PFF's preseason All-SEC team: Kelly, Fournette lead the way
The nation’s top conference has another impressive crop of talent, particularly on the defensive side of the ball where edge rushers will dominate the discussion this season in the SEC. There are a plethora of potential first-round talents who will be terrorizing quarterbacks this fall –not exactly a welcome sight for a conference that had only a handful of solid passers a year ago.
The running back position is well-stocked as well –as it seems to be across the nation – so the “line of scrimmage league” is set for another year of power running and explosive edge rushing carrying the way as the SEC looks to uphold their reputation as the home of the country’s best athletes.
Here’s a look at the preseason All-SEC team for 2016:
Quarterback: Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
The quarterback play was ugly at times in the SEC last season, but Kelly was one of the league’s best and he heads into 2016 as the top passer in the conference. His passing grade ranks 10th among the nation’s returning quarterbacks as he posted positive grades in all but four games last season. Kelly was also a big part of the running game as he picked up 307 yards on 51 carries in as a designed runner and 317 yards on 27 scrambles. Ole Miss lost a lot of talent to the NFL, but they still have a strong roster and having the conference’s best passing quarterback should keep them in every game in 2016.
Dobbs is not a polished passer, but he’s dangerous as a runner where he’s graded at +22.8 over the last two seasons, including picking up 612 yards on designed runs last season.
Second team: Josh Dobbs, Tennessee
Running Back: Leonard Fournette, LSU
There’s little surprise at the top as Fournette as actually our first-team All-SEC running back a year ago, even with Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry in the mix. No running back forced more missed tackles than Fournette’s 85 last season as he picked up 3.6 yards after contact per rush and led the nation with a +37.7 run grade to lead the nation. If he can take another step as a receiver and blocker, Fournette will only add to his value as a future first round pick.
Second Team: Nick Chubb, Georgia
Fullback: Chandler Cox, Auburn
The ancient position is still employed in Auburn’s offense where Cox had the conference’s top blocking grade last season while also leading the way with 341 snaps.
Wide receivers: Drew Morgan, Arkansas and Calvin Ridley, Alabama
Morgan was quietly one of the best receivers in the SEC a year ago, leading all returners in both receiving grade and in touchdowns with 10. Ridley became Alabama’s go-to option in the second half of the season, as he finished second among returning receivers in receptions while showing excellent deep speed that should make him more of a big-play option heading into his true sophomore season.
Second team: Malachi Dupre, LSU and Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
Slot receiver: Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
Kirk and Ross are almost interchangeable here, but Kirk gets the nod as he ranks seventh among returning receivers with 896 yards from the slot and tied for third with seven touchdowns. Ross’ numbers are right there with Kirk, but it’s Kirk who edges him out after becoming the Aggies’ go-to receiver as a true freshman.
Second team: Fred Ross, Mississippi State
Tight end: Evan Engram, Ole Miss
With wide receivers Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core off to the NFL, Engram should get more opportunities in the passing game where his receiving grade ranked fourth in the SEC last season and third in 2014. He has the athleticism to make plays up the seam or after the catch (averaging 7.5 yards after the catch per reception last two seasons), so look for Ole Miss to find ways to get the ball into Engram’s hands all over the field. He narrowly edges out Alabama’s O.J. Howard as first-team tight end.
Second team: O.J. Howard, Alabama
Offensive tackle: Cam Robinson, Alabama and Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
All of last season’s all-conference tackles have moved on, leaving a depleted crop to tangle with the nation’s best group of edge rushers. Robinson has been good for a player who stepped right in as a true freshman, but there’s still plenty of room to grow, and that’s assuming he even sees the field this year after a recent arrest. Wynn started at left tackle the last five games of 2015, surrendering only three pressures during that time. He has played mostly guard the last two years, but he’s been solid no matter where Georgia has lined him up.
Guard: Braden Smith, Auburn and William Clapp, LSU
Smith was a first-team all-conference guard last year as he finished second to only Arkansas’ Sebastian Tretola as a run blocker. Clapp has the top pass blocking grade among returning guards as he surrendered only three QB hits and eight hits on 320 snaps in pass protection.
Second team: Nick Haynes, Kentucky and Devon Desper, Mississippi State
Center: Jon Toth, Kentucky
The top-graded returning center in the conference, Toth has had two strong years in our grading as the Kentucky pivot man. He’s shown well across the board, grading positively in all three phases – run, pass, screen games – while playing 96.0 percent of Kentucky’s snaps the last two seasons.
Second team: Brandon Kublanow, Georgia
Edge rushers: Derek Barnett, Tennessee and Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
This position is loaded as LSU’s Arden Key and Arkansas’ Deatrich Wise JR also have future first round pick potential and Alabama’s Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson deserve mention as well.
Barnett and Garrett came in together in 2014 as true freshmen as they’re the class of the nation with the top two returning grades among FBS edge defenders. Garrett ranked fourth in the nation as a pass rusher in 2015 after finishing second in 2014 while Barnett is a stout run defender who narrowly edge Garrett as a pass rusher last year to finish third in the nation.
Harris and Lawson are right there in the mix with Barnett and Garrett as Harris broke out last year as a sophomore to ranked ninth in the nation as a pass rusher while Lawson had been excellent when healthy and if he can stay on the field, he’ll be in the first round conversation with the rest of his peers on this list.
Second team: Charles Harris, Missouri and Carl Lawson, Auburn
Defensive Tackle: Jonathan Allen, Alabama and D.J. Jones, Ole Miss
There’s an influx of newer names after the SEC sent five interior defensive linemen to the NFL within the first three rounds of the draft. Allen would have been another had he declared for the draft but he returns his conference-high 13 sacks and the top overall returning grade despite playing only 401 snaps last season. Jones had the second-best grade against the run in 2015 as the 324-pound JUCO transfer stepped right into the defensive line rotation at Ole Miss.
Godchaux improved greatly as a sophomore to post the top pass rushing grade among all returning interior defensive linemen in the nation while Brantley is the next defensive line star at Florida after posting an excellent two-year grade of +40.6 on his 679 snaps.
Second team: Caleb Brantley, Florida and Davon Godchaux, LSU
Linebacker: Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt; Reuben Foster, Alabama; Jarrad Davis, Florida
Cunningham is a name to know as he graded well in all phases last year, finishing with an overall mark that ranked third in the conference. Foster is next in line to make a name for himself at inside linebacker at Alabama and his power in the run game was a fine complement to second-round pick Reggie Ragland. Davis posted the second-best coverage grade in the conference, while adding the fifth-best pass rushing mark on his way to four sacks, seven QB hits, and 11 hurries on only 49 rushes.
Second team: Donavan Newsom, Missouri; Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Tennessee; DeMarquis Gates, Ole Miss
Cornerback: Jalen Tabor, Florida and Marlon Humphrey, Alabama
Outplaying first round pick, Vernon Hargreaves II last season, Tabor put himself on the NFL’s radar after allowing an opposing passer rating of only 33.0 into his coverage, third-best among all returning cornerbacks. Humphrey allowed a few big plays last season, but his +12.6 coverage grade ranks sixth in the nation among returning corners and his size and length will anchor a strong Alabama secondary. Keep an eye on Cameron Sutton of Tennessee who was outstanding in 2014 and a bounce-back season puts him right in the first-team mix.
Second team: Aaron Davis, Georgia and Cameron Sutton, Tennessee
Slot cornerback: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Stepping right into the “star” position at Alabama as a true freshman, Fitzpatrick was a second-team All-SEC slot defender last season as he was strong in coverage while leading the conference’s cornerbacks in run stop percentage at 3.9 percent.
Second team: Malik Foreman, Tennessee
Safety: Marcus Maye, Florida and Eddie Jackson, Alabama
Maye made plays all over the field for Florida last season, finishing with the top grade against the run among the conference’s safeties while ranking second with seven passes defensed. Jackson has transitioned nicely to free safety after transitioning from cornerback and he posted the top coverage grade among returning Power-5 safeties last year.
Second team: Donovan Wilson, Texas A&M and Jamal Adams, LSU
Kicker: Daniel Carlson, Auburn
Our first-team All-SEC kicker returns after making 22-of-26 field goals including four-of-five from 50+ yards.
Second team: Westin Graves, Mississippi State
Punter: J.K. Scott, Alabama
Scott landed 19 punts inside the 20 and his top hand time of 5.2 seconds lead the conference.
Second team: Kevin Phillips, Auburn
Return Specialist: Antonio Callaway, Florida
As a true freshman, Callaway was a first-team All-SEC returner for PFF after returning two punts for touchdowns while averaging 15.5 yards per punt return.
Second team: Cameron Sutton, Tennessee