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Wednesday, July 20, 2011
The SEC's most underrated players

By Chris Low

HOOVER, Ala. -- The stars will be out in force this week at the SEC media days.

Alabama’s Trent Richardson will be here. So will the South Carolina tandem of Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery, not to mention Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and Arkansas running back Knile Davis.

The spotlight will be bright for all of those players and probably won’t dim much during the season.

But what about those players who haven’t received the pub they deserve? You know, the guys who are outstanding football players in their own right, but seem to fly under the radar for some reason.

We’ve already sized up the coaches’ preseason All-SEC team. The media’s preseason All-SEC team will be unveiled on Friday.

So while we’re picking teams, here’s our stab at the 10 most underrated players in the SEC:

Brandon Bolden
Ole Miss running back Brandon Bolden found the end zone 17 times last season.
1. Ole Miss RB Brandon Bolden: He’s one of the most complete running backs you’ll find anywhere in college football. The 5-foot-11, 221-pound senior rushed for 976 yards last season and averaged 6 yards per carry. He also led the Rebels with 32 catches and scored 17 touchdowns. But try finding Bolden’s name on the coaches’ preseason All-SEC team for the 2011 season. He didn’t even make third team.

2. Arkansas LB/S Jerico Nelson: Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson will tell you that Nelson is the guy who sets the tempo for the rest of the Hogs’ defense. He’s small for a linebacker (5-foot-10, 211) and also has some safety responsibilities, but he’s incredibly productive. He was second on Arkansas’ team with 87 tackles last season, including 11 for loss. Nelson is also another player you won’t find anywhere on the coaches’ preseason All-SEC team.

3. Tennessee RB Tauren Poole: There’s no denying that the running back position in the SEC is insanely talented, but Poole rushed for 1,034 yards last season and rarely gets mentioned among the top backs in the league. One of the most respected players on Tennessee’s team, Poole recorded six 100-yard rushing games a year ago, which tied for the SEC lead. Where’s the love?

4. LSU S Brandon Taylor: When the Tigers lost Taylor to that ankle injury in the Alabama game last season, they were never quite the same defensively. LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis said Taylor adds a presence to the LSU secondary that’s irreplaceable. The 6-foot, 195-pound senior was also selected to wear No. 18 this season, which is one of the Tigers’ top honors as a player.

5. Vanderbilt S Sean Richardson: The 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior has started in 18 consecutive games, including all 12 at free safety a year ago. He’s been overshadowed at times by others in the Vanderbilt secondary, but Richardson is the real deal. He set single-season career highs a year ago in total tackles (98) and tackles for loss (7) and finished fourth in the SEC in solo tackles (5.2 per game).

6. South Carolina C T.J. Johnson: He’s the guy who makes it go up front for the Gamecocks. The 6-foot-3, 314-pound junior has started every game in his first two seasons at South Carolina, all 13 at right guard as a redshirt freshman and all 14 at center last season. He’s tough. He’s smart, and he’s one of the strongest leaders on South Carolina’s team.

7. Georgia CB Brandon Boykin: More pub is starting to flow his way leading into this season. Boykin was a second-team preseason All-SEC selection by the coaches. Of course, he’ll readily tell you that he doesn’t think there’s a better cornerback in the league than him, and he’ll get a chance to prove that this fall. When you throw in his return skills, Boykin rates right up there with any of the SEC’s two-way players.

8. Auburn WR Emory Blake: Here’s a quick trivia question: Who led the Tigers in touchdown catches last season en route to their BCS national championship? Some might be surprised that it was Blake, who had eight touchdown catches. He’s also Auburn’s leading returning receiver and averaged 16.8 yards per catch. So when you start listing the top receivers in this league, don’t forget about Blake.

9. Kentucky OG Stuart Hines: The Kentucky guard getting all the love right now is Larry Warford and deservedly so. He’s an excellent player, but don’t sleep on the Wildcats’ “other” guard. The 6-foot-4, 296-pound Hines is one of the better pulling guards in the league and has made 24 starts during his career. It’s no secret that Kentucky will lean heavily on its offensive line in 2011, and Hines -- rock-solid in every way -- is a big reason why.

10. Mississippi State S Charles Mitchell: He’s been an integral part of the Bulldogs’ secondary since he was a true freshman and has played in all 37 games of his college career. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior is a big-time hitter and collected 93 total tackles a year ago. He’s the Bulldogs’ enforcer in what should be a very productive secondary in 2011.