- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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We’re all about spreading the love at the SEC blog. But occasionally, players in this league don’t receive the love they deserve.
So as we point toward the 2013 season, we’ve come up with the 10 most underrated players in the SEC.
To be eligible, players must have played at least two seasons of college football and cannot have received first- or second-team All-SEC honors by the Associated Press or coaches during their careers.
In selecting the players for this list, we based it on past performance and the impact they’ve had on their teams to this point. It’s not a projection of what they’re expected to do this coming season.
Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU, Sr.: He was overshadowed by teammate Kevin Minter last season, but Barrow finished fifth in the SEC with eight tackles per game and was one of seven players in the league with more than 100 tackles (104). The 6-2, 233-pound Barrow played weak side linebacker last season, but is versatile enough to move inside to the middle if needed. The Tigers will lean heavily on his experience and productivity in 2013.
Trey DePriest, LB, Alabama, Jr.: The second leading tackler last season for the two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide, the 6-2, 245-pound DePriest racked up 59 total tackles, including 4.5 for loss. DePriest was the Tide’s starter at middle linebacker last season and a major reason nobody ran the ball against them. They allowed just 2.43 yards per rush, which led the country.
Alvin “Bud” Dupree, LB, Kentucky, Jr.: Talk about underrated. The 6-4, 254-pound Dupree is coming off a super productive sophomore season and barely got any mention for postseason accolades. He tied for seventh in the SEC with 12.5 tackles for loss and led the Wildcats with 6.5 sacks. He’s found a home at defensive end in Kentucky’s new defense after bouncing around between outside linebacker and end last season.
Zach Fulton, OG, Tennessee, Sr.: Tennessee’s offensive line in 2013 will be one of the most experienced in college football with a combined 123 career starts. Left tackle Antonio Richardson is a future first-rounder, and right tackle Ja’Wuan James is somebody else the NFL scouts are watching. But don’t sleep on the 6-5, 324-pound Fulton, who’s started 28 of the last 31 games at right guard. He’s a devastating blocker, equally consistent and will play a long time in the NFL.
E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri, Sr.: Even though Gaines garnered All-Big 12 honors in 2011, he didn’t show up on the All-SEC first or second teams a year ago. Look for that to change in 2013. The 5-10, 195-pound Gaines led the Tigers last season with 11 pass breakups and tied for fourth on the team with a career-high 74 total tackles. The SEC is never lacking for premier cornerbacks, but Gaines has the size and cover skills to rank up there with anybody.
Jonotthan Harrison, C, Florida, Sr.: The feeling coming out of spring camp at Florida was the Gators would be much improved on offense in 2013, and Harrison’s steady play was a big reason why. He was Florida’s best offensive linemen a year ago and returns as one of the top centers in the SEC. He’s also played guard during his career and graded out above 80 percent in nine games last season.
Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt, Sr.: He’s been the epitome of versatility for the Commodores and has started everywhere on the offensive line but right guard during a stellar career that has seen him play multiple positions in 23 games. The 6-5, 285-pound Johnson lined up at left tackle last season and more than held his own against some of the top pass-rushers in the country.
Walker May, DE, Vanderbilt, Sr.: Having worked his way into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman, the 6-5, 250-pound May has gotten better every season. One of the team’s hardest workers and best leaders, May finished with 10.5 tackles for loss last season and led the Commodores with seven quarterback hurries. He’s one of those players who's at his best when his team needs it the most.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss, Jr.: The fact that a player like Moncrief didn’t make first or second-team All-SEC last season is surprising, but it also speaks to the talent level at receiver in this league. The 6-3, 220-pound Moncrief was third in the SEC last season with 10 touchdown catches and is the kind of playmaking target all quarterbacks look to at key moments in the game.
Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas, Sr.: The SEC has long been known for its pass-rushers, and the 6-3, 266-pound Smith was as productive as anybody in the league last season off the edge. He and Jadeveon Clowney are the only two players returning in the SEC who had nine or more sacks a year ago. Smith finished with 9.5 sacks and tied for the Arkansas team lead with 13.5 tackles for loss.
3hAlex Scarborough and Greg Ostendorf
1dEdward Aschoff and Greg Ostendorf