Before the season gets really rolling this weekend, let’s take a look at some fantasy football stars who play in the SEC.
(In truth, while this is geared toward fantasy football, it’s also a quick yet thorough brakdown of which skill-position players need to come through for their teams this fall.)
The star you know: RB Derrick Henry. They will not all be this easy, but when you have a Heisman candidate, it makes picking a team’s star much easier. Henry had 172 carries last season, and I would expect him to exceed that total this season, to around the 200-carry mark. Despite sharing time last season with T.J. Yeldon, Henry actually led Alabama in rushing yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry.
The star you don’t (yet): WR ArDarius Stewart. Alabama must replace Amari Cooper’s 124 receptions, 1,727 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. To give you an idea of how Cooper-dependent the Tide’s passing game was last season, you have to combine the reception numbers of the next seven receivers to match Cooper’s reception total. Who will pick up that slack? There are several options, including Stewart, Robert Foster, Chris Black and Oregon State transfer Richard Mullaney. I went with Stewart because he will be playing on the outside and was more productive than Foster last season. Still, expectations are high for Foster, a former five-star recruit.
The star you know: RB Alex Collins. This spot would have gone to RB Jonathan Williams, but he will miss the season with a foot injury. While sharing time with Williams last season, Collins rushed for 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Razorbacks will try to find another back to spell Collins, but his opportunities should be even greater this season than last season, when he had 204 carries and was fifth in the league in rushing.
The star you don’t (yet): RB Kody Walker. The real star of Arkansas’ offense is the line, which has four returning starters. Plus, coach Bret Bielema is committed to a dominant running game. Williams’ injury creates an opportunity for someone to step into the backup role Collins had last season. Walker (6 feet 2, 256 pounds) is a big back and ran for 174 yards and three touchdowns in the Hogs’ spring game.
The star you know: QB Jeremy Johnson. Auburn’s offensive production clearly depends on Johnson. The expectations are high. He’s being handed the keys to a team expected to push for an SEC title and therefore push for a playoff spot. His name is being mentioned as a darkhorse Heisman candidate. Gus Malzahn’s offense allows his quarterback and running backs to put up computer-game numbers, and in his limited action the past two seasons, Johnson has done exactly that, throwing for nine TDs. The hype is huge. I think he lives up to it.
The star you don’t (yet): RB Jovon Robinson. Auburn has boasted the conference’s leading rusher in each of the past two seasons. Who will step up for the Tigers this fall? The thought here is that it will be Robinson, a JC transfer who enrolled in January and went through spring drills. He rushed for 3,198 yards and 43 TDs in two seasons at Georgia Military College.
The Star You Know: WR DeMarcus Robinson. A lack of options leads to this choice. Robinson is a good player, but I don’t think he is a great one. New coach Jim McElwain should bring a spark to the offense, and Robinson appears to be the most likely beneficiary.
The star you don’t (yet): QB Will Grier. We’re gambling on McElwain here. I think any season in which the Gators don’t win nine games is a disappointment. Grier, a redshirt freshman who was a prolific passer in high school outside of Charlotte, is their best chance to get to that level.
The star you know: RB Nick Chubb. Who else would you expect? He is one of the top Heisman hopefuls. Chubb rushed for 1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, and he should play an even bigger role in the offense this season. He also will run behind one of the nation’s best offensive lines.
The star you don’t (yet): WR Malcolm Mitchell. Yes, he’s a senior and he’s realtively well-known. He hasn’t lived up to his high school hype, but he looked as if he was going to last season before injuries again derailed him.
The star you know: QB Patrick Towles. Towles didn’t officially get the starting nod until mid-August, but when the decision came, no one was surprised. Towles is an effective dual-threat quarterback who had more than 3,300 total yards last season, when he accounted for 20 TDs.
The star you don’t (yet): RB Stanley “Boom” Williams. He ended his freshman season in impressive fashion, with 126 yards and two TDs in a loss to Louisville. Williams averaged 6.6 yards per carry in limited action last season, and he could be among the top handful of running backs in the conference by season’s end.
The star you know: RB Leonard Fournette. Fournette was everything LSU thought he would be as a true freshman last season, sharing time with two senior backs but still rushing for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns and averaging a healthy 5.5 yards per carry. At times, he looked like a man among boys in the SEC … as a freshman.
The star you don’t (yet): WR Malachi Dupree. There were a couple of options because of the amount of talent LSU has at the skill positions, but I’ve chosen Dupree. He had just 14 receptions as a true freshman last season but five went for TDs, and I think he could double that touchdown number this season.
The star you know: WR Laquon Treadwell. Again, no surprise here. Treadwell caught a team-high 48 passes in nine games last season, for 632 yards and five TDs, and is one of the most talented players in the conference.
The star you don’t (yet): WR Markell Pack. Ole Miss’ offense has a bunch of talent at receiver. There’s no doubt about the Rebels’ No. 1 receiver, but the No. 2 role is wide open. Pack, a sophomore, had 14 receptions last season.
The star you know: QB Dak Prescott. He is by far the most accomplished quarterback in the conference. Last season, he accounted for nearly 4,500 yards of total offense and 41 touchdowns. He’s a star, and the Bulldogs will go only as far as he can carry them.
The star you don’t (yet): WR De’Runnya Wilson. The Bulldogs have a surprising amount of talent in their receiving core. Wilson was the leader of the group last season and will repeat in that role this season.
The star you know: RB Russell Hansbrough. Despite a lack of acclaim and sharing carries with now-departed Marcus Murphy, Hanbrough rushed for 1,084 yards and 10 TDs last season. QB Maty Mauk looks to be nothing more than a game manager at this point, so if the Tigers are going to get it done on offense, they will rely on Hansbrough.
The star you don’t (yet): WR Nate Brown. I’m not a big believer in Mauk, but he has to throw the ball to somebody. Missouri lost its top three wide receivers from last season; Brown is the top returnee at the position — and he had just five catches. There are opportunities for young guys, and Brown is my pick to capitalize.
The star you know: WR Pharoh Cooper. Cooper finished 18th in the nation with 1,136 receiving yards last season and averaged 16.5 yards per reception on his way to nine receiving touchdowns. He added another 200 yards rushing and even threw a couple of TD passes. Quite simply, Cooper is the Swiss Army knife of the SEC’s skill-position players. He is a playmaker in the purest sense.
The star you don’t (yet): RBs “Bash and Dash.” That’s the nickname for South Carolina’s tailback duo. Senior Brandon Wilds (“Bash”) is more of an inside runner and was effective with the opportunities he was given last season. Sophmore David Williams (“Dash”) is the guy coaches will be looking to get into space. With all of the questions about the Gamecocks’ quarterback situation, they could rely heavily on the run game and I like the complementary styles of these guys.
The star you know: RB Jalen Hurd. He rushed for nearly 900 yards and added 32 catches for another 221 yards as a true freshman last season. A lot is expected of Hurd even though JC transfer Alvin Kamara will see a lot of time in the Volunteers’ backfield.
The star you don’t (yet): QB Joshua Dobbs. There is an argument to be made that the only SEC player with more pressure on him this season is Auburn’s Johnson. Dobbs was stellar in the Vols’ bowl rout of Iowa and is hoping to carry that late-season momentum into 2015. Dobbs has to be a star this fall if Tennessee is going to get anywhere near fulfilling its expectations.
The star you know: QB Kyle Allen. I don’t know how long Allen will hold onto the starting job for the Aggies — coaches are raving about touted true freshman Kyler Murray — but Allen is the starter to open the season. Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin is known for his high-flying offenses and the Aggies are loaded at wide receiver.
The star you don’t (yet): WR Christian Kirk. Kirk, an Arizona native who enrolled early and wowed coaches during spring practice, should be one of the best freshman performers in the country. He is expected to start and should get plenty of opportunities to impress.
The star you know: RB Ralph Webb. He is going to be asked to carry the Commodores’ offense. He was up to that challenge during portions of games last season, but again is going to suffer from a lack of help. Webb, a sophomore who went to high school a few miles from Florida’s campus in Gainesville, rushed for 907 yards last season; his opportunities seem likely to expand this season.
The star you don’t (yet): TE Steven Scheu. He ranked 12th nationally among tight ends in receiving yards last season. He is the most dependable weapon in Vandy’s passing offense. Scheu, a senior, should be one of the nation’s best tight ends this season.
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