Friday, November 11, 2011
The SEC's best true sophomores
By Chris Low
The second time around is always pretty telling.
In keeping with that theme, we take a look at the 10 best true sophomores in the SEC this season.
These are guys who played as true freshmen last season in the league and are now in their second seasons, which eliminates transfers and third-year sophomores who had the benefit of a redshirt season.
The second-leading rusher in the SEC, Michael Dyer is the centerpiece to Auburn's offense.
Keep in mind that several of the top second-year players in this league suffered injuries earlier this season, forcing them to miss significant playing time and keeping them off this list. Among them: Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, Tennessee receiver Justin Hunter, South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore and Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Here’s what we came up with. The players are listed alphabetically:
Arkansas safety Eric Bennett: After playing cornerback as a true freshman, Bennett has settled in at safety this season for the Hogs. He’s fourth on the team with 53 tackles and is tied for the team lead with three interceptions. As Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson said, Bennett has played big in big games.
Auburn running back Michael Dyer: He’s been the centerpiece of the Tigers’ offense all season and is 11 yards away from his second straight 1,000-yard season. Dyer ranks second in the SEC in rushing with 989 yards and leads the league with 186 carries. If he stays healthy, he's going to break a ton of records.
Florida safety Matt Elam: The Gators were frighteningly young in their secondary coming into the season, but Elam has been a stabilizing presence. He’s always been a big hitter and has gotten better in coverage. He’s second on the team with 53 tackles, including 6.5 for loss, and also has two interceptions.
Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham: He’s missed the last two games with an abdominal strain, or his numbers would be even more impressive. Garnham is tied for second on the team with 44 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, and has also forced a fumble. He’s a three-down linebacker who covers in space as well as he plays the run.
Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier: He showed flashes a year ago, but has emerged this season as one of the SEC’s premier big-play defenders. Lemonier is second in the league with 6.5 sacks and also ranks among the league leaders with 10.5 tackles for loss.
Ole Miss linebacker Mike Marry: The Rebels have been decimated by injuries on defense, and even though Marry’s only a sophomore, he’s had to step up and be a leader. He’s also been plenty productive with 69 total tackles, tying him for seventh in the SEC. His 40 solo stops rank him third in the league.
LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu: The Honey Badger has slowed down a little bit since his red-hot start, and there was also the one-game suspension a few weeks ago. But there’s no denying his ability to make plays. He’s tied for the SEC lead with four forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, two of which he’s turned into touchdowns.
LSU safety Eric Reid: The No.1 Tigers are loaded with talented young players, and Reid is yet another. He’s second on the team with 49 total tackles. His interception last week where he took the ball away from Alabama tight end Michael Williams was the play of the year so far in the SEC.
Tennessee receiver Da’Rick Rogers: It’s hurt him to lose both Bray at quarterback and Hunter on the other side at receiver, but Rogers still leads the league in catches (50) and is tied with two other players for second in the SEC with seven touchdown receptions. He's averaging 15.6 yards per catch.
LSU running back Spencer Ware: The Tigers have a deep backfield stable, but Ware has been the workhorse. His suspension against Auburn may end up costing him a chance at 1,000 yards, but he’s a perfect fit for LSU’s offense with the way he runs with power and the way he punishes defenders.