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SEC's biggest midseason surprises, disappointments


One could argue that, in the preseason, a few names listed below would have been excellent possibilities for the opposite list. As it's turned out, with half a college football season in the books, the league's best overall prospect is mired in an unproductive season (Jadeveon Clowney), and one of its biggest question marks, Zach Mettenberger, has done more to boost his NFL draft stock than perhaps any player in the league. By the end of the year, a lot could happen to change things. Keep in mind, the majority of conference games, where pro potential shows up best, are played in the second half of the season.

Five biggest surprises

LSU QB Zach Mettenberger: One major question mark where NFL scouts were concerned hung over the fifth-year senior at the start of the season: His ability to read defenses. Under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who came from the Baltimore Ravens, that's actually been a strength for Mettenberger, and the results have been outstanding. Having completed 67 percent of his passes with a TD-INT ratio of 15-2, Mettenberger (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) is positioning himself to be one of the top quarterbacks drafted if he can maintain this level of performance.

South Carolina RB Mike Davis: If your NFL team needs a running back immediately, Davis isn't your guy because he's just a true sophomore and can't come out in 2014. Yet, coming off just 52 carries worth of freshman experience, he's spent the first half of this season clearly establishing himself as one of the SEC's elite rushers, along with Todd Gurley, T.J. Yeldon and Jeremy Hill. Davis already has 742 yards and nine touchdowns.

Texas A&M ORT Cedric Ogbuehi: There was little question in College Station about whether Jake Matthews could slide from right tackle to left tackle and adequately replace Jacksonville Jaguars first-round pick Luke Joeckel. But whether Ogbuehi could effectively bounce from guard to replace Matthews at right tackle was an entirely different question; one that he's answered emphatically in the affirmative. For the second year in a row, the Aggies have future NFL players at both tackle spots.

South Carolina OLT Corey Robinson: Robinson flashed enough potential last year that it would be inaccurate to describe his play this season as a shock, but he definitely has taken his game to a higher level. Robinson is especially good at run blocking, particularly on power plays. In a deep group of talented SEC left tackles, Robinson belongs in the upper tier.

Arkansas DE Chris Smith: Like Robinson above, Smith had a strong year in 2012 and entered the season already on the draft radar, but also like Robinson, his play thus far has placed him in the fast-riser category. He is tied for the SEC lead in sacks with six, and has been very disruptive with a quick first step and an ability to shed blocks on first contact.

Five biggest disappointments

South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney: Clowney's struggles this season have been well-documented, as have the reasons for them. Is the junior still a top-five caliber draft pick? Of course. Does he still have a blinding-bright NFL future? Of course. But here's a newsflash for those who dismiss his limited production on a weekly basis to offenses game-planning away from him: Opponents did quite a bit of that last year, too, and he overcame it. This year, so far, he hasn't. Clowney has two sacks on the season.

Tennessee NG Daniel McCullers: Judging interior defensive linemen based on individual stats is a mistake, because of the double teams they draw, among other factors. So McCullers' total of just 14 tackles with no sacks won't be criticized here. But UT's overall rush defense, perhaps a better reflection of the 355-pounder's play, ranks just 11th in the SEC. McCullers was ranked the No. 4 senior prospect for the 2014 draft in the preseason by's Gil Brandt, but his consistency and effort has at times been lacking.

Florida P Kyle Christy: As one of just three finalists for the Ray Guy Award as the nation's top punter last year, Christy entered this season on multiple All-America teams and figured to be a weapon for a loaded UF defense. Instead, he's averaging less than 40 yards per punt and has been replaced in the starting lineup by a freshman. It's a slump if ever there was one, and if the backup delivers, Christy might not get a chance to punt again until his senior season next year.

Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief: The 6-3, 225-pound junior was a non-factor in the Rebels' 41-38 loss to Texas A&M on Saturday, and he has just one 100-yard receiving game this year. He does lead the Rebels in receiving yards (358) and touchdown catches (4), but in Ole Miss' offense, that's the sort of production needed from its No. 2 receiver, not its go-to man. He's not had a bad year, but the junior figures to be more likely to return for his senior year. At this point, he would have to average about 100 yards per game the rest of the season to improve upon his yardage from last year. Not likely.

Alabama WR Amari Cooper: Who could have imagined that halfway through the season, Cooper would still be waiting on his first touchdown catch, and would rank fourth on his own team in both catches and receiving yards? With 12 receptions for 164 yards, that's where he sits. Sophomore slump? Not exactly. A nagging toe injury has kept Cooper out of one game and limited his playing time and effectiveness in several others. Alabama's offense hasn't felt as much impact from Cooper's slow start thanks to a deep complement of other receivers. Of those listed here, he and Clowney may be the most likely to post an impressive second half of the season.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.



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