We are about to enter week eight, and the SEC has been a roller coaster so far, to say the least. From Alabama losing to unranked Texas A&M to Georgia’s defense pacing to set every record imaginable to LSU and Ed Orgeron parting ways after the season, this year feels more like a movie than anything. We’ve also seen stellar performances and new rising stars in the conference, and I’m going to attempt to rank all of them.
From here, I will be ranking the top 14 for each skill position — quarterback, running back, wide receiver — based on their performances. Why 14? There are 14 teams in the SEC. Pretty simple.
So let’s get started. Naturally, this is all just opinion based on how everyone has played the first six weeks, so there are sure to be disagreements!
For this, I will be using both counting stats as well as advanced stats. Winning big games also helps. For advanced stats, I used CollegeFootballData.com. The site’s EPA stat is PPA, so should it get confusing, just work your way back up here for clarification.
Let’s start with the signal-callers. All quarterbacks must have 80 attempts in order to rank, so the likes of JT Daniels and Joe Milton will not be featured. Any stat that is bolded and italicized means they lead the SEC in said category.
14. Ken Seals | Vanderbilt
— Stats: 114/206 (55.34%) | 1086 yds | 6 tot. TD, 7 INT | 4.23 AY/A | 0.145 PPA | 31.1 QBR
Breakdown: Seals quarterbacks the worst offense in the SEC, so it’s no surprise to see him this far down. It also appears that he may have lost his starting gig to Mike Wright, so it doesn’t look like he’ll be around for long.
13. Luke Doty/Zeb Noland | South Carolina
Breakdown: It was a tight race to see who would land in last on this list, but Seals just edged out the Doty-Noland tandem. I mean it was a close race and had it not been for Doty getting benched for Zeb Noland, South Carolina probably loses to Vandy. Now it looks like both have been supplanted in favor of Jason Brown. It’s a mess in Columbia.
12. Zach Calzada | Texas A&M
— Stats: 115/208 (55.29%) | 12 tot. TD, 7 INT | 6.56 AY/A | 0.219 PPA | 59.6 QBR
Breakdown: Calzada was thrown into the fire following the injury to Haynes King in the game at Colorado, and it was certainly a rough beginning. His PPA is third-worst, coincidentally lining up his ranking here, and despite his career performance against Alabama, the stats don’t lie. His 6.56 adjusted yards per attempt is second-worst in the conference among QBs with 100-plus attempts. The win against Alabama was remarkable, but it’s not enough to strengthen his case to be higher on the list.
11. Bo Nix | Auburn
— Stats: 128/211 (60.66%) | 1488 yds | 10 tot TD, 2 INT | 7.38 AY/A | 0.304 PPA | 70.6 QBR
Breakdown: Despite coming off a major win over number 17 Arkansas, Bo Nix is a microcosm of Auburn’s offense as a whole. Capable of big plays, but finds himself creating more big plays for the opposition more often than the offense. Though Nix has only thrown a pair of interceptions, he’s also failing to make big plays on offense.
There’s no more excuses for Nix. The junior hasn’t made much of any improvement since he enrolled at Auburn, and you can’t even blame poor o-line play like the previous three guys on here. Auburn’s line is pretty damn good! Prior to their 38-23 win against Arkansas, Auburn hadn’t scored 30 points against a Power-5 team in almost a year. There’s no consistency, and while performances like this always wind up turning heads, it’s more frustrating and uninspiring than anything else.
10. Connor Bazelak | Missouri
—Stats: 183/273 (67.03%) | 1912 yds | 12 TD, 7 INT | 6.73 AY/A | 0.366 PPA | 70.0 QBR
Breakdown: Coming into the season, I liked Bazelak’s potential a lot, but he is this low for a reason. He is a game manager in many facets. He does enough to get the ball into the hands of Missouri’s playmakers, but there isn’t much else. He takes his deep shots here and there, but the lack of any passing attack beyond the line of scrimmage is alarming. Take a look at his passing chart against North Texas:
Connor Bazelak's pass chart vs NTexas— SEC StatCat (@SEC_StatCat) October 12, 2021
75.9% Adj Comp
51.3% Depth Adj Accuracy
27.2% 1D+TD Rate
27.3% PA Rate
27.3% Screen+RPO Throw Rate
3.0% Explosivehttps://t.co/mmbigUNBWF pic.twitter.com/JWof9yspWw
There is NOTHING in the intermediate range whatsoever. 24 of his pass attempts traveled less than 10 yards, half of those at or behind the LOS. This isn’t a one-game thing either. It’s every week. Obviously, this is what Missouri game plans and Bazelak executes it well enough, but he is well behind in terms of being a next-level difference maker behind center.
9. Emory Jones | Florida
—Stats: 118/175 (67.43%) | 1798 tot. yds | 12 tot. TD, 9 INT | 6.59 AY/A | 0.297 PPA | 70.2 QBR
Breakdown: Emory Jones’ value as a quarterback does not come from him throwing the ball, it comes from his dynamic athleticism as a runner. He is an average-at-best thrower who also leads one of the nation’s best ground attacks in rushing. Not too shabby.
The reason Jones is as low as he is on this list is that dreaded necessity for a QB to be able to throw. It certainly doesn’t help when you have your predecessor who has outplayed you in a fraction of the snaps - Anthony Richardson is second on the team in rushing with 348 yards on 21 carries and has looked more than capable of throwing the ball - breathing down your neck for playing time. It’s an unenviable position to be in for Jones. He’s shown flashes of breakout ability, but it’s mired within an inability to throw downfield or read defenses consistently.
He’s thrown an interception in all but one game this season, and multiple on three occasions. It certainly appears as if it’s Anthony Richardson’s offense now after Jones got benched in their loss to LSU.
8. Max Johnson | LSU
— Stats: 162/264 (61.36%) | 2008 yds | 20 TD, 5 INT | 8.27 AY/A | 0.375 PPA | 62.0 QBR
Breakdown: Johnson has put up very solid numbers on the surface, but his struggles lay beneath the surface of stats. He is simply not the guy to lead an air raid attack that LSU has thrust him into. He struggles to hit guys down the field consistently when they aren’t wide open, and they’ve lacked any kind of rushing attack to aid him most of the year.
The simple solution is to ask less of Johnson, and they’ve been doing that of late. Running back Tyrion Davis-Price’s emergence as the team’s best playmaker following the loss of Kayshon Boutte has taken a lot off the back of Johnson. However, we saw his struggles resurface in the Ole Miss blowout loss. The running game disappeared, and due to the deficit, it all fell back squarely on Johnson’s shoulders
6. Will Levis | Kentucky
—Stats: 119/177 (67.23%) | 1501 tot. yds | 16 tot. TD, 6 INT | 7.44 AY/A | 0.378 PPA | 72.8 QBR
Breakdown: Levis began to regain his early-season form as of late, dominating in Kentucky’s blowout win over LSU. He struggled against Georgia, but who hasn’t. His inconsistencies in the middle weeks, especially with turning the ball over and poor ball placement led to some questions being raised about the Penn State transfer. He’s finding a comfortable place in the offense now, allowing Kentucky’s stout rushing attack to be the focal point and playing off of it.
Levis has a great arm, and he and Wan’Dale Robinson have become a fantastic connection. Levis’ main issues are consistency down the field and ball placement. His ball placement has led to untimely turnovers and a handful of dropped INTs. Had we done these rankings a month ago, he would easily have been higher, but it’s all about the body of work, and those poor performances in the South Carolina and Florida games stick out like a sore thumb. Going to keep my eyes on Levis closely throughout the second half and see what strides he’ll continue to make, but there needs to be consistency and efficiency for him to move up here.
7. Will Rogers | Mississippi State
— Stats: 291/396 (73.48%) | 2546 yds | 18 TD, 7 INT | 6.54 AY/A | 0.280 PPA | 67.1 QBR
Breakdown: No player in the SEC accounts for more usage or yardage than Will Rogers. He throws over 56 times per game on average, surpassing 60 twice! His usage rating is 78.46%, the highest in the country, and only two other quarterbacks in the nation have usage rates over 70%: Bailey Zappe at Western Kentucky and Brennan Armstrong at Virginia. To take it a step further, collegefootballdata.com began tracking usage in 2014. The only two quarterbacks near Rogers’ 78.46% were 2019 Gardner Minshew (74.7%) and Anthony Gordon (78.0%) at Washington State. I mean, just look at this.
Such is the life of a Mike Leach quarterback.
It’s impossible to figure out where to rank Rogers because of this. He completes a high amount of his throws given how often he passes, but his adjusted yards per attempt and PPA are very pedestrian in large part because his usage is astronomically high. The team’s overall explosiveness rating is the worst in the SEC (the explosiveness rating determines the EPA on plays deemed successful. Successful plays are plays where the offense scores, where they pick up 50% of yards needed on first down, 70% needed on second down, or third and fourth downs where they convert for a first down) because they’re the most one-dimensional team in the nation.
Rogers is a very talented QB, but there’s no zip to this offense. He hasn’t shown a consistent ability to take the lid off a defense, and that’s the fatal flaw of Mississippi State’s air raid. Asking for it to work in the SEC without any level of a rushing attack to balance it out is a losing battle, just look at how LSU struggles with it, so it’s hard to blame Rogers for this offense’s shortcomings despite the whole offense going through him.
5. KJ Jefferson | Arkansas
—Stats: 110/178 (61.80%) | 2076 tot. yds | 20 tot. TD, 3 INT | 9.31 AY/A | ?? PPA | 72.4 QBR
Breakdown: For whatever reason, Jefferson is not in the collegefootballdata.com database. Very strange, but nevertheless, we will use everything else on the breakout QB of the 2021 SEC season. No one has played a tougher schedule this year than Arkansas. Prior to Auburn who themselves had been ranked most of the year, Arkansas had four top 20 matchups in the first six weeks, just an insanely rough start for a team with a lot to prove, and Jefferson has surpassed every expectation at each mark.
Known mostly as a runner, his arm has come along just as well. Though Arkansas has faltered of late, dropping three in a row against Georgia, Ole Miss, and Auburn, Jefferson has been very impressive. His adjusted yards per attempt are second in the conference among qualified QBs behind only Hendon Hooker, and he’s been the key cog in Arkansas’ resurgence and their upset wins over both Texas teams.
There is a lot of great football to come from the 6’3, 245-pound super-sophomore, and so long as his rise continues to coincide with the rise of Arkansas, the Hogs could be a fun team to watch for the next couple of years.
4. Stetson Bennett | Georgia
—Stats*: 57/82 (69.51%) | 1144 tot. yds | 11 TD, 2 INT | 13.73 AY/A | 0.682 PPA | 91.2 QBR
Breakdown: After taking over due to JT Daniels’ lat injury, Stetson Bennett has impressed and then some. Bennett is the smaller, more mobile of the two, while Daniels has proven to be a better thrower over the past two seasons, but recently, Bennett has made major improvements, so much so that I believe he’s capable of being a championship-winning quarterback for this team now.
He’s done a great job filling in, not making mistakes, finding more efficiency down the field as of late, and converting on the wonderful opportunities Georgia’s defense has set them up with. The only reason he’s not in the top three is merely due to how much less he’s played compared to these next three guys.
THE TOP THREE
3. Hendon Hooker | Tennessee
Stats: 95/138 (68.84%) | 1994 tot. yds | 21 tot. TD, 2 INT | 11.01 AY/A | 0.438 PPA | 77.8 QBR
Breakdown: When I was compiling this list, no one jumped out to me as much as Hendon Hooker. I’ve been very critical of Tennessee’s QB play, specifically pocket awareness, but Hooker hasn’t just impressed, he’s blown me away.
With Joe Milton, Tennessee’s offense was incredibly run-heavy and they couldn’t pass at all. They were the worst passing offense in the SEC, totaling -0.01 PPA on all passing plays through the first two weeks. Milton got hurt in the Pitt game, and Hooker came in and nearly led a comeback win. From there, it’s been Hooker’s offense to lead, and from week three on, Tennessee has been one of the most prolific offensive attacks in the SEC, posting a 0.475 PPA per passing play since he’s taken over. Only Georgia and Arkansas have had higher marks in that time.
Hooker had a great first half against Florida but struggled mightily in the second half. He’s rebounded nicely, putting up four total touchdowns against both a lowly Missouri defense and South Carolina. He followed that up with five touchdowns across the next two games against Ole Miss and Alabama, much tougher competition. It’s been a major stride forward for a team that struggled to even crack 20 points consistently a year ago.
Though Tennessee fell short against Alabama, Hooker still totaled over 300 total yards of offense with a trio of touchdowns through the air. The biggest gripe I have with his game is he is borderline oblivious to pressure. He still struggles to step up in the pocket and eats a lot of hits because of it. He’s scored 13 times over the past four games, and they’re going to be a popular upset pick over the next couple of weeks against Kentucky and Georgia.
2. Bryce Young | Alabama
Stats: 140/207 (70.15%) | 2453 yds | 28 tot. TD, 3 INT | 10.59 AY/A | 0.510 PPA | 88.5 QBR
Breakdown: Bryce Young has garnered a lot of unfair criticism for Alabama’s slight offensive drop-off from a season ago, particularly being the scapegoat after the A&M loss, and it’s diluted how good he’s actually been this year. For starters, Alabama’s weapons are a significant drop-off from years prior. Last year saw DeVonta Smith win a Heisman with Jaylen Waddle sidelined, and Najee Harris had one of the most productive seasons an Alabama running back’s ever had. Safe to say they made the job easy for Mac Jones.
That has not been the story with Bryce Young. John Metchie III has not lived up to the billing as WR1, dropping a multitude of passes just in the Texas A&M game alone but all season as well. Jameson Williams has been a pleasant surprise for the Tide, supplanting Metchie as the team’s top downfield target, and really is the biggest reason this wide receiver group isn’t totally lost altogether. Despite Evan Neal on the line, Alabama has struggled to protect Young. He got pressured constantly in the loss against Texas A&M. Young has shown some growing pains, and his downfield accuracy has to improve, but the past two weeks and even most of the second half against A&M was a major head-turner for me.
Young lit up a really good A&M defense in the second half, and that rolled right into the Mississippi State and Tennessee games. Young was making far side throws outside the numbers consistently in all three games, and his decision-making has improved a lot. He’s not anywhere near as tentative to tuck it and take off as he’d been in previous weeks, and he’s smart enough not to take a hit. All in all, he probably has the most arm talent in the conference.
On top of all of that, no one in the country looks more comfortable evading pressure and keeping plays alive than Young. His playmaking outside of the pocket reminds me of Russell Wilson and how his eyes, no matter what, always remain downfield. His poise as a sophomore is beyond impressive. He’s obviously a Heisman frontrunner, and the fact he’s at the forefront of Alabama’s first loss since 2019 is going to warrant criticism, much that I find unfair. Young still has a lot of room to grow, and that’s scary given that there’s a very distinct gap between 1 and 2 on here and the rest. He is very easily been the second-best QB in the conference this year, and lately, he’s been pushing for that number one spot.
1. Matt Corral | Ole Miss
Stats: 140/207 (67.63%) | 2387 tot. yds | 24 tot.TD, 1 INT | 10.47 AY/A | 0.562 PPA | 87.7 QBR
Breakdown: Well, duh. To no one’s surprise, the Heisman front-runner is atop this list. Through seven games, Corral has 24 total touchdowns, nine of which have come on the ground, and he has just one interception. The most impressive thing about Corral aside from his arm, of course, is his ability to run. It added another dimension to this offense a year ago and has really kicked it into overdrive in 2021.
Corral’s biggest issue a year ago was the turnovers. He threw 14 interceptions in 2020 in just 10 games, but, as previously mentioned, that has dwindled to one this year. His decision-making and ball placement are much improved, perhaps more so than anyone else in the conference. He’s taken the leap to the next level and it’s elevated Ole Miss, despite all of their defensive woes, into one of the top teams in the nation.
Corral’s efficiency blows everyone else in the conference out of the water.
Here you can see every QB in the nation with over 80 plays registered. The only Power-5 quarterbacks with better PPA than Corral with similar usage are Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud. Corral’s 24 total TDs is second-most behind Bryce Young, and Corral has played one game fewer than the Alabama sophomore. There’s nothing about Corral that’s even questionable. He runs Kiffin’s offense to near perfection and locks up the top spot for the best SEC quarterback thus far.
That does it for the quarterbacks, so let’s get to the running backs. There’s perhaps no position in the SEC more polarizing than the running backs in terms of usage, so...this should be fun! The obvious difference between ranking quarterbacks versus running backs and wide receivers is that there are vastly more productive players at the latter two positions. For that, I’m including an honorable mention. It’ll be the next best three players who just missed the cut.
Honorable Mentions: Zamir White (UGA), Malik Davis (FLA), James Cook (UGA)
14. Snoop Conner | Ole Miss
— Stats: 67 car. | 388 yds | 9 TD | 5.8 YPC | 62 rec. yds | 55.5 YPG | 6.0 yds per touch
Breakdown: We start the running backs off with Ole Miss’ bowling ball of a back in Snoop Conner. Conner is one of the Ole Miss’ three-headed monsters consisting of Henry Parrish Jr. and Jerrion Ealy as well. Conner has been impressive lately, tallying a pair of 100-yard games over the past three weeks. Conner has also tallied double-digit carries in those three games, something he hadn’t done all season. Should his workload continue to increase, so could his spot on this list.
13. Trelon Smith | Arkansas
— Stats: 90 car. | 459 yds | 4 TD | 5.1 YPC | 12 rec. yds | 58.9 YPG | 5.1 YPTouch
Breakdown: If Smith had been getting the touches he was getting early in the year, he would be much higher on here. However, he’s found himself as the short straw in a timeshare with Raheim Sanders lately, and when KJ Jefferson has his hands in the cookie jar, too, it has made for some tough sledding lately for Smith. That being said, he’s still been very productive, and at the running back position, it’s probably not a doghouse situation rather just Arkansas riding the hot hand.
12. Raheim Sanders | Arkansas
— Stats: 70 car. | 434 yds | 1 tot. TD | 5.5 YPC | 55 rec. yds | 63.3 YPG | 5.9 YPTouch
Breakdown: As we just touched on, Sanders is more or less in a timeshare with Trelon Smith, and since the Georgia loss, it’s been Sanders receiving the lion’s share of touches out of the backfield. He’s carried the ball 42 times the past three games for 249 yards and four touchdowns. That’s good for 5.9 yards per carry. Seven of his 42 touches have gone for 10 or more yards, and two of those went for 20-plus, including a 42-yard chunk play against Ole Miss. He hasn’t found the end zone much, though it’s hard to be on a team with this many dynamic playmakers. Should he continue to out-touch Smith, he just might ascend up the list.
11. Dameon Pierce | Florida
—Stats: 46 car. | 262 yds | 10 tot. TD | 5.7 YPC | 164 rec. yds | 60.9 YPG | 7.1 YPTouch
Breakdown: On a team where the two quarterbacks lead the team in rushing, Pierce has been a great complimentary piece serving as the bruiser back to counter the speed of Emory Jones, Anthony Richardson, and Malik Davis, who himself just missed the cut for this list, as well as being a great receiving outlet on one of the best rushing units in the nation. Pierce accounts for a ton of explosive plays on top of being Florida’s go-to bruiser in short-yardage situations. Of Pierce’s 60 touches this season, 14 have gone for 10 or more yards, 3 of those going for more than 20, and his 10 total touchdowns are tied for second among running backs.
10. Henry Parrish Jr. | Ole Miss
— Stats: 74 car. | 407 yds | 2 TD | 5.5 YPC | 147 rec. yds | 78.9 YPG | 6.1 YPTouch
Breakdown: Parrish Jr. is the holder of the prominent share of touches among the Ole Miss three-headed monster. Conner leads the trio in touchdowns and yards per carry, but Parrish leads in carries, yards per game, and yards per touch. Parrish leads the way on one of the nation’s best rushing attacks, slotting him within the top 10 through eight weeks.
9. Tank Bigsby | Auburn
— Stats: 102 car. | 526 yds | 6 TD | 5.2 YPC | 63 rec. yds | 84.1 YPG | 5.4 YPTouch
Breakdown: Had this been done after week three, Bigsby is most likely in the top three. He had three straight 100-yard rushing games to start the year, granted two were against Akron and Alabama State, but one came against a formidable Penn State unit, and it looked like Tank was set to pick up where he left off following a great debut season in 2020.
However, since that game, Bigsby’s amassed just 183 yards on the ground the past four games for a pedestrian 3.3 yards per carry, and his touches evaporated for two games, leaving many to question if he’s injured. Harsin insisted he was fine after the LSU game, but Tank definitely looked banged up. Only recently against Arkansas has Tank looked as if he was returning to form, carrying the ball 18 times for 68 yards and a TD. Bigsby is one to keep an eye on down the stretch to see if that down stretch was just an anomaly for a normally consistent back.
8. Jarquez Hunter | Auburn
— Stats*: 57 car. | 492 yds | 3 tot. TD | 8.6 YPC | 42 rec. yds | 76.3 YPG | 8.2 YPTouch
Breakdown: Hunter has gone from a great secondary back behind Tank Bigsby to being one of Auburn’s best weapons. Though he’s not a qualifier for statistical leaderboards, Hunter currently has the third-highest yards per carry in the nation among players with 30 or more carries, behind only Tyrell Robinson (9.0 on 42 carries) of Army and Ohio State’s fabulous freshman, TreVeyon Henderson (8.8 on 79). He’s been out-carried by Bigsby 102 to 57, yet Hunter only has 34 fewer yards on the ground. That’s how explosive he’s been. For only being a three-star recruit, the true freshman has become a mainstay on an offense that’s desperately needed more playmakers, and though his progression has tapered off a bit as of late, he’s been a major surprise this season.
7. Ty Davis-Price | LSU
— Stats: 120 car. | 627 yds | 6 TD | 5.2 YPC | 35 rec. yds | 82.8 YPG | 5.4 YPTouch
Breakdown: Full admittance, Davis-Price is here on the back of two phenomenal outings. He totaled 58 carries for 434 yards and five touchdowns just against Kentucky and Florida, and his performance in LSU’s upset win over Florida was historic as he set the school record for rushing yards in a game with 287. How’s that for a ground game? His numbers came back to earth a bit against Ole Miss, totaling just 53 yards on 17 carries. It’ll be interesting to see if those back-to-back fantastic games were just a mirage or if Davis-Price can even come close to replicating those numbers.
6. Tiyon Evans | Tennessee
— Stats: 80 car. | 516 yds | 7 tot. TD | 6.4 YPC | 74 rec. yds | 98.3 YPG | 7.0 YPTouch
Breakdown: Evans has played in six games thus far as he’s been dealing with an ankle injury, but when he’s been on the field, he’s been as good as anyone in the conference. Evans has put together three straight games of 110 yards or more of total offense, and his 6.7 yards per carry is the third-best mark in the SEC. He finally returned to the field against Alabama this past weekend, but due to Tennessee trailing most of the game, he wasn’t featured much at all.
5. Brian Robinson Jr. | Alabama
— Stats: 116 car. | 599 yds | 13 tot. TD | 5.2 YPC | 145 rec. yds | 124.0 YPG | 5.7 YPTouch
Breakdown: Brian Robinson Jr. has been Mr. Consistent for the Crimson Tide. He’s has put up 80 yards or more in all but one game, that being the season opener against Miami, and his last four games, in particular, have all been noteworthy performances. He’s scored nine touchdowns in those four games since missing the Southern Miss game with bruised ribs, and he’s averaging over 160 total yards in those games on top of that.
What’s really impressed me is his involvement in Alabama’s passing attack recently. He’s hauled in 13 passes from Bryce Young for 144 yards and a score the last three games as he’s becoming a much more prominent receiving threat on a team that’s needed one. He’s also tied with Tyler Badie for most touchdowns among running backs, and at this rate, he’s going to find himself in the top three in no time.
4. Devon Achane | Texas A&M
— Stats: 86 car. | 608 yds | 6 tot. TD | 7.1 YPC | 190 rec. yds | 99.8 YPG | 7.7 YPTouch
Breakdown: Achane was probably the hardest player to rank in this group because as good as he’s been, he’s somehow not the best back on his own team. That’s how good Texas A&M’s backfield is. The touches compared to the top three are lacking as well. Each of the rest of the players on this list has over 130 touches. That being said, this Top Three is getting elevator shaft claustrophobic. There are five backs deserving of a spot, and Achane has absolutely become one of them. He’s put up back-to-back 100-yard performances in A&M’s last two games, and his touches have increased as Calzada’s play has middled out. A&M has absolutely become a rushing offense, and they have two fantastic backs for it.
Achane ranks number one in the conference in yards per carry among qualified rushers and 15th in the nation, and he’s been the most explosive back in the SEC on a rate base. Exactly 25 percent of his touches have gone for 10-plus yards, and he has the second-most plays of over 20 yards by a running back in the conference behind only Tyler Badie. Oh, and on top of all of that, his 96-yard kickoff return against Alabama was one of the Aggies’ signature moments this season. Texas A&M is spoiled with riches in the backfield, and they’ll probably come away with a pair backs with 1,000 total yards.
THE TOP THREE
3. Chris Rodriguez Jr. | Kentucky
Stats: 127 car. | 775 yds | 7 tot. TD | 6.1 YPC | 33 rec. yds | 115.3 YPG | 5.9 YPTouch
Breakdown: Despite his worst performance as a starter against Georgia (7 carries, 7 yards), Chris Rodriguez Jr. still leads the SEC in rushing yards and is fifteenth in the nation after Kentucky’s bye. Rodriguez has had just two clunkers this year by his standards. The aforementioned Georgia game and against Chattanooga in mid-September.
Aside from those two games, Kentucky’s star back has failed to eclipse 100 yards only one other time; a 19 carry, 99-yard performance against Florida. He’s gone over 140 yards three times in SEC play and rushed for 207 yards against Missouri. Starting to think I could rush for 200 against Mizzou...he’s been the premier bell cow in the conference this year, and Kentucky’s offense goes through him.
Prior to the Georgia game, the senior was on pace to rush for over 1,500 yards on the season, a mark that would have put him second all-time in school history for rushing yards in a single season. Obviously, his performance against Georgia stunted that quite a bit, but 1,500 is still reachable for Rodriguez.
2. Isaiah Spiller | Texas A&M
Stats: 123 car. | 761 yds | 6 tot. TD | 6.2 YPC | 179 rec. yds | 117.5 YPG | 6.5 YPTouch
Breakdown: Isaiah Spiller is the least talked about star running back in the nation. He’s overwhelmingly consistent, and along with Devon Achane, he’s been the biggest reason for A&M’s season not completely going under heading into the Alabama game. He’s racked up at least 75 total yards in every game this season, and he’s only been held under 100 twice.
A lot of Spiller’s consistency comes from his versatility. With A&M’s quarterback woes all season, both Spiller and Achane have provided a much-needed security blanket of sorts for Zach Calzada. Spiller also provides explosiveness at an elite level. 23.6 percent of his 144 touches have resulted in 10-plus yards, a rate only bested by Devon Achane (as I said, it was really hard to leave him out of the top three).
Spiller has been the anchor in the backfield for the Aggies from day one as a freshman. He’s on pace for over 1,500 yards from scrimmage (this includes a bowl game) this year which would blow away his career-high. Should he reach that mark or beyond, it would be just the fourth time since 1990 an A&M back or receiver has surpassed 1,500: 2,038 by Trayveon Williams in 2018, 1,501 by Leeland McElroy in 1995, and 1,739 by Darren Lewis in 1990. We are in the midst of a special season from the junior.
1. Tyler Badie | Missouri
Stats: 126 car | 735 yds | 13 tot. TD | 5.8 YPC | 265 rec. yds | 142.9 YPG | 6.4 YPTouch
Breakdown: Missouri’s do-it-all Swiss army knife finds himself at the top of the pack at the halfway point. He’s the lone non-QB in the conference that’s totaled 1,000 total yards thus far, and when you see his usage, it’s no surprise why. Badie’s usage rating is 34.67%, the highest in the conference and third-highest of all running backs in the country. Only Bijan Robinson and Breece Hall are above him.
Missouri’s lack of a downfield passing attack leads to a lot going through Badie. He averages over four catches a game and almost 23 touches a game, easily the highest in the conference. Badie has totaled under 100 yards from scrimmage just twice and has surpassed the 200-yard rushing mark twice this season.
Badie is on pace for north of 1,850 yards from scrimmage this season, and should he reach that mark, it would be the highest single-season total from a running back or wide receiver in Missouri history. Missouri’s offense has been inconsistent this year, but Badie has never wavered, and he finds himself atop the running backs list at the halfway point.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
The passing game is as abundant in the SEC as ever, but while it’s led to some terrific wideout play this year, it’s been a very top-heavy leaderboard all season. It’s worth mentioning the name George Pickens, the star Georgia wideout who tore his ACL in March. There’s a good chance we see him before the season’s over. That being said, before we take a look at the 14 best across the conference, let’s see the players who just missed the cut.
Honorable Mentions: Demetris Robinson (AUB), Jonathan Mingo (Miss), Ainias Smith (TAMU)
14. Tauskie Dove | Missouri
— Stats: 22 rec | 329 yards | 0 TD | 15.0 YPR | 54.8 rec. yds per game
Breakdown: Dove has had his best year already at Missouri. He’s third on the team in receptions, behind Tyler Badie and Keke Chism, and though he’s not found the end zone yet this year, he’s been the Tigers’ most consistent receiver, leading them in yards and yards per catch. His best game this year came in the heartbreaking OT loss at Boston College. Dove hauled in three passes for 89 yards, two going for 39 and 40 yards respectively, that set up easy touchdowns for Mizzou. Dove has 65 or more receiving yards in four of Missouri’s last five games.
13. Cedric Tillman | Tennessee
— Stats: 30 rec | 446 yards | 4 TD | 14.9 YPR | 63.7 rec. yds per game
Breakdown: Tillman has reaped the benefits of Hendon Hooker becoming Tennessee’s starting QB, especially lately. He’s had just one game under 70 yards receiving in four games since the start of October, and he tallied his first 100-yard game against Alabama this past weekend. He hauled in a 70-yard touchdown from Hooker, providing one of the few highlights in Tennessee’s loss. 20 of Tillman’s 30 receptions have come in his last four outings as he’s becoming a bigger part of the Vols’ passing attack.
12. Josh Vann | South Carolina
— Stats: 24 rec | 420 yards | 3 TD | 17.5 YPR | 52.5 rec. yds per game
Breakdown: On one of the nation’s worst passing teams, Josh Vann has proven to be its lone bright spot. Coming into the season, the senior had never had a year with over 200 yards receiving and never averaged north of 10 yards per catch. This season, he reached a career-high in yards by the third week, and he’s the only player with a 100 yard game against Georgia this year. He caught three passes, one being a 36 yard score, the lone touchdown for the Gamecocks that night. The other two went for 61 and 31 in that order. However, unfortunately for Vann, his production has gone way down as of late, an unfortunate byproduct of very poor QB play.
11. Velus Jones Jr. | Tennessee
— Stats: 31 rec | 453 yards | 4 TD | 14.6 YPR | 56.6 rec. yds per game
Breakdown: Much like Tillman, Jones Jr. didn’t get going until the Vols were forced to start Hendon Hooker following the injury to Joe Milton, but Hooker’s brought life to Tennessee’s passing game, and Jones has been his go-to target. Since Hooker took over under center in week three, the fifth-year senior hadn’t had a game under 65 yards receiving until a less than stellar game against Alabama. Even still, he’s averaged over 70 yards a game since Hooker took over. He’s been dynamic in the open field which comes as no shock as he’s been a solid returner this year, too. He was a late bloomer into the season, but he’s a big X-factor to watch for as the Vols offense continues to gain momentum.
10. Makai Polk | Mississippi State
— Stats: 58 rec | 552 yards | 6 TD | 9.5 YPR | 78.9 rec. yds per game
Breakdown: While he does lead the SEC in receptions, much like teammate Will Rogers, the quantity does not equal similar quality. His 9.5 yards per reception is the lowest among any receiver with 20 catches in the conference. What this isn’t, however, is an indictment on his talent. It’s more about the air raid than it is anything else. Mike Leach believes less in running the ball than Nick Rolovich does vaccines, and that takes a toll on the receivers’ ability to make plays consistently.
The Bulldogs offense is by far the least explosive offense in the conference. Polk’s volume was enough to get him on the list, but in order to move up, he’s going to have to find a way to be explosive somehow.
9. Will Sheppard | Vanderbilt
— Stats: 35 rec | 457 yards | 3 TD | 13.1 YPR | 57.1 rec. yds per game
Breakdown: If you’re looking for basically the only bright spot for Vanderbilt this year, look no further. Vandy’s passing attack is bottom 10 in the nation, but Will Sheppard is playing very good football right now. He’s accounted for 32.7 percent of the team’s receiving yards, the third-highest of any player in the conference, behind just Treylon Burks and Wan’Dale Robinson. Sheppard has put up a pair of 100-plus yard performances in the Commodores past four games, and he’s hitting his stride at the right time.
8. Brock Bowers | Georgia
— Stats: 25 rec | 416 yards | 7 tot. TD | 16.6 YPR | 69.3 rec. yds per game
Breakdown: RESPECT THE TIGHT END POSITION! Brock Bowers as well as Texas A&M’s Jaylen Wydermeyer have stood out as the very best tight ends in the SEC this season, and Bowers especially has been very impressive, being the only tight end on this list. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder has been Stetson Bennett’s favorite target, putting up team-highs across the board. He boasts the most receptions, yards, and touchdowns on the offense of the best team in the country.
Bowers is an elite athlete who emerged as Georgia’s first-string tight end as Arik Gilbert has missed the entirety of the season thus far due to personal issues. He’s stepped up and then some for the Bulldogs, playing as one of the best tight ends in the nation. He’s posted a pair of 100 yard games and has yet to post a sub-40 yard performance this year. Not bad for a true freshman.
7. John Metchie III | Alabama
— Stats: 52 rec | 601 yards | 5 TD | 11.6 YPR | 75.1 rec. yds per game
Breakdown: Metchie came into the season hyped up to be not just Alabama’s WR1, but among the best receivers in the nation. It’s safe to say he’s failed to live up to those expectations thus far. Metchie has still performed fairly well, but nowhere near what everyone expected. He’s become solidified as WR2 behind Jameson Williams for the Tide, and he’s regressed heavily from a season ago which can partially be chalked up to preseason injuries. You can almost mirror his numbers thus far to last season’s. Metchie had 55 catches for 916 yards and 16.7 yards per reception a season ago. At 52 catches thus far this year, he’s at just 601 yards and 11.6 yards per reception. Now script predicates part of that, and Metchie is in a different role this year with a different coordinator, but despite that, it’s still far below what many expected from him.
Another big issue Metchie has had is drops which are very uncharacteristic. Just in the A&M loss alone, he dropped three passes by my count. He had a great game against Mississippi State, though, tallying his first 100-yard game this year as Alabama as a whole expectedly bounced back after the loss. Metchie is much better than seventh here, but that’s how he’s performed thus far. However, if his last two games could be any indication, He is at the very top of my list of players to watch in the second half, and I’m hoping to see more plays drawn up for him down the field. It’s what he does best.
6. Jacob Copeland | Florida
— Stats: 23 rec | 423 yards | 4 TD | 18.4 YPR | 60.4 rec. yds per game
Breakdown: Copeland took over the number 1 previously worn by Kadarius Toney, and the junior is having his best year as a Gator, shining just like Toney did a season ago, and emerging as WR1 for Emory Jones and maybe more importantly, for Anthony Richardson.
Richardson appears to have surpassed Emory Jones as Florida’s starting QB, a decision long overdue. An obvious question for Copeland would be how his production would do with a QB switch. However, I don’t think it’ll even remotely be a worry, and, if anything, he may see an uptick in targets. Three of Copeland’s four touchdowns this year have come from the arm of Richardson. They hooked up twice against South Florida, from 75 and 41 yards out, and in their last game against LSU, they connected again for a 33-yard touchdown. Richardson is their guy, and Copeland is definitely his, so this could be a big-time duo for the Gators down the stretch.
5. Kayshon Boutte | LSU
— Stats: 38 rec | 508 yards | 9 TD | 13.4 YPR | 84.7 rec. yds per game
Breakdown: *heavy sighs* Man, oh man, what could’ve been. Boutte was off to a torrid start, putting up a pair of games of over 120 yards, and he led the entire country in touchdowns through six weeks. However, Boutte is done for the season following a lower leg injury, and with it goes a potential top-10 receiving season in school history.
Boutte was on pace to snag 82 balls (4th all-time at LSU) for roughly 1,100 yards (8th all-time at LSU), and 19 touchdowns (2nd all-time at LSU). All of that within an offense that had struggled to find solid grounding week to week.
Of course, hoping for a speedy recovery for the sophomore, and I can’t wait to see how he bounces back in 2022.
4. Dontario Drummond | Ole Miss
— Stats: 36 rec | 619 yards | 7 tot. TD | 17.2 YPR | 88.4 rec. yds per game
Breakdown: Drummond has broken out as WR1 in 2021 for Ole Miss, taking full advantage of the extra year of his COVID eligibility. He’s taken a solid year as the third option in 2020 and catapulted himself to among the very best in the SEC in 2021. He’s been as versatile as can be in Lane Kiffin’s offense. He’s been a great possession guy across the field as well as a deep ball threat. He’s even been Corral’s main red zone target, racking up four of his six receiving scores from inside the 20.
Drummond coming back to Ole Miss has paid huge dividends for both the team and himself. His draft stock has undoubtedly skyrocketed, and at the rate that he’s playing, he could find himself as a day two pick.
THE TOP THREE
3. Wan’Dale Robinson | Kentucky
Stats: 49 rec | 566 yards | 5 TD | 11.6 YPR | 80.9 rec. yds per game | 92.9 tot. yds per game
Breakdown: Robinson transferred home to play at Kentucky and primarily play wide receiver, and from the jump, it paid dividends for both Robinson and the Wildcats. Robinson’s first three games were all 100-plus performances, and though Kentucky’s passing game has gotten completely lost for whatever reason, Robinson has still maintained his consistency and big-play ability.
Robinson played mostly running back at Nebraska for two seasons, and much of his explosiveness comes from his ability to make anyone miss. It’s translated beautifully to being a full-time wideout now, and Robinson has eight receptions of 20-plus yards, seven of which have gone for over 30.
The biggest question about Robinson has nothing to do with him at all. It’s where in the hell did the passing attack go? Will Levis hasn’t cracked 200 yards in five weeks. He’s only surpassed 150 once, and that took 42 attempts against Georgia. What was once a creative mix of deep balls and short to intermediate route concepts to let Robinson showcase his open-field ability has devolved into a run/screen-heavy monotonous blob of inconsistency, and it’s affected Robinson more than anyone. Kentucky gets Mississippi State after a bye, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, New Mexico State, and Louisville. No defense there is particularly good at all, so I could see Robinson having a huge second half.
2. Jameson Williams | Alabama
Stats: 35 rec | 710 yards | 6 TD | 20.3 YPR | 88.8 rec. yds per game
Breakdown: Sometimes, all it takes is some fresh scenery. Finding himself struggling to consistently find playing time at Ohio State, Jameson Williams entered the transfer portal. Williams shocked many around the nation, choosing the go to Alabama. The Tide lost numerous starters from their 2020 championship roster, most notably wideouts DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. With little experience outside of John Metchie, Williams saw an opportunity, bet on himself, and he’s been one of college football’s biggest breakout stars of the 2021 season.
Williams began scorching the ground he ran on right out of the gate, hauling in 4 balls for 126 yards including a 94-yard touchdown in the season opener against Miami. Williams showed this kind of potential at Ohio State, averaging 17.7 yards per reception there, but he only caught 15 passes as a freshman and sophomore combined. Goes to show just how crowded those wide receiver groups have been in Columbus that this guy couldn’t find his way on the field.
Williams has had one game under 60 yards receiving, against Mercer, and has been the premier deep threat in the SEC as well as the best wideout for Alabama. He’s pacing for over 1,100 yards as of now and depending on how far into January their season goes, maybe more. Williams’ breakout at this level is something no one saw coming this year.
1. Treylon Burks | Arkansas
Stats: 42 rec | 717 yards | 8 tot. TD | 17.1 YPR | 89.6 rec. yards per game
Breakdown: Standing at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Treylon Burks is a specimen. Burks had a breakout season as a sophomore, totaling 820 yards at 16.1 yards per reception and seven TDs in nine games, but this year, he continued that breakout year into likely becoming one of the first receivers off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft should he declare.
His separation off the line has been staggeringly good. Like seriously, go watch the A&M and Ole Miss games and watch him bully corners. He’s racked up four 100 yard games this year, three of which he eclipsed 125. He even eclipsed 100 total yards against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, tallying 89 yards receiving to go with 56 yards rushing for three total TDs. His size would indicate he’s mainly just a 50/50 guy, and while that’s not at all the case, he is also fantastic in those situations as well.
Just watching his film, he explodes off the screen like a few others in college right now. He’s led Arkansas in receiving each of his three years there, and despite never getting any level of consistent QB play up until this year, he’s found a way to stand out, and over the final four weeks, he has a major chance to put up some big-time numbers.
Arkansas’ all-time single-season receiving yards mark stands at 1,335 put up by Steelers legend Cobi Hamilton. Burks is on pace to put up over 1,100 yards, so while that record is just a bit out of sight as of now, he’s still on pace for a historic year in the annals of Arkansas football history. Burks will also assuredly move into the top 10 all-time in career receiving yards at Arkansas. A helluva year by the best receiver in the SEC right now.
So that does it. Congrats to Matt Corral, Tyler Badie, and Treylon Burks, you guys are the best! I’m very intrigued to see how this list shapes itself out as the year goes along with some huge games left to play in the SEC.