solid depth at tailback, there doesn’t appear to be a game-breaker (Williams might be the guy for that).
The good: RB Derrius Guice. (We’re tempted just to list his name. He rushed for a league-high 1,387 yards last season, and he was second in the SEC with 15 rushing TDs. He shared time with Leonard Fournette last season, but he is unquestionably the No. 1 guy this season and 1,800 yards is a legit goal.)
The bad: QB Danny Etling. (We’re tempted just to list his name. He is limited, but the good thing is he knows his limitations and won’t get you beat; he also can’t win a game for you, though. He should benefit from LSU’s offense moving into the 21st century, thanks to the hiring of coordinator Matt Canada.) As for running back, Guice is awesome but there are questions about his backups.
The good: In junior QB Drew Lock and sophomore RB Damarea Crockett, Mizzou is the only SEC team with a returning 3,000-yard passer and a returning 1,000-yard rusher. This will be Lock’s second season with coordinator Josh Heupel, who coached two Heisman winners at Oklahoma, and Lock has 4,000-yard potential. Crockett is one of the more underrated players in the SEC, and tailback depth is OK, too.
The bad: Lock must become more consistent. Last season, he completed just 54.6 percent of his passes, 10 of his 23 TD passes came in two games and he tossed 10 picks; he completed 50 percent or fewer of his attempts in five games. In Mizzou’s eight SEC games, he had nine TD passes and all 10 of his interceptions.
4. Mississippi State
The good: Junior Nick Fitzgerald is a rising star and will be the best quarterback in the SEC this season. After barely playing as a redshirt freshman backup in 2015, Fitzgerald led the SEC in total offense with 3,798 yards last season. If he makes the usual sophomore-to-junior improvement as a passer, he could approach 4,500 total yards this season. He should be ably complemented by junior RB Aeris Williams. It took a while last season, but Bulldogs coaches finally realized how good Williams is about halfway through the season. If he gets 200 carries, he will be a 1,000-yard guy.
The bad: Tailback depth is unproven – as in, “Hey, who’s the No. 2 guy? And the No. 3 guy?” Fitzgerald also must improve his efficiency, but we think that will come with the added experience.
The good: Who else in the nation – much less the league – has two highly productive senior tailbacks, as Georgia does with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel? Chubb is 17th in SEC history in career rushing yards, and a 1,000-yard season moves him into fourth place. A 1,167-yard season moves him into second. Michel has rushed for 2,411 career yards and is a big-time receiving weapon. They should provide great comfort for sophomore QB Jacob Eason, who has all the physical tools but must show more consistency.
The bad: Questions about the offensive line and the receiving corps could hamper the running backs and Eason. In other words, as talented as the offensive backfield is, the rest of the offense could curtail its effectiveness somewhat.
The good: Here’s another team with a dynamic running back duo. RB Kamryn Pettway is a human battering ram who has a burst, while backup Kerryon Johnson is elusive. It’s not a stretch to think both could rush for 1,000 yards. They will be helped by the addition of QB Jarrett Stidham. All offenses need competent quarterbacks to be effective. But Gus Malzahn’s offense must have a playmaker to be effective. Stidham is that type of playmaker. He has a strong arm and is mobile.
The bad: We admit it – we’re buying the Stidham hype. What if he’s not as good as we think? In that case, the Tigers’ offense will look a lot like it did the past two seasons – occasional bursts of brilliance but overall nothing special.
The good: The running back depth is incredible. There’s Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs, who combined for 2,416 yards and 17 TDs last season. There’s also five-star true freshman Najee Harris, a national top-three prospect regardless of position. QB Jalen Hurts actually was the Tide’s second-leading rusher last season, with 954 yards and a team-leading 13 rushing TDs. He figures to get less work as a runner and more as a passer this fall. He threw for 2,789 yards and 23 TDs and completed 62.8 percent of his passes last season. But he threw nine picks and struggled down the stretch. Remember, though, that he was a true freshman, and he has incredible potential.
The bad: Not much. Hurts’ development as a passer will be closely watched this season as he works with new coordinator Brian Daboll. This is an enviable position group.
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