Ranking the SEC’s 10 best defensive backs entering spring practice

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No longer will Dee Milliner, Eric Reid, Matt Elam and Bacarri Rambo, among others, roam the secondary, but there’s a few veterans and talented youngsters who will take their place.

This ranking is broken up into five corners and five safeties, and we’ll get more in-depth into corners and safeties as we rapidly approach the 2013 season. And naming just five is a tough task, because the SEC is rich in corner and safety talent. But here’s a look at the best five at each position entering spring:

Top of the line

1. Craig Loston, S, LSU
2. Andre Hal, CB, Vanderbilt
3. Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
4. HaHa Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama

It took two years for highly touted safety Craig Loston to emerge as a player for the Tigers, but he finally arrived in 2012. Loston registered 55 tackles, two INTs and three passes defended, playing in the shadow of All-American Eric Reid. Loston has crazy athleticism and tremendous upside if he can stay healthy. Nonetheless, he will give the Tigers a veteran in an inexperienced secondary in ‘13…Andre Hal’s production in Vandy’s secondary helped the Dores become one of the best pass defenses in the league over the last two years. Hal has totaled 84 tackles, three INTs and 19 passes defended in primarily one season as the everyday starter. Hal will prove yet again why he’s one of the top corners in the league in 2013…Marcus Roberson looked like one of the best young freshmen in the country in 2011, and he followed it up with another strong campaign in 2012. Roberson finished third in the SEC with 14 passes defended, 12 pass breakups and two INTs. Roberson is longer than normal corners at 6-0, and Will Muschamp uses that to his advantage, often leaving his corners one-on-one in coverage…HaHa Clinton-Dix is an emerging super star. He has all the athletic ability, talent and knowledge to be Nick Saban’s next great safety. HCD settled in at free safety next to Robert Lester and announced his official arrival with a great performance against Notre Dame. HCD registered 37 tackles, five INTs and nine passes defended in one season of work.

Impact players

5. EJ Gaines, CB, Missouri
6. Deshazor Everett, CB, Texas A&M

EJ Gaines has been an impact player for three years at Missouri already, but 2012 was his best season yet. Gaines posted 74 tackles, seven tackles for loss, one INT and 11 pass breakups. If you haven’t taken note of Gaines yet, be sure and watch him do work Saturdays next fall…Deshazor Everett is one of the fastest emerging corners in the league for the Aggies. Just a sophomore in 2012, Everett totaled nine passes defended, seven breakups and two INTs, and the Aggies’ secondary, which was once a question mark, is now becoming a strength.

Seasoned veterans

7. Charles Sawyer, S, Ole Miss
8. Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt
9. Nickoe Whitley, S, Mississippi State

Charles Sawyer is the weathered veteran of the Rebels’ young secondary. He registered four INTs in 2011, and we knew that would be hard to top in ‘12. Sawyer has notched 182 career tackles, eight tackles for loss, seven INTs and 26 pass breakups…Along with Andre Hal, Kenny Ladler is also a playmaker for the Dores. The 6-0, 200-pound rising senior helps make the Dores’ defense a legit no fly zone. And it’s certainly not out of the question that his counterpart Javon Marshall could prove to be better in ‘13, too. Ladler led the Commodores’ defense with 90 tackles in ’12, with two INTs…The lone returning starter in the MSU secondary is Nickoe Whitley, and 2012 was his best season yet, registering 88 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and three INTs. Whitley’s leadership will be put to the test with three new starters emerging for the Bulldogs.

Emerging star

10. Damian Swann, CB, Georgia

Amidst all the stellar stars on Georgia’s defense, sophomore corner Damian Swann emerged as a starter in an All-American-filled secondary. Swann was part of Mark Richt’s 2011 ‘Dream Team’ recruiting class and one who has actually lived up to potential. Swann registered 53 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, four INTs, nine passes defended and two forced fumbles. He is one to watch for 2013, and with another spring under his belt, Swann could be All-SEC next season.

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Photo Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

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