The big uglies are one of the least talked about positions in football. Of course, massive left tackles and powerful road graders get the bulk of the ink, but centers and guards rarely get recognized.
Former SEC studs Luke Joeckel, DJ Fluker, Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack are set to make a splash in the draft just next month, too.
Here are the 10 best SEC offensive linemen heading into spring:
Unknowns you need to know about
10. La’El Collins, OG, LSU
9. Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt
8. Cedric Ogbuehi, OL, Texas A&M
La’El Collins is an emerging star for the Tigers. Collins was AP All-SEC Honorable Mention in ‘12 as a sophomore, and he’s one of the most powerful run blockers on the list. Collins played in seven games as a true freshman, but he started all 13 at left guard last season. Collins is an athletic smart player who continues to get better…Wesley Johnson is one of the best linemen you’ve never heard of for the Commodores. The Commodores’ slogan is Anchor Down, and Johnson is their anchor at tackle. He’s an upcoming four-year starter who has appeared on the Outland Trophy Watch List, and one word that defines his game is versatility. Johnson can play any position on the line…Cedric Ogbuehi is formerly the Aggies’ right guard, but he’ll be moving out to right tackle this spring, as Jake Matthews slides over to left tackle. Ogbuehi is one of the most aggressive linemen in the SEC, and you could describe him as playing with a mean streak. He’s a future star, not just in the SEC, as he projects very well at the next level.
Established big uglies
7. Anthony Steen, OG, Alabama
6. Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
5. Travis Swanson, C, Arkansas
Alabama loses three key cogs in the trenches but returns one of the most experienced guards in the country in Anthony Steen. Steen isn’t as good as Chance Warmack, but his technique and want-to set him apart. Steen has played in 38 career games with 24 starts, and he has two national championship rings to go along with it. He’s the weathered veteran of Bama’s ‘13 offensive line…Ja’Wuan James, along with Tiny Richardson, are the leaders of the Vols’ underrated line. James helped anchor one of the best pass blocking offensive lines in the country, only yielding eight sacks all year. He’s started all 37 games of his career and never redshirted…Travis Swanson is the best center in the SEC returning in 2013. Swanson is the staple among several returning starters along Arkansas’ veteran line, and he will be key to helping establish Bret Bielema’s offensive strategy of a power-running game. Swanson was a second-team All-SEC member last season.
Top of the line
4. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
3. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
2. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State
1. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Antonio Richardson’s nickname is Tiny, but there’s nothing Tiny about him. The 6-6, 332-pound tackle kept dirt off Tyler Bray’s jersey the entire season, and he’s one of the best pass-blocking tackles in the country. Like Swanson, Richardson was a second-team All-SEC performer. Tennessee allowed an SEC-low eight sacks, and Richardson is a massive part of their success…Cyrus Kouandjio was the youngest of any of the Alabama offensive linemen in 2012’s championship team, but he will eventually be the best. Just a sophomore, Kouandjio cemented his impact as Bama’s starting left tackle, blocking for AJ McCarron’s blind side. And had it not been for an injury his freshman season, he would have played much more than he did in 2011. Kouandjio helped pave the way for Bama’s remarkable 227 yards per game of smash mouth football…Gabe Jackson gave MSU a big lift returning for his senior season. He’s the anchor of the Bulldogs’ line with All-American potential in ‘13. The SEC first-team All-SEC member in ‘12 has good length and has a build like an offensive tackle. Jackson will be a reason why MSU’s running game will return in 2013…Jake Matthews would have been a first-round pick had he bolted for the NFL, but he had a rare opportunity to play with his brother. Matthews slides over to left tackle to replace Luke Joeckel, and they could become back-to-back Outland Trophy winners and back-to-back first linemen taken in the draft. Matthews has that kind of talent, and he will be the anchor of a very good Aggie offensive line.
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