Daily Focus: Can Myles Garrett get Texas A&M in the SEC title mix?
Every weekday in “Daily Focus,” Pro Football Focus looks at the top college football storylines and explains what they mean from a PFF perspective.
Can Myles Garrett get Texas A&M in the SEC title mix? We have been heavy this offseason with our praise of Garrett, the Aggies’ star defensive end, detailing why he is the nation’s best pass-rusher and overall defender entering 2016. That’s after he earned in his true freshman and sophomore seasons the highest two-year pass-rushing grade, behind only Ohio State’s Joey Bosa, the No. 3 overall pick of the Chargers.
At Day 2 of SEC Media Days Tuesday, Garrett stated his goals as recording 20 sacks and becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft. Those are ambitious goals, to be sure, with the latter seeming more realistic than the former, but we’re more curious about seeing whether Garrett’s dominant defensive play can get Texas A&M in the SEC title mix.
It won’t be easy, as the Aggies have an absolutely brutal SEC schedule (as most SEC West teams do), drawing a road trip to Alabama and division favorite Tennessee out of the East, and they open with a challenging home nonconference game against UCLA. But there are some things to really like about this Aggies roster, as Garrett is joined by fellow end Daeshon Mack and defensive tackles Daylon Mack and Zaycoven Henderson to form one of the best lines in the country. Safety Donovan Wilson graded out very well in 2015 as a run defender, pass-rusher and in coverage, and in general the defense shows good promise entering the season.
The key will be how Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight fares as A&M’s new starting quarterback. He will have the SEC’s best receiving corps at his disposal, but he graded very poorly when we saw him last with the Sooners in 2014, including a pair of disastrous games against TCU and Clemson. If he can show improvement, however, this is a dark-horse SEC title contender based on Garrett and the defense.
What KD Cannon means for Baylor’s offense: News came out Tuesday that Bears wide receiver KD Cannon has to undergo minor knee surgery, with no firm timetable placed on his return.
We don’t yet know if he’ll miss any games for Baylor, but if he does, the Bears will have to find a way to replace him in their offense. He is the top-graded returning receiver in an offense that already has to overcome the loss of Browns first-round pick Corey Coleman, who was one of the top pass-catchers in college football prior to Baylor’s top two QBs getting hurt.
Cannon was primarily a deep threat in 2015, with 43.2 percent of his targets coming on throws 20 or more yards downfield – one of the highest rates in the country. His 459 yards on such passes ranks eighth nationally among returning WRs, he averaged a very impressive 2.5 overall yards per route run average, which ranks 16th.
Seth Russell is a potential breakout quarterback in 2016 based on his per-play production last season, but he’ll need some help to do so for a team that has undergone a lot of unrest this offseason. Cannon is one of the most important members of his supporting cast, and a good complement for a QB in Russell who thrives on the deep ball (28 percent of his passes last season were deep go routes – nearly double the national average), so it’s critical they get him back on the field.
Who are the front-runners to win this year’s Thorpe Award? The watch list for the Thorpe Award, which honors college football’s best defensive back at the end of every regular season, was released on Monday. You can see the full list here.
Which players enter the 2016 season as the favorites to win the award, according to the PFF grades? The obvious pick is Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis, who earned the No. 1 overall grade at the position last season, even ahead of NFL first-round picks like Jalen Ramsey out of FSU and William Jackson III out of Houston. Lewis “only” had two picks last season, but led the nation with 15 passes defensed. He is a key part of a defense that could be the nation’s best in 2016.
Lewis will face competition in his own conference from Iowa corner Desmond King, who won the award last season after his eight-interception season, and is the No. 2-graded returner at the position. Alabama has a pair of defensive backs worth watching, as Marlon Humphrey (who was snubbed by not being included on the initial watch list) could be one of the country’s best corners this season and Eddie Jackson ranks No. 1 in coverage grade among returning safeties.
But perhaps the most intriguing Thorpe Award candidate is Florida State true sophomore safety Derwin James, who has the type of all-around game that could make him a dark-horse Heisman candidate. He is the top-graded returning safety overall after excelling in all three aspects last season: run defense, pass-rushing and pass coverage.