The SEC's most productive returners

May, 7, 2012
5/07/12
4:15
PM ET
Spring practice is officially over in the SEC and the NFL draft is behind us. We've ushered in the new and pushed out the old. As we count down the hundred-something days until college football's 2012 season officially begins, we thought it'd be a good idea to look at the most productive players coming back at their respective positions.

We'll look at the top passers, running backs, wide receivers, defenders, etc., over the next few days and judge things on statistical categories, such as yards for quarterbacks and skill players.

Note: No offensive linemen are on this list because we aren't counting pancakes. This isn't EA Sports' NCAA Football. Also Missouri and Texas A&M players aren't here, either, because they weren't in the league last season, but that won't keep us from talking about them.

We'll start things off with the quarterbacks, and unlike 2011, this year's crop has a little bit more experience and name power. That's because hardly any starters departed, so that means the race to be crowned the SEC's top signal caller is up for grabs in 2012.

Here's a look at the top statistical quarterback returning this season, and the others who finished 2011 in the top 10 statistically:

Tyler Wilson, Arkansas: Wilson threw past the competition in 2011, leading the SEC with 3,638 yards, which was 489 yards more than the No. 2 statistical passer, Georgia's Aaron Murray. He also led the SEC with a rating of 148.4. He was second in the league with 24 touchdown passes, but threw just six interceptions. He probably also led the league in times he was leveled by opposing defenders without the ball in his hands. Somehow, that tough guy just kept getting up. Wilson led the SEC with 261.3 passing yards per game against conference foes, and was second with 14 passing touchdowns in league games. Wilson had three NFL receivers and one of the league's most talented tight ends at his disposal, but he has cannon for a right arm, and when he's settled in the pocket, his delivery is as pretty as it gets.

The SEC returns five more of the top 10 statistical passers from a year ago:
  • Aaron Murray, Georgia: He passed for 3,149 yards, a league-high 35 touchdowns with 14 interceptions, and had a rating of 146.4
  • AJ McCarron, Alabama: He passed for 2,634 yards, with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions, and had a rating of 147.3
  • Tyler Bray, Tennessee: Though he was injured for the middle part of the season, he passed for 1,983 yards, with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions, and had a rating of 144.8.
  • Jordan Rodgers, Vanderbilt: He passed for 1,524 yards, with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions, and had a rating of 113.8.
  • Connor Shaw, South Carolina: He passed for 1,448 yards, with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions, and had a rating of 148.3.

Missouri's James Franklin could find himself high on the list of SEC quarterbacks this fall, as well. He was sixth in the Big 12 with 2,865 passing yards, throwing 21 touchdown passes with 11 interceptions, but also rushed for 981 yards and 15 more scores. He said this spring that he's looking to be much more of a throw-first quarterback in 2012.

SEC passing games were bashed left and right last season, but I don't think that will be the case in 2012. The players mentioned above are one reason, and the other is that there is a solid cast of unheralded players heading up offenses this fall. Auburn's Kiehl Frazier made strides this spring under new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, and his battle with Clint Moseley should be pretty fun this fall. Florida's sophomores-to-be -- Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel -- improved a lot under new coordinator Brent Pease.

You also can't forget about juniors Zach Mettenberger at LSU and Tyler Russell at Mississippi State. Mettenberger has the potential to be a top passer in this league, and will be a major upgrade for the Tigers' offense. Russell was much more confident at quarterback this spring at Mississippi State.

This will always be a run-first league, but the quarterbacks should earn more respect in 2012.

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