The SEC produced one of the more dominant defensive backs in SEC history last year in LSU’s Patrick Peterson. This year, the best cover-corner got booted off his own team (Janoris Jenkins) for drug use.
Here is how I think the SEC’s best players in the defensive secondary stack up heading into 2011:
10. Prentiss Waggner, Tennessee, DB
9. Tyrann Mathieu, LSU, DB
8. Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt, DB
Prentiss Waggner entered Tennessee as a decent safety, but he has transformed into an All-SEC defensive back. Waggner was a ball hawk last year for the Vols, with five interceptions. Waggner has had a year to get bigger and faster physically, and he has all the tools to be a great cover-corner in the SEC this season…Tyrann Mathieu is a very explosive player who we no too little about. He played as a true freshman last year behind both Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne, but from what little we saw, we know the guy is going to be electric on the football field once he can really spread his wings. That could be this season on the Bayou…Casey Hayward is one of the top corners in this league as a senior. He would most definitely start for almost every other team in the league this season, and I think he’s the fourth best defensive back right now. We have to remember, this kid led the SEC with 17 passes defended last year, along with adding six interceptions.
7. Tramain Thomas, Arkansas, S
6. Robert Lester, Alabama, S
5. Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama, DB
Tramain Thomas is one of the more underrated safeties in the SEC, partly because he plays on a team known for its offense. Thomas had a heck of a year last year with 83 total tackles and four interceptions, and he looks to be at least that explosive this season. The guy is a great definition of a ball hawk…Robert Lester is entering his junior season and will create a formidable duo with Mark Barron at Alabama’s safety position. Lester led Alabama with eight interceptions last year and added 12 pass break ups, good for second best in the SEC…Dre Kirkpatrick is another Alabama defensive back who has all the physical tools to be a very, very good corner in this league, but most notably his height is what really stands out. You won’t find many 6-3 corners with Kirkpatrick’s abilities. He’s a freak, and I think he puts it all together this year.
4. Morris Claiborne, LSU, DB
3. Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina, DB
2. Janzen Jackson, Tennessee, S
Morris Claiborne is one of my favorite players on this list. Claiborne didn’t get much credit playing opposite of Patrick Peterson, but let me tell you, this kid can really play. He led the Tigers with five interceptions last year, and he really looks to be the guy who can step in and fill Peterson’s vacancy in the secondary…Stephon Gilmore is probably the best athlete on this list. However, his corner skills took a hit somewhat last year because he played sub-par. With a year to mature and reflect, I feel Gilmore will come back with a chip on his shoulder to prove some doubters wrong. He can cover one side of the field himself because of his freakish, athletic ability. You might even see him sneak in on offense sometime…Janzen Jackson’s reinstating comes as great news to Tennessee fans. Jackson can make any play on the field, and we saw that his freshman and sophomore years. He can make the big interception, and he will make the big hits to dislodge the football from the receiver. Jackson is plain nasty, and I hope he can keep his head on straight this season.
1. Mark Barron, Alabama, S
Mark Barron turned down the NFL this past draft to come back to Alabama, and I think it was a great move, because he should be one of the top safeties in the country. At 6-2, 220 lbs and a frame like a linebacker, Barron can both cover and hit with a vengeance. He will lead this Alabama secondary again this year, a secondary that should be figured in the top three in the country. Barron has all the tools, if he can stay healthy, to be the guy at safety who everyone points to in 2011.