When you hear "talent" in the Southeastern Conference, think numbers and depth charts. But when you hear "playmaker," don't just think about statistics. Ask yourself: Who's going to make me say 'Wow?' Fox Sports South ranks the 20 players in the SEC that should keep you glued to your seat. (Photos: Jeremy Brevard/Spruce Derden/Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports)
Alvin "Bud" Dupree, DE, Kentucky Wildcats
RANKING: 20 ... LAST YEAR: 61 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 7 sacks ... SKINNY: Alvin "Bud" Durpee has a rare combination of size (6-foot-4, 267 pounds), speed (reportedly had a 40-yard dash time of 4.5 seconds) and work ethic (first to arrive, last to leave is a mantra, not a cliché for Dupree). He led all SEC defensive ends in tackles last season, and finished sixth in sacks. In 2014, Dupree's senior season, not only might he net his third straight top 10 sack ranking in the conference, he may lead the way in the SEC.
USA TODAY SportsJamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
Maty Mauk, QB, Missouri
RANKING: 19 ... LAST YEAR: 1,071 passing yards, 11 passing TDs, 229 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD ... SKINNY: Maty Mauk will no longer be able to rely on wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who was dismissed from the team, and transferred to Oklahoma. That means Mauk will need to take over if he wants to see another SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. Mauk's numbers came from four fill-in starts, so expect a huge increase as he takes over at the top of the depth chart. Also expect a more experienced quarterback, one that takes fewer, but more calculated risks down the field, and one that has a much better feel in the pocket.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY SportsDenny Medley
Christion Jones, WR/KR, Alabama
RANKING: 18 ... LAST YEAR: 36 receptions, 349 receiving yards, 2 TDs, 2 punt-return TDs, 1 kick-return TD ... SKINNY: You might think Christion Jones is only on this list for his kick-return abilities. You'd be wrong, but it's tough to argue against three return touchdowns last season, a punt-return average of 14 yards, and a kick-return average of 28.7 yards, both good for a No. 2 ranking in the SEC last season. Jones is the most electrifying return man in the conference, and he's likely going to see an uptick in numbers on offense too, as Alabama transitions to Jacob Coker (assuming Coker wins the job, which seems likely) under center.
Paul Abell-USA TODAY SportsPaul Abell
Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas
RANKING: 17 ... LAST YEAR: 44 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles ... SKINNY: Trey Flowers finished fourth in the SEC last season with 13.5 tackles for loss, and third in forced fumbles. Everyone ahead of him, on either list, is in the NFL now, meaning Flowers returns in 2014 as the SEC leader in both categories. It would be hard to find a better edge rusher in the SEC. Take that, along with the fact that Flowers has shown he knows how to make spectacular things happen in the backfield, and you have the makings of an outstanding playmaker.
USA TODAY SportsSpruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports
Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia
RANKING: 16 ... LAST YEAR: Did not accumulate any stats (Injury) ... SKINNY: Before he could catch a pass, not six minutes into his 2013 season, Malcolm Mitchell tore his ACL celebrating a Todd Gurley touchdown against Clemson. Mitchell will probably keep the celebrating to a minimum this season, but that doesn't mean he won't provide many moments of exuberance. Mitchell caught 85 passes and scored eight touchdowns his first two seasons at Georgia. With a loaded receiver corps, there might not be enough targets for Mitchell to match his combined two-year total in 2014. But he'll attempt to make up for lost time, and he has the skill set to put up the finest season of his career.
USA TODAY SportsDaniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Ramik Wilson, LB, Georgia
RANKING: 15 ... LAST YEAR: 133 tackles, 4 sacks, 11 tackles for loss ... SKINNY: Ramik Wilson led the SEC with 133 tackles last season, and was 20 tackles ahead of his nearest competition. He's an all-over-the-field linebacker who hasn't fully reached the heights he's capable of, yet. New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt simplified the defensive scheme upon arrival in Athens, and could be the key to unlocking Wilson's potential. Wilson was a First Team All-SEC member last season, and should get some national attention after 2014.
Don McPeak-USA TODAY SportsDon McPeak
Jameon Lewis, WR, Mississippi State
RANKING: 14 ... LAST YEAR: 64 receptions, 923 receiving yards, 5 TDs ... SKINNY: Jameon Lewis finished fifth in the SEC in receptions (64) and sixth in receiving yards (923), but really came alive in his last three games. Lewis grabbed six passes in each of the last regular-season games against Arkansas and Ole Miss, and then pulled in a season high nine against Rice in the Liberty Bowl for 220 yards. Lewis became Dak Prescott's go-to target as 2013 wound down, and should spend the entire 2014 campaign highlighted in Mississippi State's offense.
USA TODAY SportsNelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
RANKING: 13 ... LAST YEAR: 1,026 rushing yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 4 TDs ... SKINNY: Alex Collins was the 10th true freshman in SEC history to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark, and the second (behind Darren McFadden in 2005) to do so at Arkansas. He started the season with three games of 100 yards or more, and posted four in his fist five outings. After that, however, Collins didn't push past 100 yards in a game again. Some of that had to do with Arkansas playing from behind, as it lost its last nine games. But some was inexperience, which Collins won't have to deal with in 2014.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY SportsNelson Chenault
Cody Prewitt, S, Ole Miss
RANKING: 12 ... LAST YEAR: 71 tackles, 6 interceptions, 13 passed defended ... SKINNY: Cody Prewitt was named a First Team All American after leading the SEC with six interceptions, and finishing sixth nationally. He also finished fifth in the SEC with 13 passes defended. In addition to accolades received as a ballhawking safety, Prewitt also roamed the middle of the field with a fierce vengeance. Anyone who caught the ball between the hash marks, was in danger of a punishing hit from Prewitt. He'll wreak havoc on the SEC again in 2014.
Spruce Derden-USA TODAY SportsSpruce Derden
Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
RANKING: 11 ... LAST YEAR: 1,940 passing yards, 10 passing TDs, 829 rushing yards, 13 rushing TDs ... SKINNY: It's hard not to love a guy who finished in the top 10 in the SEC in rushing yards per game (10th), rushing touchdowns (sixth), passing yards per game (ninth), total offense (fifth) and scoring (fifth). With the exodus of quarterbacks to the NFL during the offseason, Prescott is in as position to be the face of the conference under center. He can break plays with his arm or legs, and if he can piece together the glimpses of magical plays we saw in 2013 regularly, 11th might not be high enough on this list.
USA TODAY SportsSpruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports
Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia
RANKING: 10 ... LAST YEAR: 55 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks ... SKINNY: After leading the Bulldogs (and finishing seventh in the SEC) with 6.5 sacks, Leonard Floyd was selected to the SEC All-Freshman Team. He possesses a rare combination of speed and athleticism, and should do more attacking the quarterback in 2014, and less dropping into coverage. Expectations are crazy for Floyd heading into his sophomore campaign. Former Georgia linebacker, and current ESPN analyst, David Pollack recently opined at a charity golf tournament, "I think Floyd, you're going to start talking about him more as one of the best pass-rushers in the country."
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY SportsDale Zanine
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
RANKING: 9 ... LAST YEAR: 1,235 rushing yards, 14 TDs ... SKINNY: If there was any doubt how explosive T.J. Yeldon was, look at how often he broke big plays in 2013. No one in the SEC posted more rushing plays of 20 yards or more (15) than Yeldon, and only seven players nationwide bested him. Yeldon was also one of three in the SEC to rush for more than 100 yards per game on average, and finished tied for fourth with 14 rushing touchdowns. Yeldon will be splitting time with Derrick Henry, so his output is always going to limited. But Yeldon is so talented, he'll be a conference leader, even in a shared backfield.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY SportsMatthew Emmons
Marquez North, WR, Tennessee
RANKING: 8 ... LAST YEAR: 38 receptions, 496 receiving yards, 1 TD ... SKINNY: Mention the name Marquez North, and memories of a one-handed, 39-yard catch on the left sideline against South Carolina come to mind. It's also easy to recall his diving, 19-yard catch in the corner of the end zone against Georgia (the photo (above) of this catch is easily the most-used picture when North's greatness is being discussed). North flourished last year as a freshman, even with unsteady quarterback play. He'll get better in 2014, even if the Vols don't get better under center. But if Tennessee does improve at quarterback, North could become one of the best wide receivers in the SEC.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY SportsJim Brown
Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida
RANKING: 7 ... LAST YEAR: 38 tackles, 3 interceptions, 11 pass breakups ... SKINNY: When it came to talent at the cornerback position at Florida heading into last season, the spotlight sure wasn't on then-freshman Vernon Hargreaves. His ascension to the top of the Gators depth chart was quick, and he became one of the best corners in the SEC. He's now the man in Florida, with partners in the secondary Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy in the NFL. Hargreaves has the skill and tenacity to step up and match against the Amari Cooper's and Sammy Coates' of the SEC.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsKim Klement
Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn
RANKING: 6 ... LAST YEAR: 42 receptions, 902 receiving yards, 7 TDs ... SKINNY: Sammie Coates only caught 42 passes last season, but it's what he did with those balls that makes him special. Coates led the SEC in yards per catch (21.48), and finished third nationally. Coates is a nightmare to match up against because he's such a physical specimen. He abuses defensive backs, and can blow past them when he doesn't feel like a fight. He caught 14 passes of 30 yards or more last season, good for third place in the country. Expect Coates' numbers to soar as quarterback Nick Marshall returns to run this offense.
Kevin Liles-USA TODAY SportsKevin Liles
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
RANKING: 5 ... LAST YEAR: 45 receptions, 736 receiving yards, 4 TDs ... SKINNY: After finishing fourth in the SEC with a 17.22 yards per catch average in 2012, Amari Cooper followed with a ninth-place finish last season, at 16.36 yards per catch. Cooper is an explosive runner in space, and uses great hands and hand-eye coordination to pull in passes that most receivers wouldn't handle. He should excel in a Lane Kiffin-designed offense, and that's not taking into account any potential upgrade at quaretrback Cooper might get (read: Jacob Coker).
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY SportDerick E. Hingle
Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn
RANKING: 4 ... LAST YEAR: 1,976 passing yards, 14 passing TDs, 1,068 rushing yards, 12 rushing TD's ... SKINNY: Dual-threat quarterback Nick Marshall finished eighth in the SEC with 3,044 all-purpose yards, but fifth in touchdowns, as he threw for 14 and ran for 12 more. Marshall was nearly flawless at making reads on option plays, and could get a chance to make more throws in 2014, as the Auburn offense develops and morphs around the first returning starting quarterback head coach Gus Malzahn has ever coached.
John David Mercer-USA TODAY SporJohn David Mercer
Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina
RANKING: 3 ... LAST YEAR: 1,183 rushing yards, 11 TDs, 34 receptions ... SKINNY: Mike Davis finished fourth in the SEC last season with 1,183 yards, and was actually third with 11 carries of 20 yards or more. He's got the athleticism to make moves to weave in and out of traffic, and the speed to rack up yardage when he hits the open field. Davis averaged six yards per carry, or better, in six games last season. With Connor Shaw gone, the Gamecocks may lean on the run a little more in 2014, giving Davis the needed touches to go wild.
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY SportsJeff Blake
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
RANKING: 2 ... LAST YEAR: 72 receptions, 608 receiving yards, 5 TDs ... SKINNY: Laquon Treadwell burst onto the SEC scene last season, finishing third in the conference with 72 catches, and winning the Freshman of the Year Award. With only 608 receiving yards, he didn't churn out great yardage, but that was because Treadwell was used to move the chains while Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace used other targets for deep strikes. That should change in 2014, when Treadwell will be leaned on to not only move the chains, but move the Rebels down the field in huge chunks.
Don McPeak-USA TODAY SportsDon McPeak
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
RANKING: 1 ... LAST YEAR: 989 rushing yards, 10 TDs, 37 receptions, 5 TDs ... SKINNY: An ankle injury forced Todd Gurley to miss three of Georgia's games last season, and see limited action in others. He still finished third in the SEC with 1,430 all-purpose yards, and second in touchdowns with 10 on the ground and five through the air. Gurley showed how explosive he was with his first carry of the season, a 75-yard scamper against Clemson. He also showed what he could do (1,385 rushing yards, 17 touchdowns) in a full season in 2012. Gurley has a unique combination of track-star speed, patience and vision, and his third year on the field for the Bulldogs could be his best.