SEC: SEC Franchise Player 2011

SEC franchise player: Barrett Jones

April, 20, 2011
My esteemed colleague at, Edward Aschoff, has chosen Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray as the player in the SEC he would pick to build his program around?

Not a bad choice, indeed.

Murray’s a leader. He’s a tireless worker. He still has three years of eligibility remaining, and he’s the top returning quarterback in the league.

[+] EnlargeBarrett Jones
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireBarrett Jones has been a starter ever since his freshman year.
He would certainly be right at the top of my list as well. Here’s the other thing about Murray: He’ll be even better his second time through the league. He told me in March when I visited with him in Athens that he’s seeing things quicker now on the practice field than he ever did a year ago.

So, yes, Murray would be an excellent program builder.

The others I would consider strongly would be Alabama running back Trent Richardson, Alabama safety Mark Barron, South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery, Arkansas running back Knile Davis, LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Vanderbilt linebacker Chris Marve.

Each in his own way would make sense if you had the top overall pick in the SEC.

But I’m going in another direction, one that may surprise a few people.

My choice would be Alabama junior offensive lineman Barrett Jones, an All-SEC selection at right guard last season who may end up playing left tackle for the Crimson Tide next season.

Simply, Jones is the kind of rock-solid pillar you build teams around. He’s an infectious leader, a fierce competitor, the kind of guy you want right beside you when times get tough and one of the best offensive linemen in the country.

He’s been a starter since his redshirt freshman season when he started all 14 games on Alabama’s national championship team, so he has a ton of experience. Yet, he’s also going to be around for two more years.

One of the top scholar-athletes in college football, Jones is as smart as he is talented.

You’re also talking about a guy who spends his spring breaks in Haiti helping to rebuild schools and orphanages.

You win with people and football players like Jones, and I’m one of those old-school guys who still believes you win up front, too.
I was listening to the radio on my way back from Atlanta Tuesday, when I stumbled across an interesting debate.

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIAaron Murray has the talent to be the cornerstone for any program in the SEC.
The question posed to listeners: In the past 10 years, what NBA player would you take to build your franchise around?

The choices? Kobe Bryant or Tim Duncan.

I’d have to go with Duncan, who won four championships with the San Antonio Spurs, three coming in five years. Also, he’s never been a head case, he’s extremely unselfish, he’s easy to coach and he’s the definition of a leader.

Obviously, this question instantly caused a heated radio dispute and it got me to thinking: What current SEC athlete would I choose to build my program around?

With the talent in this league, this isn’t exactly an easy question to answer. Do I go with the quarterback who has all the tools to be a star in this league, like Georgia’s Aaron Murray, or has a cannon for an arm like Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson? What about a bruising running back like Alabama’s Trent Richardson or South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore?

Or can you build your program around a defensive player? Chris Marve’s Vanderbilt team might not be near the top of the pack in the conference, but he’s a great leader and an All-SEC performer. Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower seems to have returned to form and could be one of the top linebackers in the league.

It wasn’t easy, but after taking almost 24 hours to think I’ve found my program builder.

My finalists were Lattimore and Murray. Lattimore might be best power running back around and he made play after play last season when the Gamecocks’ passing game struggled. He had nearly 1,200 rushing yards and ran for 17 touchdowns.

However, I want to build my program around a quarterback and Murray appears to have it all. He can run, throw and certainly earned a ton of respect as a gamer during his first year in Athens, Ga.

Murray finished the 2010 season with 3,049 passing yards and 24 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He also netted 167 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

While the Bulldogs went 6-7 last season, Murray was without his best weapon in A.J. Green for the first four games. Georgia lost three of those.

I want my program builder to not only be a quality player, but I want him to be a leader. Murray developed into more of one throughout last season and didn’t drop off this spring.

What say you, Chris? If you had one current SEC player to pick, whom would you build your program around?