Matchup nightmares, game-wreckers, monsters on the line of scrimmage. The SEC has no shortage of terrifying players who strike fear into the hearts and minds of fans, coaches and even the toughest players who share their court.
The best conference in college football boasts some of the best to ever play, many of which will forever haunt the dreams of opposing fan bases. So, in light of a haunted season, let’s highlight a few guys who send chills down the spines of those on the other side and scare the hopes and dreams of fans whose favorite teams would have made it if not for their dominance.
Here are the 10 scariest SEC players of this century. (Note: We know we’re leaving out some absolute beasts. Narrowing this list down to 10 was the scariest of them all. Read our honorable mentions below).
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Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
Let’s start with the man they call “The Terminator” in Tuscaloosa. Think of all the defensive superstars Nick Saban has coached at Alabama, but Anderson might be his best ever. The Georgia native terrorizes offensive lines and quarterbacks, even through double teams and game plans that surround him. Quick, strong and unblockable, the future first-round pick is as good as it gets and an absolute terror for offensive coordinators looking for answers.
Eric Berry, Tennessee
A two-time consensus All-American and future All-Pro safety, the ball-hawking Berry laid wood on receivers and disrupted offensive schemes as one of the Volunteers’ best. While his Tennessee teams didn’t compete for conference wins, they made life difficult for some teams, especially when Berry and head coach Lane Kiffin nearly derailed Nick Saban and Alabama’s national title hopes in 2009 before Terrence Cody blocked a last-second field goal ( game , which still haunts many dreams today). But Berry, a cancer survivor, was a dominant force in a secondary that flew all over the field.
Brock Bowers, Georgia
Is he the best player in college football right now? The Bulldogs tight end has a case. Calling him a matchup nightmare seems unfair to him. Whether he’s making circus catches or taking handoffs to rattle off chunks of yards into the end zone, the guy is an absolute freak that you can only hope to handle. Another player on this list has become the highest drafted at Bowers’ position, but watching him obliterate defenders every Sunday begs the question: Are we ready to go No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft? We have at least one more season to see how much more damage Bowers can do in the SEC.
Joe Burrow, LSU
Speaking of the number one overall pick, the LSU transfer quarterback baffled the league by pulling his own Dr. Trick in 2018 and 2019. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, when he suddenly transformed into arguably the best college quarterback of all time during his senior season. play. In 15 games, the man threw for 5,671 yards, 60 touchdowns and just six interceptions. You read that right. Sixty TDs. All this on the way to an undefeated season and the national championship. And yes, he had equally terrifying teammates in wide receivers Justin Jefferson and Ja’Marr Chase. Most concerning to opposing fan bases was Burrow’s coolness under pressure. He sliced and diced defenses with surgical precision as his face rarely, if ever, changed expression. A cold-blooded killer.
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Ask Denard Robinson, a college fantasy player, about how terrifying Clowney looks unblocked in the backfield in less than a split second. The 2013 Outback Bowl hit — in which Clowney appeared to teleport behind the line of scrimmage only to blast Robinson before he could even touch the ball, setting off a fumble in which Clowney lifted the pigskin with one paw — defined his legacy as a defensive demon. Arguably the biggest recruit in Gamecocks history, Clowney cemented his future as the top overall pick in his second season with 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss as he was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
Nick Fairley, Auburn
Fierce. That’s the only way this Tiger defensive tackle could play. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year and Lombardi Trophy winner in 2010, he was the anchor of Gene Chizik’s national championship-winning defense. While Cam Newton (a terror in his own right) deservedly earned much of the credit for Auburn’s incredible run, Fairley’s dominant play in the trenches was arguably just as important to the Tigers’ success.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
On the one hand, it was a privilege to watch Manziel, a quarterback the likes of which we had never seen before, dazzle the nation with scrambling and playmaking abilities that no defensive scheme could have contained or predicted. But the stress he caused opposing fan bases and teams, especially Alabama’s, took its toll on all who witnessed his brilliance. A worthy Heisman Trophy winner and one of the greatest college football quarterbacks of all time, Manziel has quickly and undeniably become a thorn in the Crimson Tide’s side. You could even see the relief that washed over Saban’s face after Bama beat the Aggies in College Station in 2013, a look that praised the lord that they would never have to face Johnny Football again.
Kyle Pitts, Florida
Picked fourth overall in the NFL Draft, Pitts is the top tight end, in many ways redefining the way the position is played in college football. You hear Nick Saban often say that tight ends create so many matchup problems for linemen and safeties, consider Pitts Exhibit A. He had 12 touchdowns in 2020, one of which came in the SEC Championship Game against Alabama, along with 129 receiving yards and all the momentum he needed to go pro. We’ve seen some all-time great TEs come through the SEC this century, but Pitts’ skills were particularly chilling.
DeVonta Smith, Alabama
You won’t leave the player nicknamed the Slim Reaper as he won the Heisman Trophy in arguably the best season a wide receiver has ever had in college football. There is nothing sadder for defensive coordinators than knowing exactly where the ball is going and not being able to do anything about it. Holding on for his senior season, Smith didn’t seem like the scariest prospect at first, but combined with QB Mac Jones and Steve Sarkisian’s masterful machinations, he racked up 1,856 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns en route to a national championship.
Tim Tebow, Florida
Now an analyst for the SEC Network and long considered one of the nicest guys in any sport, Tebow isn’t what many would consider “scary,” at least not on the surface. But when it was 4th and 1 with the game on the line, just one guy was getting the ball and plowing forward to convert it, over and over again. Tebow still garners acclaim as the best quarterback to ever play at the college level. A special athlete who was built like a truck, Tebow knew how to win and often led his Florida teams to victory when he wasn’t running over defenders or throwing down touchdown passes. He had that the quality of your Michael Jordan team is likely to lose if Tebow shows up, especially during his 2008 national title run.
Honorable Mentions: John Henderson (Tennessee), Josh Reed (LSU), Carnell Williams (Auburn), Jaylen Waddle (Alabama), David Pollack (Georgia), Darren McFadden (Arkansas), DeMeco Ryans (Alabama), Glenn Dorsey (LSU) Rolando McClain ( Alabama), Patrick Willis (Ole Miss), LaRon Landry (LSU), Brandon Spikes (Florida), Percy Harvin (Florida), AJ Green (Georgia), Chance Warmack (Alabama), Mike and Maurkice Pouncey (Florida), Mark Barron (Alabama), Cam Newton (Auburn), Alshon Jeffrey (South Carolina), Jarvis Jones (Georgia), Tyrann Mathieu (LSU), Melvin Ingram (South Carolina), Caleb Sturgis (Florida), Kevin Minter (LSU), Matt Elam (Florida), Michael Sam (Missouri), Dak Prescott (Mississippi State), Amari Cooper (Alabama), Evan Engram (Ole Miss), Derrick Henry (Alabama), Myles Garrett (Texas A&M), A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama) , Daniel Carlson (Auburn), Devin White (LSU), Roquan Smith (Georgia), Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama), Josh Allen (Kentucky), Bryce Young (Alabama)