Being in a devy league means never being able to stop your evaluation process. Every season, players graduate, leave for the NFL, fall out of favor with their coaches, and some coaches leave for new programs. With spring football practice underway across the country, we decided to take a look at each conference for any insights to help you get a leg up on your devy leagues. We will try to pinpoint each conference’s biggest story line, highlight key position battles and most importantly, try to figure out who is the next devy player to target in your drafts. Today, we’ll dive into the SEC West. If you missed what I wrote about the SEC East, you can find that here.
Alabama – The list of incoming freshmen already on campus in Tuscaloosa is incredible. At quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones will compete for the backup role behind Jalen Hurts…for now anyway. I don’t see Hurts finishing the season as the Tide’s starting quarterback. Najee Harris will try to establish his place amongst a group of running backs that includes Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris, B.J. Emmons, and Josh Jacobs.
As if a backfield with four former five-star recruits isn’t enough, their group of wide receivers is even more impressive. Going into spring, Calvin Ridley is their top receiving threat. Jerry Jeudy (five-star WR) and Tyrell Shavers (four-star WR) arrived early adding to competition at the position. With two more four-star recruits showing up in the fall, Robert Foster is in jeopardy of not seeing the field unless he becomes the player who was labeled the number two overall wide receiver recruit in 2013. To help alleviate some of the congestion at the wide receiver position, Trevon Diggs is experimenting with a move to cornerback. Alabama’s biggest challenge this season might be trying to figure how to keep all of their receivers happy.
Arkansas – Senior quarterback Austin Allen leads a Razorbacks’ offense with plenty of questions. Who is going to catch passes from Allen? Right now, it looks like Juco transfer Brandon Martin (6’4” 215) and former Southern Miss defensive back Jonathan Nance are the answers. Can Will Gragg replace Jeremy Sprinkle? Gragg was a four-star recruit when he joined Arkansas in 2015. Not only has he not lived up to that ranking, but he also hasn’t seen the field in two seasons.
Will Brett Bielema have a 1,000-yard rusher for the 12th straight season as a head coach? That’s right, Bielema has had a 1,000-yard rusher in every single season at Wisconsin and Arkansas. It’s not like he’s going to abandon the run so 2017 should be no different. As a matter of fact, between Rawleigh Williams and Devwah Whaley, it’s possible that he could have two 1,000 yard rushers this season.
Auburn – Jarrett Stidham had his choice of schools to transfer to after leaving Baylor. He chose Auburn, and it’s only a matter of time before he is named starting quarterback. The Tigers’ running back duo of Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway complete a stellar backfield. With a legitimate quarterback on the roster, Auburn should be able to get more out of blue chip wide receivers Nate Craig-Myers and Kyle Davis.
LSU – All signs point to Danny Etling taking reps as the starting quarterback this spring. Even though Lowell Narcisse enrolled early, there isn’t anyone on the roster to challenge Etling at the moment. The competition should ramp up when four-star quarterback Myles Brennan arrives this summer. As a result of hiring new offensive coordinator Matt Canada the offense will not look the same. Gone are the days of the fullback leading the way for Derrius Guice. Also, look for Guice to be more involved in the passing game this season. D.J. Chark returned for his senior season after becoming one of Danny Etling’s favorite targets last season. Chark led the 2016 team with 17.9 yards per catch. He will be flanked by Dee Anderson, LSU’s most productive freshman last season.
LSU also had the luxury of redshirting three very highly sought after wide receiver recruits last season. Drake Davis, Derrick Dillon, and Stephen Sullivan should all see their first game action this season. LSU always has talent at the skill positions and 2017 is no different. It will be exciting to see what a creative Matt Canada comes up with this season.
Ole Miss – The Rebels are Shea Patterson’s team now. The coaching staff decided to burn his redshirt with only three games left in the 2016 season. That experience should prove invaluable in his first full season as the starter. Ole Miss hasn’t had a running game in years, and that won’t change this season, even with a new play caller. The strength of the team is at wide receiver. Look for a healthy D.K. Metcalf, along with A.J. Brown, and Van Jefferson to put up gaudy numbers in the Rebels’ new Air Raid offense.
Mississippi State – Nick Fitzgerald erupted for 37 total touchdowns last season. His 16 rushing touchdowns were the most in the SEC. Wide receiver Donald Gray is the favorite to pick up the production left behind by Fred Ross. Aeris Williams gets the entire spring to prove that he deserves to be the starting running back before four-star recruit Kylin Hill arrives this summer. Therefore it’s imperative Williams do his best to impress the coaching staff.
Texas A&M – The battle to replace Trevor Knight has begun, but it won’t end anytime soon. Jake Hubenak is a senior and the only quarterback on the roster with any playing time. Nick Starkel has the strongest arm but used a redshirt last season. Kellen Mond enrolled early and is the most physically gifted. Speaking of early enrollees, Jhamon Ausbon and Hezekiah Jones are in line to fill open spots left by Ricky Seals-Jones, Josh Reynolds, and Speedy Noil. At this point in the spring, Ausbon (6’2” 217) is physically ready, but Jones should crack the rotation by fall.