Every year, there are deserving players who get left completely off the preseason All-SEC teams after the voting from SEC Media Days are finalized. This year, there are two Vols in particular who just got chips placed on their shoulders because of that.
Redshirt senior outside linebacker Darrell Taylor and sophomore cornerback Bryce Thompson were two of the most productive players on the Vols’ defense last season. Taylor was inconsistent, but he was dominant when he was at the top of his game, tying a school record with four sacks in a game against Kentucky, totaling three sacks and two forced fumbles against Georgia, and three tackles for loss and a sack against Vanderbilt. Thompson was so impressive as a first-year player that he was voted a Freshman All-American by after the season. Not bad for a player who played primarily wide receiver in high school.
Yet, none of that was good enough to get either one a spot on the first, second, or third teams on the All-SEC teams on Friday.
When the All-SEC teams were announced at the conclusion of the 2019 SEC Media Days on Friday, there were no Vols on either the offensive or defensive teams. The lone Tennessee selection was Marquez Callaway, and it wasn’t even at receiver. The Vols’ senior wideout was voted a second team return specialist.
Callaway deserved that, and he might even deserve a spot on at least the third team offense. But he’s not the most obvious and egregious snub on Tennessee’s roster.
No other player in the SEC has more sacks from last season among returning defenders than Taylor. His eight sacks are the most among any returning SEC player, and his 11 tackles for loss are among the most as well. Granted, the 6-foot-4, 255-pound Virginia native wasn’t always a dominating force off the edge and struggled with consistency, but he proved to be a major talent on the field last season.
Despite that, he didn’t earn a place on any of the All-SEC linebacker spots. But you know who did? A linebacker who missed the entire 2018 season due to injury.
Alabama’s Terrell Lewis was superb in 2017 in limited action, totaling 16 tackles, a sack, and two tackles for loss in just four games. He suffered an arm injury in the Tide’s season opener against Florida State and missed 10 games after that.
As a junior last season, Lewis sustained a season-ending knee injury prior to the start of the 2018 season. He didn’t appear in a single game for Alabama. Yet, for some reason, the media at SEC Media Days voted him as a third-team linebacker.
Yes, a linebacker who has played in a total of 15 games in his career, has two career sacks, and missed the entirety of the 2018 season earned a spot on one of the All-SEC teams. Yet Darrell Taylor didn’t.
At corner, Thompson was one of the premier young talents last season, totaling 34 tackles, a team-high three interceptions, 10 passes defended, four tackles for loss, a sack, and a forced fumble. He was voted a Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America and was on the 2018 SEC All-Freshman team.
Yet the voters clearly forgot all about that when it came time to cast their ballots for preseason All-SEC teams.
Alabama’s Trevon Diggs — yes, another Tide player — only appeared in six games last season, yet he earned a spot not on the third or second team, but on the first team defense. A foot injury he suffered at Arkansas sidelined him the remainder of his junior season, though he was solid in his first six appearances.
But “solid” in six games shouldn’t outweigh a Freshman All-American caliber season in 12 games.
Diggs had 20 tackles, an interception, seven passes defended, and a forced fumble in his limited action. He’s probably deserving of a spot on an All-SEC team based off his limited production and talent alone, but a first team selection is mind-blowing to me.
Alabama’s freshman All-American corner got a spot on one of the All-SEC defensive teams even though Tennessee’s didn’t.
Patrick Surtain II was voted a Second-Team All-SEC cornerback after posting similar, if not slightly weaker, numbers than Thompson last year. He totaled 37 tackles, an interception, seven passes defended, 1.5 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble.
When you’re Alabama, you’re going to get the benefit of the doubt. Media members and fans alike are going to assume your players are better than others. And most of the time, that’s accurate. But there’s a clear bias in favor of the Tide. Vol fans know that, and most other SEC fans do, too.
On the other hand, when you’re Tennessee, you’re not going to get the benefit of the doubt. At least, not right now. Not coming off of 4-8 and 5-7 seasons in back-to-back years. Not with a second-year head coach who had never been a head coach at any other stop prior to now. Not when you’ve lost three-straight games to Vanderbilt and been blown out in back-to-back years by Missouri.
Life is far from fair. I assume I’m not the only media member out there who thinks a player or two from the team he covers got snubbed from the preseason All-SEC teams. There are probably multiple writers out there right now penning similar columns. But both Darrell Taylor and Bryce Thompson proved last season that they’re deserving of All-SEC selections to start the 2019 season, and the only reason they missed out is because of the team they play on.
The bright side is this should only add extra fuel to the fires for both players.