Arkansas' Sheppard SEC's most underrated player

December, 23, 2008
12/23/08
12:58
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The most underrated player in the SEC this season?

 
 AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain
 Malcolm Sheppard, right, had 16 tackles for loss and led all SEC defensive tackles with 7.5 sacks.

My pick would be Arkansas junior defensive tackle Malcolm Sheppard, who was undersized to be playing tackle in the SEC (277 pounds), but made out just fine.

Sheppard finished second in the league with 16 tackles for loss and led all SEC defensive tackles with 7.5 sacks.

In the Hogs' season-ending 31-30 win over LSU, Sheppard moved outside to end and had 3.5 tackles for loss against the Tigers. He could stay at end next season depending on what his offseason is like. If he can put on some more weight, which hasn't been easy for him over the years, he'll probably stay inside.

If not, he could see his snaps at end increase, particularly if Arkansas can build some depth at tackle.

Either way, look for Sheppard to be one of the SEC's best and most versatile defensive linemen in 2009.

Here's a look at some of the other guys in the league that were underrated this season. They're listed in alphabetical order:

  • Georgia sophomore offensive lineman Clint Boling: He started the season at right tackle, moved to right guard for a few games and finished the season at left tackle. Boling's versatility was a big reason the Bulldogs were able to weather so many injuries in the offensive line.
  • Auburn sophomore linebacker Josh Bynes: After playing sparingly as a freshman, Bynes stepped in at middle linebacker when Tray Blackmon was lost for the season and led the team with three interceptions and finished fifth with 53 total tackles.
  • Alabama senior offensive lineman Marlon Davis: Tackle Andre Smith and center Antoine Caldwell were both All-Americans and received most of the publicity, but Davis was a rock for the Crimson Tide at right guard.
  • LSU junior tight end Richard Dickson: The SEC was loaded with talented tight ends, but Dickson was Mr. Dependable for the Tigers. He was third on the team with 27 catches, including four for touchdowns.
  • Mississippi State senior linebacker Dominic Douglas: Quick, who led the SEC in tackles this season? That would be Douglas, who moved over to middle linebacker when Jamar Chaney was injured and finished with 116 total tackles.
  • Vanderbilt junior safety Ryan Hamilton: He led all SEC defensive backs with 98 total tackles and was second on Vanderbilt's team. Hamilton had three interceptions in the win over Ole Miss, including one he returned 79 yards for a touchdown.
  • Kentucky senior linebacker Braxton Kelley: After three years of starting in the middle, Kelley unselfishly moved over to weakside linebacker and ranked among the SEC leaders with 90 total tackles.
  • Florida sophomore center Maurkice Pouncey: He started 11 games at right guard as a true freshman, but moved to center this season and solidified the middle of the Gators' offensive line.
  • Ole Miss senior safety Jamarca Sanford: One of the strongest leaders on Ole Miss' team, Sanford led the Rebels with 80 total tackles and also forced two fumbles.
  • South Carolina junior linebacker Darian Stewart: Playing the "spur" linebacker position in the Gamecocks' 4-2-5 scheme, Stewart did a little bit of everything. He had eight tackles for loss and led the team with eight passes broken up.
  • Tennessee senior linebacker Ellix Wilson: In his first full season as a starter, Wilson led the Vols with 89 total tackles from his middle linebacker position and was sixth in the SEC.

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