SEC’s most improved for 2013: Which DB will take his game to the next level?

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Every single year, players emerge after a mediocre showing and burst on to the scene, and we’re left saying, ‘I should have seen it coming’. So, let’s get a head start on the most improved defensive backs for 2013.

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Most Improved Defensive Back: Damian Swann, Georgia

2012 Stats: 53 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 4 INTs, 5 PBU, 5 QBH, 2 FF
2013 Projections: 60 tackles, 5 INTs, 15 PBU

The Story: Georgia’s Dream Team recruiting class had prospects like Isaiah Crowell who never panned out, and there are several who have yet to live up to the hype like Ray Drew. But don’t count corner Damian Swann in that group.

The former four-star prospect and Atlanta native has lived up to his hype, and he slid right into the starting corner slot at a major position of need early to start last season. Once Sanders Commings and Bacarri Rambo returned, UGA had the SEC’s second-best pass defense just behind Alabama. Swann was a big reason why.

Why he will improve the most: Now, as the seasoned leader, foundation and cornerstone of the Bulldogs’ revamped secondary, there’s nothing like game experience to fast forward the development of a younger corner.

Swann is very effective in pass coverage, and he is the third-leading returning tackler from last season. He has impressive footwork in coverage, and he just has that knack of being in good position technique-wise.

Swann’s impact on this young Georgia defense will be extremely valuable, especially in the first-week matchup against a spread-em-out offense like Clemson, who is already talking trash.

Others to watch:

Trae Elson, Ole Miss: The one aspect of Elston’s game that jumps out is his hitting ability. He is one of the top hitters in the conference and continues to lay the boom on receivers. Hugh Freeze needs Elston to take a big step and become a leader in the secondary, and I think he’s one of the most improved players in the conference this year.

Jalen Mills, LSU: Ready or not, Jalen Mills was forced into action when Tyrann Mathieu was dismissed last season. But he didn’t play like a freshman, and he finished fourth on the Tigers’ defense with 57 tackles, five pass breakups and two interceptions. Mills is just another stud in a long line of top prospects at corner surging through John Chavis’ system.

Geno Smith, Alabama: Geno Smith enters 2013 as somewhat unknown, but he has All-American ability. Since Dee Milliner now plays on Sundays, Smith should slide into that vacant corner slot and form a strong tandem with Deion Belue. Smith won the starting Nickelback job towards the latter portion of the 2012 season.

Photo Credit: Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports

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  • I was glad to hear that Deion Belue stepped as a leader during the Spring for the younger CBs. Geno Smith has all the makings of another elite Saban prodigy, and I expect him to have a great career at Alabama. But outside of those two starters, Alabama is stretched pretty thin at the position. Dee Hart and Cyrus Jones made the switch to CB during the Spring, but it looks as if Hart will most likely serve as a RB and return specialist for this season. Alabama might have to count on guys with little to no experience at some point in the season. Guys like Bradley Sylve and Jabriel Washington. Hopefully newcomers like Jonathan Cook and Maurice Smith (maybe even Marlon Humphrey in 2014) will strengthen the depth in the future. I trust that Smart and Saban will be able to turn these youngsters into quality players – they’ve been successful so far producing stars like Kareem Jackson, Marquis Johnson, Javier Arenas, Dee Kirkpatrick, and Dee Milliner.