We continue our look at the best players on SEC teams by checking out the top 10 LSU Tigers.
1. Leonard Fournette: Not much debate here. Fournette might not just be the best player on LSU’s roster, he might be the best player in the entire country. After breaking LSU’s freshman rushing record in 2014, Fournette and Alabama’s Derrick Henry both broke Herschel Walker’s SEC single-season record last fall. Fournette led the nation with an average of 162.8 rushing yards per game, and his 1,953 total yards trail only Henry’s 2,219 (accumulated in 15 games to Fournette’s 12) in SEC history. Fournette will once again rank among the leading contenders for the Heisman Trophy when the season begins.
2. Tre'Davious White: A probable early-round NFL draft selection had he skipped his senior season, White will be one of the SEC’s top cover cornerbacks in 2016. Although he did not intercept a pass in 2015 -- opponents don’t throw his way especially often -- White led LSU with seven pass breakups and ranked second on the team with seven passes defended. He will lead what could be one of the nation’s top secondaries this fall.
3. Ethan Pocic: Although he is not participating in spring practice following offseason hip surgery, Pocic is the safest bet on the roster to start along the offensive line this fall. The only question is where he’ll play. He started at guard and center as a sophomore and emerged as one of the nation’s top centers last season. Perhaps he will stay there, but he might also get a look at tackle during preseason practice. Wherever he plays, he will be solid. Pocic led the team with 132.5 knockdown blocks last season and surrendered just one sack in 796 snaps.
4. Kendell Beckwith: Of the players who opted to return for their senior season, Beckwith’s decision might have been the most important. The Tigers are breaking in a host of new or inexperienced players at linebacker, so his veteran presence will be especially valuable. Beckwith was a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, which goes to the nation’s top linebacker, last season. He ranked second on the team with 84 tackles and 10 tackles for loss and should be one of the top playmakers on new coordinator Dave Aranda’s defense this season.
5. Jamal Adams: Speaking of playmakers, Adams is poised to continue his upward trajectory as a junior safety. He was a Freshman All-American in 2014 and earned second-team All-SEC honors last fall, when he posted a team-high four interceptions and led the team with 10 passes defended. Now he is one of the unquestioned leaders on a defense that seems to be loading up for a big season under Aranda.
6. Malachi Dupre: He started to come into his own as a sophomore with team highs in catches (43), receiving yards (698) and touchdown catches (six). Now the No. 1 receiver prospect in the 2014 signing class seems to be the top dog on an LSU receiving corps that expects bigger things in 2016. Dupre can impact the game from multiple receiver positions, and he can also go over and around defenders to make big plays. It’s safe to expect him to at least match, and likely surpass, his 2015 production.
7. Arden Key: The sophomore outside linebacker could rank much higher on this list by season’s end. He jumped into the starting lineup early in his freshman season, starting each of the last nine games last fall. Now Key might have the best chance to become LSU’s leading sack man after tying for second on the team with five sacks a year ago (along with a team-high nine quarterback hurries). Opposing quarterbacks will not enjoy seeing the 6-foot-6 Key rushing off the edge this season.
8. Travin Dural: Another senior who is not participating in spring practice, we’ll assume that Dural will be back to normal once he returns from the nasty hamstring injury he suffered against Ole Miss late last season. He was LSU’s top receiver in 2014 (758 yards) and was sharing that honor with Dupre when he was injured last season. Dural has big-play ability and breakaway speed when healthy. He also possesses arguably the best working knowledge of the offense among LSU receivers, as he is the veteran of the bunch and knows each wideout position.
9. Lewis Neal: The senior had never started a game before last season, when he became a fixture in the starting lineup and led the team with eight sacks (tied for 10th best in school history). Against Florida, Neal had one of the best games of the season by any LSU defensive player, notching 10 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Neal will apparently remain at defensive end under Aranda, although he has the athleticism to drop into coverage when necessary. His pass-rushing ability will surely be a weapon that Aranda plans to utilize.
10. Will Clapp: There are a lot of good options for the final spot -- including running back Derrius Guice and defensive linemen Davon Godchaux and Christian LaCouture -- but Clapp gets the nod following an outstanding redshirt freshman season. Although the offensive guard played the third-most snaps on the team (776), he did not surrender a single sack. He also ranked third on the team with 88 knockdown blocks. He earned SEC All-Freshman honors after the season and also made a pair of Freshman All-America teams.