It’s that time again, time to pick the best players in the SEC.
All week, we at the SEC blog will be debating which player at each position will have the best 2016 season. Some choices might be easy. Others not so much.
Today, we turn our attention to the linebackers, and first up, we debate the league's best outside linebacker.
Alex Scarborough: This is too easy. The second I saw "outside linebacker," my mind went not only to a specific player, but to a specific moment.
I’m sitting in the press box at AT&T Stadium in Dallas in January. It’s Connor Cook in the pocket, oblivious as ever. It’s a poor sap of a right tackle falling victim to a vicious spin move. It’s me laughing while I watch Tim Williams doing Tim Williams things, getting his fourth sack in the last two games. And in that moment, I honestly wonder whether a career backup with no starts can make the leap to the NFL. And if he doesn’t, I believe he could be the best pass-rusher in the SEC in 2016.
Of course, Williams chose to return to Alabama, where he’ll start as a senior, making this debate a simple one for me. After 10.5 sacks as a situational player, I expect his lightning-quick first step to take him to first-team All-SEC status.
And unlike some other talented outside linebackers in this league, Williams won’t have to do it on his own. With teammates like Jonathan Allen, Da’Shawn Hand, Daron Payne and Rashaan Evans, opposing offenses won’t be able to single him out, leading to plenty of one-on-one opportunities to spin his way into the backfield.
Greg Ostendorf: As a pure pass-rusher, Williams is as good as there is in the SEC. There’s a reason Mel Kiper Jr. has Williams No. 2 on his 2017 Big Board.
But what else can he do? He’s a little undersized against the run. He’s almost never used in pass coverage. His job is simply to wreak havoc in the backfield. Plus, as you mentioned, Williams wasn’t even a starter for Alabama last year. How will he hold up when he’s asked to play on first, second and third down?
You know who I’m not worried about? Jalen Reeves-Maybin. Sure, he might have missed part of spring due to injury. But he has started all 26 games for Tennessee the past two seasons, and he’s expected to be back and healthy for the beginning of his senior season. And when he’s healthy, you can almost count on at least 100 tackles and double-digit tackles for loss. He’s been as consistent as any defender in the SEC over the two seasons.
I’m also intrigued to see what Reeves-Maybin will do this season with Bob Shoop as the new defensive coordinator. Shoop tends to be aggressive with his defenses, and that's perfect for Reeves-Maybin, one of the fastest linebackers in college football.
It’s hard to compare these two because they do different things, but I just think Reeves-Maybin is the better all-around player and will have the better season.