Year after year, the SEC produces many of the top players in college football. And this year is no different, as a host of elite players will move on from their respective SEC schools to chase their dreams in the NFL. That leaves these programs with the unenviable task of trying to replace the production and leadership of some of their most talented and valued players.
With that in mind, here are 20 SEC standouts (in alphabetical order) that leave big shoes to fill in 2022.
Tyler Badie, RB, Missouri
There may not be a player in the SEC who meant more to his team this past season than Badie. A second-team All-American and first-team All-SEC selection, the star running back set a new Missouri single-season rushing record with 1,604 yards. The SEC's leading rusher also led the conference in yards from scrimmage (1,934) and touchdowns (18) in 2021.
Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
Burks earned All-SEC honors in each of his three seasons with the Razorbacks, finishing his collegiate career with 2,418 receiving yards (fifth in school history). He accounted for the vast majority of Arkansas' production at the wide receiver position last season with 66 receptions for 1,104 yards (third-most in a single season in school history) and 11 touchdowns. He also set the single-season school record with six 100-yard receiving games in 2021. Burks' unique blend of size (6-3, 225), strength, speed, and pass-catching ability will not be easy to replace.
Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
The dual-threat signal-caller completed 68 percent of his pass attempts for 3,439 yards and 20 touchdowns against just five interceptions en route to second-team All-SEC honors last season. Corral also had 614 rushing yards and 11 scores on the ground. He was one of just two Power 5 quarterbacks to throw for more than 3,000 yards and run for more than 500 in 2021. A playmaker in every sense of the word, Corral will be difficult for Lane Kiffin to replace, from his production to his leadership.
Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
Cross is regarded as one of the top offensive line prospects in the 2022 NFL Draft following a standout redshirt sophomore campaign. He allowed just one sack and 16 pressures in 719 pass-blocking snaps at left tackle in Mike Leach's pass-happy attack this past season. No one will miss the former five-star recruit and first-team All-SEC performer more next season than Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers.
Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
At 6-foot-5 and 340 pounds, Davis leaves some monster shoes to fill as a space-eating, run-stuffing machine for the national champion Bulldogs. His superior play this past season earned him the Chuck Bednarik Award, the Outland Trophy, and Consensus All-American honors. Davis' athleticism is off the charts for someone of his stature, and he is virtually irreplaceable.
Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia
The 2021 Butkus Award winner and a Consensus All-American selection, Dean played a pivotal role in leading the Bulldogs to their first national championship since 1980. The talented linebacker racked up 72 tackles (10.5 for a loss), six sacks, two forced fumbles, a pair of interceptions, and six pass breakups for Georgia's elite defense. He excels as both a pass rusher and in coverage, which helped him earn the highest grade of any FBS player regardless of position in 2021, according to PFF.
Kaiir Elam, CB, Florida
Opposing quarterbacks completed just 46.5 percent of their passes when throwing in Elam's direction over his three seasons in Gainesville. He earned first-team All-SEC honors following a standout sophomore campaign. And while his junior season didn't go quite as well as planned, in part due to missing time with a knee injury, Elam remains one of the top cornerback prospects in this year's draft.
Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
A two-time All-American and three-time All-SEC performer, Green started every game during his three seasons in College Station, making starts at four different positions along the offensive line for Texas A&M. He is widely viewed as the top interior lineman in this year's draft. And it will be no small task to replace Green's versatility and elite talent as both a run and pass blocker.
Velus Jones Jr., WR/RS, Tennessee
The 2021 SEC Co-Special Teams Player of the Year and a first-team All-SEC selection, Jones made a significant impact this past fall as both a wide receiver and as a return specialist for the Volunteers. Jones led the SEC in punt return average (15.11), and his 1,722 all-purpose yards ranked him third in the conference. That level of production and versatility will be very hard to replace.
Darian Kinnard, OL, Kentucky
Kinnard played in 46 career games and made 39 consecutive starts during his four seasons at Kentucky, allowing just seven sacks and 34 pressures. A two-time All-SEC standout, he earned Consensus All-American accolades at right tackle in 2021, surrendering just one sack all season. According to PFF, Kinnard was one of only three Power 5 offensive tackles to grade at 85 or better as both a run and pass blocker in 2021. He exits Lexington as one of the most accomplished and decorated players in program history.
DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M
Leal compiled 58 tackles, a team-high 12.5 tackles for a loss, and a team-high 8.5 sacks this past season as a junior for the Aggies to earn first-team All-American honors. A gifted defensive lineman with the size and strength to play inside at defensive tackle and the athleticism to slide out to defensive end, Leal's flexibility and talent will be severely missed next season. He checks all the boxes that NFL scouts are looking for in a top-tier defensive lineman.
Roger McCreary, CB, Auburn
McCreary garnered first-team All-American and All-SEC honors following a stellar senior season for the Tigers in which he led the conference with 16 passes defended. His 38 career pass breakups rank second in program history. And according to PFF, McCreary graded out (89.9) as the best cornerback in college football for 2021. He should be among the first at his position selected in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Evan Neal, LT, Alabama
Neal's rare blend of immense size (6-7, 350) and freakish athleticism has helped him shine at both tackle spots for the Crimson Tide over the last two seasons, earning Consensus All-American honors at left tackle this past season. He is widely viewed as the top offensive line prospect in this year's draft, with the potential to go as high as No. 1 overall. Neal leaves Alabama with some massive shoes to fill next season along the offensive line.
George Pickens, WR, Georgia
Pickens is an elite talent with good size and a special skill set that very few wide receivers possess. Despite missing most of his junior season recovering from a torn ACL, Pickens is still among the most coveted wide receivers heading into the 2022 NFL Draft. His departure will be a big blow for the Georgia offense next season.
Wan'Dale Robinson, WR, Kentucky
While Robinson spent just one season with the Wildcats following his transfer from Nebraska, the playmaking wide receiver leaves a record-setting legacy behind in Lexington. Robinson broke Kentucky's single-season records for both catches (104) and receiving yards (1,334) in 2021. He also caught seven touchdown passes on his way to All-SEC accolades. Pro Football Focus graded Robinson as the best wide receiver in the SEC this past season. His replacement will not be easy to come by.
Isaiah Spiller, RB, Texas A&M
Spiller is the only SEC running back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in each of the last two seasons. The All-SEC performer rushed for close to 3,000 yards during his three seasons as an Aggie. That level of production will not be easy to replace, even with Devon Achane returning to the A&M backfield next season. Spiller is expected to be among the first running backs to come off the board in this year's draft.
Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
Stingley earned consensus All-American honors following a huge freshman season in 2019 that included six interceptions and 15 pass breakups. Despite missing a portion of his sophomore campaign and most of the 2021 season due to injury, Stingley is still widely projected to be the first cornerback to come off the board in the 2022 NFL Draft. And with a strong performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, that should be the case.
Travon Walker, DE, Georgia
Walker thrived in his first season as a starter for the Bulldogs and was instrumental in helping Georgia to the national title. A freak athlete at defensive end, Walker collected 37 tackles (7.5 for a loss), six sacks, and had a team-high 36 quarterback hurries for a dominant Georgia defense in 2021. That should help propel him into the first round of the upcoming draft.
Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
The Ohio State transfer never took off as a Buckeye, but Williams definitely made up for it in a starring role for the Crimson Tide this past season. Alabama's breakout star for 2021 racked up 79 catches for an SEC-best 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also led the conference with 1,947 all-purpose yards and had a pair of kickoff returns for touchdowns, bringing his total touchdown count for the season to 17. Unfortunately, Williams suffered a torn ACL in the national championship game, but that doesn't seem to be negatively impacting his draft stock, which remains high.
Sam Williams, DE/LB, Ole Miss
Williams put together a monster senior season with the Rebels, even breaking the single-season school sack record with 12.5. The talented edge rusher also led the SEC with four forced fumbles and ranked second in the conference with 16 tackles for a loss en route to first-team All-SEC and third-team All-American accolades. Williams' 22.5 career sacks place him third in program history. He will be extremely difficult to replace next fall.
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.