After the 2016 season, the SEC finished with eight players on the All-America team. Entering the last season, the conference only had six preseason All-American picks, so like the saying goes: It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
Since there is now a little more than 200 (!) days until the start of the 2017 season, we might as well take a look at some players who could garner some preseason hype.
After great 2016 seasons, here are the best candidates from the SEC to receive preseason All-American honors entering the 2017 season:
Minkah Fitzpatrick - Alabama defensive back
Fitzpatrick is a returning 2016 All-American and as he enters the 2017 season, he can be a preseason All-American at any of the four secondary positions.
Fitzpatrick did a little bit of everything for the Crimson Tide’s secondary. He started the year at corner and finished playing strong safety after starter Eddie Jackson was lost for the season.
The junior to be had a nose for the football. In his first game at safety, he picked off LSU quarterback Danny Etling in the fourth quarter, leading to a field goal that ultimately gave Alabama the final 10-point margin.
Then there was his performance against Arkansas. In that game, Fitzpatrick intercepted Razorback signal caller Austin Allen all in the second half. Fitzpatrick returned one of his picks for a 100-yard touchdown.
He also returned an interception for a 44-yard score in the SEC Championship against Florida as well.
Fitzpatrick finished the 2016 season with 66 tackles, six interceptions and two scores. With three out of the four 2016 All-American defensive backs now gone and off to the NFL, Fitzpatrick should be a lock for 2017 preseason All-American honors.
Derrius Guice - LSU running back
The LSU running back isn’t just an All-American type player, he is a Heisman-caliber player.
Entering last season, the Tigers had one of the best backs in all of college football in Leonard Fournette. But with nagging ankle issues, Fournette missed time which allowed Guice establish himself as one of the best backs in the nation. On 183 carries over 12 games, the rising junior amassed 1,387 yards and 15 touchdowns, which was good for first and second in the conference. Guice also led the SEC in yards per carry at an average of 7.6.
With Fournette now off to the NFL, Guice should see an increase in production. Add that with LSU having uncertainty at quarterback, new offensive coordinator Matt Canada may be calling Guice’s number frequently in 2017.
Jalen Hurts - Alabama quarterback
Hurts had a phenomenal first year in Tuscaloosa. He led Alabama to a 14-1 record and SEC Championship. However, that one loss was the National Championship against the Clemson Tigers. Hurts threw for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns while completing 62.8 percent of his passes in his first season under center along with 954 rushing yards and 13 scores on the ground.
While he did have one of the best freshman seasons ever by an Alabama player, Hurts did struggle with consistency (primarily with the deep ball) which showed in the College Football Playoff. With that consistency in mind, him making preseason All-American honors may be a long shot. But since he is the signal caller for the Crimson Tide, Hurts will more than likely get a look to earn preseason All-American honors.
Arden Key - LSU defensive end
Key is seen as one of the best pass rushers in the nation. He had a phenomenal 2016, finishing with 12 sacks (tying Oliver Lawrence’s team record set back in 1989), 13 quarterback hits and 29 hurries. He also finished fourth nationally in sacks per game (1.06). Key definitely has the talent do so, plus he is seen as one of the defenders who has a chance to contend for the Heisman Trophy in 2017.
Frank Ragnow - Arkansas center
Ragnow anchored a strong Razorback offensive line in 2016.
Although he only earned Second team All-SEC by the AP last season, Pro Football Focus raves about Ragnow. According to PFF, Ragnow is the top returning center in the nation by a “mile.” That is certainly high praise.
With all three All-American centers graduated, Ragnow can definitely become preseason All-American center in 2017.