Regardless of what the pro-SEC fans say, a lot of stars left the conference in 2017. Just from the National Championship Game, Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama), and Roquan Smith (Georgia) are gone in their junior years, while Nick Chubb and Sony Michel (Georgia) departed after four years. The bigs are gone too, with ‘Big’ Bo Scarborough (Alabama) and Da’Ron Payne (Alabama) departing for NFL riches.

But that’s not all. From Auburn Kerryon Johnson and Kam Pettway are off, while at LSU Derrius Guice, Arden Key, Kevin Tolliver and Donte Jackson leave. For Texas A&M, the most exciting player in college football – Christian Kirk – is going to take his returning talents to the pros.

But despite the amount of heroes going to the NFL, there are more heroes that are going to come along. And yes, we know that we have mentioned five-star recruits that are going to start this year, but they could be arrested/dismissed/suspended before the season starts, so we’re not counting our chickens.

Here are our Top 12/13 (in no particular order):

  1. Drew Lock (Missouri): Lock exploded under OC Josh Heupel, passing for a breathtaking 3,339 yards and 23 TDs. In fact, he was the only QB to cause Georgia’s DB trouble all season long, and we’re expecting great things from him in 2018 – especially with a lot of pressure on him from NFL Draft ‘experts’ who expect him to go in the Top 5 in 2019. His only problem(s) could be his wide receivers not being able to catch, and new OC Derek Dooley (we still don’t understand why Barry Odom passed on former UCLA OC Jedd Fisch).
  2. Deebo Samuel (South Carolina): The most explosive, exciting player in the SEC last year – until he was injured. He can return punts, run the ball and receive throws, and he’ll rip a team’s defenses apart if they don’t watch out for him. He’s the next Christian Kirk and potentially the SEC’s answer to Christian McCafffery.
  3. AJ Brown (Ole Miss): Brown is going to be one of the greats of Ole Miss when he’s done with his career in Oxford. In a freakish sophomore year, Brown had 1,252 yards receiving and 11 TDs. We expect many more things from this exciting player come 2018.
  4. Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama): One amazing half of National Championship may not a starting QB at Alabama make, but Tua, with his strong arm and ability to move around in the pocket, is already prepped to Alabama’s next throwing star. Don’t get us wrong, Jalen Hurts could get his job back and slice up defenses with his legs (and he could also be extremely useful on trick plays), but now the starting Bama job is Tagovailoa’s to lose.
  5. D’Andre Swift (Georgia): Swift had 771 yards and 4 TDs for the Dawgs, and now Chubb and Michel have gone to the NFL, Swift will be the No.1 running back. Expect him to get 1,000.
  6. Jarrett Stidham (Auburn):┬áIf Stidham can play as well as he did against Georgia (Game 1) and Alabama, then he’ll be one of the biggest stars in the conference. He’s got good legs, a great arm, and we think Stidham could flourish.
  7. Nick Fitzpatrick (Mississippi State): Before he was injured against Ole Miss, Nick Fitzgerald was phenomenal for the Bulldogs. Statistically, he may have had a worse year than he did in 2015 last year, but he still had SIX rushing games of over 100 yards. We expect him to flourish in Joe Moorhead’s offense. Moorhead’s great with mobile QBs – just as Penn State’s Trace McSorley.
  8. Damien Harris/Najee Harris (Alabama): Harris’ decision to return for 2018 is a fantastic one – he’ll be vying with Stanford’s Bryce Love as the best RB in the country. He had 1,000 yards and 11 TDs this year, and we expect excellent things next year too. As part of the two-headed monster, Najee Harris has the speed to match Damien’s brawn, while is going to be great for Nick Saban and his new offensive co-ordinator.
  9. Jake Fromm (Georgia): Fromm’s going to go from ‘game manager’ to ‘star’ in Athens – particularly when Kirby Smart lets him throw the ball more.
  10. Tyrel Dodson (Texas A&M): As much fun as we’ve made of the Aggies’ ‘D’ in the past, there’s no denying what a star Dodson was in his second year. The freakish linebacker had 104 tackles and 3 INTs, and he could break out as the next Myles Garrett.
  11. Kyle Shurmur (Vanderbilt): You might make a lot of fun out of me for including a Vanderbilt player, but hear us out. As terrible as Vandy was in the SEC (their only win came over Tennessee), Shurmur still managed to throw for 2,823 yards and 26 TDs. It may not have lit up the scoreboards, but he’s proved himself a leader on the team. If he remains hot, there could be NFL discussions.
  12. Aeris Williams (Mississippi State): We didn’t consider Williams until we saw his numbers for this year, and then felt guilty. The sophomore RB reminded coaches of Le’Veon Bell with his running style, and made a lot of Cowbellers happy with his 1,107 yard, 6 TD performance – as well as 142 yards receiving. Expect him with better numbers under Moorehead.

Also considered: David Reese (Florida), Malik Davis (Florida), Mecole Hardman (Georgia), Traeyvon Williams (Texas A&M), Devwah Whaley (Arkansas), DeMarkus Lodge (Ole Miss), Javon Wims (Georgia), Emmanuel Hall (Missouri).

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