Every college football team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts.
The SEC is home to college football’s best talent, and with this conference always in the spotlight, it’s hard for players to be under the radar each preseason.
With the 2015 season approaching, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some players deserving of more preseason accolades or discussion. In an effort to get to 10 names, we tried to stick to players that had yet to earn all-conference honors in their career. However, a few exceptions were made.
SEC’s 10 Most Underrated Players for 2015
Otaro Alaka, LB, Texas A&M
Alaka is definitely a breakout candidate for 2015, but the Texas native is an underrated piece to the rebuilding effort on defense for new coordinator John Chavis. Alaka recorded 33 tackles in 12 games last year, including a season high of seven in the Liberty Bowl win over West Virginia. Even though Alaka has yet to take a full season of snaps as a starter, his development will be critical to Texas A&M’s defense in 2015. And if Alaka picks up where he left off in the Liberty Bowl, the Aggies linebacking corps should show big improvement.
Kendell Beckwith, LB, LSU
Talent has never been an issue for Beckwith. The top 100 high school recruit played in 12 games as a true freshman in 2013, but everything started to fall into place for the Louisiana native last year. Beckwith started the final seven games and finished 2014 with 77 tackles (7.5 for a loss), two sacks and one interception. With Beckwith entrenched in the starting lineup, LSU allowed only one team (Notre Dame) over the final seven contests to surpass 140 rushing yards. Beckwith clearly had a huge impact on this defense last year and will be an even bigger part of the scheme as new coordinator Kevin Steele hopes to utilize more 3-4 looks.
Kenya Dennis, CB, Missouri
Dennis or fellow Missouri corner Aarion Penton deserve a mention in this space. This duo anchored a secondary ranked 39th nationally in pass efficiency defense, and no opponent in 2014 recorded more than 270 yards through the air in a game last season. In his first season from the junior college ranks, Dennis recorded 61 stops, one interception and nine pass breakups.
Related: Ranking the SEC's Coaches for 2015
Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss
Haynes was surprisingly a key piece of the Ole Miss defensive front as a true freshman last year. The Florida native recorded 31 tackles (nine for a loss) and led the team with 7.5 sacks. Haynes also forced three fumbles and broke up two passes. After a standout freshman campaign, Haynes will only get better with another year to develop in the weight room and within the scheme. Look for Haynes to push for All-SEC honors in 2015.
Related: SEC Predictions for 2015
Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee
Sutton has started all 25 games in his Tennessee career, and the Georgia native has quietly emerged as one of the SEC’s top defenders. Yet, headed into the 2015 campaign, Sutton has yet to earn All-SEC honors. In two seasons with the Volunteers, Sutton has recorded 76 tackles, 20 pass breakups and five interceptions. He’s also a key cog in a pass defense that held SEC opponents to just 11 passing scores last year.
Related: SEC 2015 All-Conference Team
John Theus, OT, Georgia
Georgia’s offensive line could be the nation’s best in 2015. This unit allowed only 12 sacks in SEC games last season and cleared the way for the Bulldogs to average 257.9 rushing yards per contest. Theus and guard Greg Pyke are the anchors for Georgia’s offensive line, and both players could earn All-America consideration in 2015. Theus enters his senior year with 35 career starts and is regarded as one of the top offensive linemen for the 2016 NFL Draft.
Jon Toth, C, Kentucky
Kentucky’s offensive line should show marked improvement with the return of four starters for 2015. Toth and seniors Zach West and Jordan Swindle anchor the line for coach Mark Stoops, and any of the players in that trio could earn All-SEC honors this season. Toth enters 2015 with 23 consecutive starts and earned a place on the SEC’s All-Freshman team in 2014. Toth could emerge as one of the league’s top centers by the end of this year.
Will Redmond, CB, Mississippi State
Despite having zero career starts, Redmond is regarded as one of the top defensive backs for the 2016 NFL Draft. Why? It’s a bit of a technicality on the starts, as Redmond has excelled as the team’s nickel back over the last two seasons. The Memphis native played in 12 games last year and recorded 51 tackles and three interceptions. Redmond should team with Taveze Calhoun to form one of the nation’s top cornerback tandems in 2015.
Stephen Weatherly, LB, Vanderbilt
With Derek Mason taking over the defensive signals, the Commodores should show improvement after allowing 33.3 points per game in 2014. And in Vanderbilt’s 3-4 attack, Mason needs the outside linebackers to generate a pass rush on opposing quarterbacks to reduce some of the pressure on the secondary. Weatherly tied for second among SEC defenders in conference games with 12 tackles for a loss and finished 2014 with 4.5 sacks and one forced fumble. Entering his second full season as a starter, Weatherly is a defender just scratching the surface of his upside.
Jonathan Williams, RB, Arkansas
Yes, Williams earned second-team All-SEC honors last year, but it’s still fair to say the Texas native is still an underrated player. Williams shared carries with Alex Collins for the second consecutive season and finished 2014 with 1,190 yards and 12 rushing scores. In the Razorbacks’ seven victories last year, Williams averaged 6.3 yards per carry and averaged 107.3 yards in that span. Considering Arkansas uses two running backs and one player doesn’t get 275-300 carries, Williams or Collins won’t match the production by Georgia’s Nick Chubb or LSU’s Leonard Fournette this year. However, don’t overlook Williams as a potential All-America back in 2015.