Najee Harris is back after rushing for 1,224 yards and should be the focal point of Alabama's offense
The SEC is not only the conference of the reigning national champions but also the reigning conference of the Heisman Trophy winner after LSU's Joe Burrow had a season for the ages in 2019. What are the chances they'll have a player pull the trick and win the stiff-armed trophy once again?
If you really want to drill down, the three best football players in the conference could very well be Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II, LSU cornerback Derek Stingley Jr., and Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood. But you know how those Heisman voters are — either you're a quarterback on the national title team, a running back with gaudy stats, or a kick-returning wide receiver. Surtain, Stingley, and Leatherwood will be mere faces in the crowd when the winner is announced this coming season.
So who has the best real chance from the SEC to win the most iconic trophy in college football? Here are the conference's 10 best candidates for 2020.
10. Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
Bama fans are hoping Jones is a 2.0 version of Joe Burrow (well, maybe slightly less effective as a runner). And just like Burrow did last year, Jones has the honor of being placed 10th on the Athlon Sports preseason Heisman possibilities list going into this year. We all know how well that low Heisman preseason ranking turned out for Burrow. Jones will benefit from a ton of skill players coming back and an O-line which returns plenty of experience and talent.
9. Bo Nix, QB, Auburn
This may be a "Crazy Drunken Uncle" type of prediction, but the Tigers QB could end up being a New York City invitee if the offensive line wasn’t such a huge question mark. Because as dynamic as he was as a frosh last year (2,542 passing yards, 313 rushing, 23 TDs), he will operate behind an O-line that is going to be completely retooled with five new starters (although Nick Brahms made five starts at center). Nix does have his top three targets back in Seth Williams, Anthony Schwartz, and Eli Stove (137 combined catches in 2019), so if the line jells quickly, his chances will start to rise.
8. DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
You would think the top returning receiver of the Crimson Tide would be higher on this list, but remember: if you don't return punts and kickoffs, along with catching a million passes on offense, you're not going to get much consideration for the Heisman. Receivers like Johnny Rodgers, Tim Brown, and Desmond Howard were all kick returners who had a signature special teams play on their Heisman reel. After leading the Tide with 14 touchdowns on 68 catches, he will still be a game-changing threat.
7. Ja'Marr Chase, WR, LSU
Talent-wise, the Biletnikoff Award winner could be at the top of this list, as his game-breaking skills already project him as a first-round draftee this coming spring. In 2019, he pulled in 84 passes for 1,780 yards and including 20 touchdowns. He'll be even more of a go-to guy with the departure of Justin Jefferson, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Thaddeus Moss. But we also can't assume Myles Brennan will live up to anything close to what Burrow did a year ago at QB.
6. Jamie Newman, QB, Georgia
The Wake Forest transfer is getting some comparisons to Cam Newton, as he used a combination of size (6-foot-4, 240) and athleticism to throw for 2,868 yards and run for 540 yards in 2019. With a more experienced receiving corps and an offensive line that features junior center Trey Hill and senior guard Ben Cleveland, Newman's ceiling could be unlimited. Of course, the big asterisk is the fact that Newman did not get a spring session to gel with his new teammates, which would have been immeasurably valuable.
5. Kellen Mond, QB, Texas A&M
You could probably say that this is the true Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde of college football. Mond looked like he was ready to be a Heisman contender after a solid sophomore campaign in which he threw for 3,107 yards and 24 touchdowns. But his numbers shrunk in passing yards, rushing yards, and touchdown-to-interception ratio last year. His offensive line returns virtually intact, and three of his top five receiving targets are back as well, all of which point to a ramp-up of his game in 2020.
4. Kylin Hill, RB, Mississippi State
This is truly a wild card pick depending on how the new Mike Leach offense fares against SEC defenses. Hill could be much higher or much lower on this list by year's end. Either way, he will certainly be a senior leader for this program as it heads into this season of transition. Under the new pirate-in-charge, it will be interesting to see which way Hill's rushing numbers go this year. We all know Leach is a coach who likes to chuck the pill all over the field, but will he run?
3. Kyle Trask, QB, Florida
Trask took over for Feleipe Franks, and the Gator offense did not skip a beat, maybe even got better. He ended up going from obscurity to folk hero, while throwing for nearly 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns as the Gators won 11 games, including a convincing victory over Virginia in the Orange Bowl. This time, Trask will still have All-American tight end Kyle Pitts and receivers Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney, so more big numbers are ahead. The only question mark is whether the O-line will get pushed around a bit once again.
2. Jaylen Waddle, WR/KR, Alabama
Although his stats weren't as gaudy as Smith's, Waddle emerged as a home-run threat last season, nabbing 33 catches for 560 yards and six touchdowns but also averaging 24.6 yards per punt return, including taking one punt and one kickoff to the house. With that dual-threat capability, he is more of a Heisman contender than Smith, even if just by a wee bit. It also helps that Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III have moved on, giving Waddle more opportunities.
1. Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
First off, this guy should be in the NFL right now. He had a chance to join the play-for-pay boys after last season but chose to make a return to campus and bust helmets in opposing defensive backfields instead. Harris ran for 1,224 yards and a shade under six yards per carry as a junior. As mentioned above, Alabama's offensive line should maintain its status as one of the best in the nation, so Harris should have plenty of wide lanes to sprint through. Defenses, you've been warned.
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.