Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer 171d

The missing piece for SEC East teams

It’s that time of year in the sports calendar where the majority of news is made off the playing field, as most major sports are in their offseasons (except for baseball). Trades are happening left and right in the NBA, the NFL has some downtime before training camp and baseball’s trade deadline is next month.

In the spirit of offseason tinkering, we thought we’d have some fun on the SEC blog this week. Earlier this month, the Golden State Warriors won their second NBA championship in three years, largely because of the acquisition of Kevin Durant during free agency last offseason. To that end, we've laid out this thought experiment: If your favorite SEC team could add any active player from the roster of a conference rival to help put it over the top (whether that means claiming a national championship or simply making a bowl game), who would that player be?

On Wednesday we picked players for SEC West teams. Friday we pick players that we believe constitute the “missing piece” for SEC East teams:

Florida: QB Jalen Hurts, Alabama

The Gators have long been searching for a mainstay at quarterback. Why not pluck the guy who was the SEC’s offensive player of the year as a true freshman? Hurts can throw the pigskin (2,780 yards, 23 touchdowns) and run it (954 yards, 13 touchdowns). He has a different skill set from some of the quarterbacks Jim McElwain has worked with in the past, but hey, when you have a great talent, you figure out a way to make it work.

Georgia: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama

With playmaker Isaiah McKenzie (who led the team with 44 receptions) gone, the Bulldogs sure could use a big-time receiver. Ridley would fit the bill perfectly and give the Bulldogs a legit No. 1 receiver to strike fear into opposing defenses, particularly when those opponents already have to account for Nick Chubb and Sony Michel in the backfield. Ridley would be a weapon Jacob Eason would utilize plenty.

Kentucky: DT Da'Ron Payne, Alabama

The Wildcats are thin at defensive tackle and need more bodies, so why not add the best player at the position in the conference? With tremendous strength and good quickness for his size (6-foot-2, 319 pounds), Payne would alleviate a lot of Kentucky’s concerns on the defensive interior.

Missouri: DE Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss

The Tigers saw their best defensive lineman, Charles Harris, leave for the NFL this offseason. Haynes, meanwhile, has more career sacks to his credit than any active SEC player (24.5 over the past three seasons). He’s similar in height to Harris if a little leaner, but he would provide instant pressure and plenty of SEC experience to a Mizzou defensive line that could use it.

South Carolina: DL Trenton Thompson, Georgia

The Gamecocks could use more talent and depth on their defensive line, and adding someone like Thompson would help. He was productive in 2016 (recording 9.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks), and at 6-foot-4, 309 pounds, would be an impact player to plug into the defensive interior.

Tennessee: RB Derrius Guice, LSU

The Vols lost two running backs from last season's team: (Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd). While they have rising junior John Kelly back (6.4 yards per carry), having a workhorse like Guice would take a lot of pressure off their young quarterbacks. Whoever starts under center for the Vols (either Quinten Dormady or Jarrett Guarantano) will be a first-time starter at this level, and the best way to ease such a player in is to have a great back to carry the ball. No player in the SEC last season did that better than Guice, who finished with 1,387 yards (on just 183 carries).

Vanderbilt: LB Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama

One of the reasons Vanderbilt’s defense has been so effective the past two seasons involved the presence of inside linebacker Zach Cunningham. Now that he’s gone, finding a replacement will be far from easy. Imagine if the Commodores picked up someone like Hamilton. Before a knee injury cut his 2016 campaign short, he racked up the third-most tackles on the Crimson Tide (64) and was particularly effective on run defense, with 52 of his tackles coming against opposing backs. He also tallied nine tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. He would be a fit, and would remedy the loss of someone like Cunningham.

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