Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest college football news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
Georgia can overcome recent LB transfer: There is more transfer news around the SEC, as senior linebacker Tim Kimbrough has left the program. He’s been a quality player for the Bulldogs, particularly the last two seasons, during which he has played 606 snaps with strong work against the run. Last season he was one of Georgia’s best run-stopping linebackers, so they’ll need to replace that production on early downs. It hasn’t been as smooth for Kimbrough in coverage, where he has graded below-average and has missed 13 of 100 tackle attempts the last two seasons.
Georgia does have potential reinforcements at inside linebacker, particularly a pair of true sophomores in Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith. Patrick posted an excellent run-stopping grade with most of his work coming against Georgia Tech and then Penn State in the bowl game. It was an encouraging 160-snap showing for Patrick and a similar small sample of work for Smith, who posted a strong run grade on his 78 snaps. While losing Kimbrough does hurt the inside linebacker depth, the future is bright at the position for the Bulldogs and it sounds like Kimbrough and the coaching staff simply didn’t mesh.
Former five-star wide receiver to transfer from LSU: There was movement in the SEC West as well, as former five-star recruit Tyron Johnson announced that he will transfer from LSU. Johnson saw the field only 213 times last season as a true freshman, though he still managed to finish fourth on the team in receiving yards with 150. And therein lies the reason he’s looking to transfer, as he cited playing in a “more wide-open offense,” something the Tigers have not been known for in recent years.
LSU is loaded at running back with the nation’s top-graded runner returning in Leonard Fournette, and he’s backed up by another talented back in Derrius Guice. At receiver, Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural are the top two options, and both receivers have NFL prospects, so there are only so many touches to go around in the Tigers’ offense. Johnson will have to sit out the 2016 season as he searches for a new home.
Keep an eye on UCLA defensive end Takkarist McKinley: When news is scarce, there’s nothing better than dissecting #PlayerSaidSomething news, so let’s dive into UCLA defensive lineman Takkarist McKinley’s claim that he’ll be the best pass-rusher in the nation. We like McKinley, and last year’s breakout season came as no surprise to us. Here’s what we said before the year:
“One other player to keep an eye on is junior edge rusher Takkarist McKinley. Though he only played 141 snaps a year ago, he flashed some ability as a pass-rusher, picking up three sacks, two hits, and 11 hurries on his 74 rushes. He appears to have the frame and athleticism to make an impact this season.”
McKinley responded with the breakout season we expected, grading at 80.9 on his 648 snaps, including a 78.4 mark against the run and 80.7 grade as a pass-rusher. It was an excellent all-around showing for McKinley, and perhaps even more impressive considering he spent quite a bit of time playing more of a 3-4 defensive end role, which can often sap pass rushing production. That’s part of the reason McKinley is optimistic about his chances this season, as he’ll be playing more of an edge rushing role in UCLA’s new 4-3 scheme rather than the interior role he played on about 34 percent of his snaps last season.
So while we expect continued improvement and production from McKinley, there’s a lineup of SEC defensive ends waiting to claim the throne as the nation’s best pass-rusher. The PFF College 101 was littered with dominant pass-rushers, both established and ready to breakout, so the competition is fierce at the top. We love McKinley and he’s a name to keep eye on from a national college football perspective as well as through the lens of the NFL Draft, but for now, the SEC pass-rushers – Myles Garrett, Derek Barnett, Charles Harris, Tim Williams, Deatrich Wise, among others – are the nation’s best.