Editor’s note: Top 25 preview week continues with a ranking of the best 25 players in the SEC.

Positive vibes only.

That’s my mantra for listing the Top 25 SEC players for 2022. It’s an extremely difficult task to narrow it to 25 players when in reality, you could fill out a top 100 list of SEC players and still feel like some worthy guys were left off.

Thus is life in the SEC.

As it relates to this specific column, I’m going do something a little bit different. Instead of saying anything negative about why a certain player isn’t ranked higher, I’m simply going to say the one thing I like about a specific player. It could be a stat on their career, it could be something I saw play out down the stretch, or it could just be why I think they’re capable of having a first-team All-SEC season.

Everybody who made this list has that kind of upside. That’s not crazy considering that 26 players are preseason first-team All-SEC (it’s 22 and the 4 specialists).

So here’s some positive vibes about the Top 25 players in the SEC in 2022:

25. Spencer Rattler, South Carolina QB

Why I like him — Despite his benching at Oklahoma, which happened when he entered the Texas game with a quarterback rating of 158.0, Rattler is still 15-0 in his past 15 starts. During that stretch, here are Rattler’s numbers:

  • 28-8 TD-INT ratio
  • 8 rushing touchdowns
  • 69% passing
  • 160.6 quarterback rating

Only 6 Power 5 quarterbacks had higher than a 160.6 quarterback rating for the 2021 season. It just so happened that 1 of them was Caleb Williams.

24. O’Cyrus Torrence, Florida OL

Why I like him — In addition to going 1,146 pass-blocking snaps without allowing a sack during his 3 years playing for Billy Napier at Louisiana, PFF also graded him as the No. 7 run-blocking guard in FBS in 2021.

23. BJ Ojulari, LSU DE

Why I like him — He posted 26 pressures on 3rd down last year, which was more than any player in the SEC … including Will Anderson (PFF).

22. Derick Hall, Auburn DE

Why I like him — He can forever put on his résumé, “I’m the dude who sacked Bryce Young 3 times in the same game.”

21. Zach Evans, Ole Miss RB

Why I like him — According to PFF, Evans in an injury-shortened 2021:

  • A) Averaged 4.8 yards after contact per carry
  • B) Registered 29 explosive runs of 10 yards or more
  • C) Broke 40 tackles on 146 carries
  • D) Averaged 1.81 yards per route run
  • E) All the above

It’s “E.” It’s always “E.”

20. Jahmyr Gibbs, Alabama RB

Why I like him — What’s the best way for a running back on a 3-win Georgia Tech team to stay involved? Become a dominant kick returner and develop into a force in the passing game. Gibbs was just that. He racked up 465 receiving yards out of the backfield, and he finished 2021 with PFF’s highest receiving grade for a running back.

19. Dallas Turner, Alabama LB

Why I like him — He totaled double-digit tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks even though he played just 370 snaps. Turner’s presence once Drew Sanders went down was incredibly important opposite of Will Anderson (more on him later), and all signs point to him being Alabama’s next All-American defender.

18. Devon Achane, Texas A&M RB

Why I like him — Achane is a world-class track star, yet you’d be surprised to know that he averaged 4 yards after contact in 2021 when he shared a backfield with Isaiah Spiller. With Spiller off to the NFL and a veteran offensive line in front of him, Achane has All-America upside.

17. Chris Rodriguez, Kentucky RB

Why I like him — Fumbling issues aside, Rodriguez stepped into a new offensive scheme as a first-time starter and finished No. 7 in rushing among Power 5 backs. He’s system-proof because of how he runs through contact. In fact, Rodriguez led SEC players with 1,351 yards after contact over the last 2 years (PFF).

16. Nick Broeker, Ole Miss OL

Why I like him — Not a whole lot of guys enter a season having played left tackle at a high level for 3 years in the SEC. Now as a senior, though, Broeker is shifting to left guard because it’s where he projects at the NFL. He allowed just 4 sacks in his last 2 years as a left tackle, but Broeker kicking inside should still help solidify an experienced Ole Miss offensive line.

15. KJ Jefferson, Arkansas QB

Why I like him — He finished with the No. 10 quarterback rating in America while also finishing as the leading rusher for an Arkansas squad that posted the top rushing attack in Power 5. Dual threat? Jefferson just does whatever it takes to get the job done.

14. Eli Ricks, Alabama CB

Why I like him — As a true freshman at LSU, Ricks looked like a better player than Year 2 Derek Stingley, and not just because he had 4 interceptions, including 2 pick-sixes. He finished his only full season with PFF’s best grade single coverage among all FBS defenders. That guy returning to form would be a huge lift for an Alabama team with some rare cornerback questions.

13. Jalen Catalon, Arkansas S

Why I like him — An imposing safety who craves contact, Catalon was on pace for a 100-tackle season until his season-ending shoulder injury cut his 2021 in half. If he can stay healthy — something that isn’t a given with his style of play — there are few players who are more dangerous coming downhill than the Arkansas safety.

12. Tank Bigsby, Auburn RB

Why I like him — Despite the fact that he ran behind PFF’s 13th-worst graded run-blocking offensive line, Bigsby still managed to play all 13 games and run for 1,099 yards with 10 touchdowns. It’d be nice if Bigsby could get some better blocking so that his ability to get yards after contact could really shine. My bad. Positive vibes only.

11. Nolan Smith, Georgia LB

Why I like him — Besides just being a former No. 1 overall recruit who waited his turn to start, he was one of the most impactful players on a generational defense. The Florida game flipped once Smith forced 2 turnovers in a 39-second span, and when Georgia’s season was on the line in the Orange Bowl, he dialed up a team-best 8 tackles and 7 pressures.

10. Kayshon Boutte, LSU WR

Why I like him — In his past 9 games, he totaled 1,036 yards and 13 touchdowns. During that stretch spanning the end of 2020 and 2021, the only time he failed to score a touchdown was against Alabama (he inexplicably dropped a walk-in touchdown before crossing the goal line) and against Kentucky, which was when he suffered his season-ending ankle injury.

9. Cedric Tillman, Tennessee WR

Why I like him — He closed last season with a 7-game stretch in which he averaged 6.9 catches, 124 yards and 1.4 touchdowns. That included a combined 352 yards against Alabama and Georgia. He also broke the program record for consecutive games with a touchdown catch (7), which dated to 1995, and he finished with 16 catches of 25+ yards.

8. Hendon Hooker, Tennessee QB

Why I like him — The guy wasn’t even the Day 1 starter, yet he posted a 31-3 TD-INT ratio (all 3 INTs came vs. teams that at least played in a New Year’s 6 bowl). He finished No. 3 in FBS in quarterback rating and he ran for 620 yards, which would’ve been even higher if he didn’t take 36 sacks. The crazy thing is? He should be even better in 2022.

7. Cam Smith, South Carolina CB

Why I like him — Two reasons. South Carolina lost Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu to the NFL Draft, yet they finished with the SEC’s top passing defense last year with Smith as the lockdown corner. Also? This:

6. Jordan Battle, Alabama S

Why I like him — I’m doing an exercise where I try to avoid saying every thumping safety is a “throwback.” So while Battle does hit like a mid-’90s safety, I’ll instead point out that he played 560 snaps in a non-safety position (278 in the box, 272 at slot corner, 7 at wide corner and 3 on the defensive line) and he still managed to excel both against the run and in coverage. It was surprising to see the All-American run it back for his senior year.

5. Antonio Johnson, Texas A&M DB

Why I like him — Like, besides my belief that he’s without a weakness? Let’s go with the fact that a 6-3 slot corner allowed just 228 receiving yards on 62 targets last year while racking up 79 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 14 slot passing stops (PFF).

4. Jalen Carter, Georgia DL

Why I like him — As tempting as it is to just drop of a clip of watching him throw down alley-oop dunks as a 300-pound high schooler, I’ll instead highlight the fact that Carter earned PFF’s highest pass-rushing grade among Power 5 interior linemen. Among that group of Power 5 interior linemen, the only players with grades of 79.0 both against the run and as pass-rushers were Carter and … former teammate Devonte Wyatt.

3. Brock Bowers, Georgia TE

Why I like him — He was the best offensive player on a team that won a national title. I cannot think of another true freshman tight end who could ever make that claim.

2. Bryce Young, Alabama QB

Why I like him — He operated behind what was easily Alabama’s worst offensive line since 2007, and all he did was become the first quarterback in program history to win the Heisman Trophy while nearly leading the Tide to a national title. Need I say more?

1. Will Anderson, Alabama LB

Why I like him — After posting an FBS best 59 quarterback pressures as a true freshman, Anderson bumped that number to an FBS leading 82 pressures while posting a historic 34.5 tackles for loss, 17.5 of which came via an FBS-best 17.5 sacks (PFF). Imagine not inviting that guy to New York.