SEC’s top 50 players for the 2017 season: The countdown is at No. 9

Jonah Williams

JONAH WILLIAMS, courtesy of Alabama athletics

13. Alabama OT Jonah Williams

Particulars: 6-5, 301 pounds, sophomore
Recruiting background: 5-star prospect in 2016 signing class, from Folsom (Calif.) High
The skinny: Alabama’s best freshman last season wasn’t Jalen Hurts; it was this guy, who was the starting right tackle seemingly from the moment he stepped on campus as an early enrollee. He will play on the left side this season and is on his way to becoming a first-round NFL draft pick. He was a Freshman All-SEC selection and also was a second-team all-league pick overall. Williams was named as one of Alabama’s offensive players of the week nine times last season. He is a powerful run blocker, and his pass-blocking isn’t far behind. He has good feet and a nice initial punch. His strength ain’t bad, either: He benched 500 pounds while in high school. He’ll be one of the top three offensive linemen in the SEC – and could be the best by season’s end. Williams was born in the Atlanta area and his family moved to California until after his freshman year of high school. He spent one season at Folsom High blocking for current Washington QB Jake Browning.

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Marquis Haynes

MARQUIS HAYNES, by Justin Ford/USA Today Sports

14. Ole Miss DE Marquis Haynes

Particulars: 6-3, 230 pounds, senior
Recruiting background: 3-star prospect in 2014 signing class, from Fork Union (Va.) Fork Union Military Academy (originally a 3-star recruit in 2013 class out of Jacksonville University Christian)
The skinny: Haynes signed with North Carolina out of high school, but academic issues sent him to Fork Union. He then signed with Ole Miss in February 2014 and set a school freshman record with 7.5 sacks as a part-time starter that fall. Haynes had 10 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss in 2015, then added seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss last season. He is third in school history with 24.5 sacks and fourth with 36.5 TFLs. He needs 2.5 sacks and six tackles for loss to become the leader in each category; both are easily within reach. Haynes has excellent quickness off the edge and should again be one of the most feared pass rushers in the league. He also packs a punch: He has nine career forced fumbles. Haynes has been clocked in the high 4.5s in the 40 and looks to have the needed athleticism to transition to outside linebacker at the next level. He will wear No. 38 this season, switching from No. 10. He first wore No. 27 before switching to No. 10.

Jalen Hurts

JALEN HURTS, by Kim Klement/USA Today Sports

15. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts

Particulars: 6-2, 218 pounds, sophomore
Recruiting background: 4-star prospect in 2016 signing class, from Channelview (Texas) High
The skinny: Hurts, from the Houston area, was the SEC’s Offensive player of the Year as a true freshman last season, and he will be at the helm of what should be one of the league’s three most productive offenses this season. While the unit will be potent, Hurts’ production could drop a bit. Alabama is loaded at tailback, and Hurts likely gets fewer planned carries this season (he led the team with 191 rushing attempts last season, 45 more than anyone else). His production as a passer bears watching. Hurts was mediocre, at best, as a passer in the final three games last season (Florida, Washington, Clemson); at the same time, if he makes the normal freshman-to-sophomore progression under new coordinator Brian Daboll, everything will be fine. He showed poise beyond his years last season, and he is Alabama’s first returning starter at quarterback since A.J. McCarron in 2013.

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JEFFERY SIMMONS, by Matt Bush/USA Today Sports

16. Mississippi State DL Jeffery Simmons

Particulars: 6-4, 307 pounds, junior
Recruiting background: 5-star prospect in 2016 signing class, from Macon (Miss.) Noxubee County
The skinny: He remains known more for his arrest for assault than for his on-field play, but his talent is undeniable. Simmons made an immediate impact last season. He started three games and played in all but the opener. He finished with 40 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, four quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles; Simmons was at the top of almost every stat category for freshmen defensive linemen in the SEC and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team. Simmons can play both end and tackle in a 3-4 scheme; he has the strength to hold up against the run and the quickness to create havoc in the backfield. He will be one of the leaders for a rebuilding Bulldogs defense this season.

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