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Ranking the SEC’s safeties for 2013

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The SEC always has some dominant and free-ranging difference makers at safety. Players like Eric Berry, Reggie Nelson, Eric Reid, Matt Elam, Shawn Williams, Mark Barron and DJ Swearinger come to mind.

Here’s a look at the SEC’s 10 best safeties for 2013.

Let’s get down to business:

Cream of the crop

1. HaHa Clinton-Dix, Alabama (JR)
2. Craig Loston, LSU (SR)

HaHa Clinton-Dix is the country’s top safety. He’s such an explosive athlete, with great size and athleticism, who matured on the job last season. Nick Saban always has premier safeties, and HCD is next in a long line. He recorded five picks last year, making him not only a great tackler but also a great cover safety who’s truly the complete package…Craig Loston finally blew into the player everyone thought he would last season. The former five-star safety arrived on the scene opposite Eric Reid to help lead the physical LSU defense. This will be Loston’s fifth year in John Chavis’ system as the leader of an inexperienced secondary. Loston will bring the wood upon impact.

Senior ballers

3. Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt (SR)
4. Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State (SR)

Kenny Ladler, combined with Andre Hal and Javon Marshall, makes the Commodores’ secondary very potent. Ladler seems to be everywhere on the field at all times, like the Predator. He led the Dores with 90 tackles and added 3.5 tackles for loss and two INTs. He’s a complete safety who has a future at the next level…Nickoe Whitley is the lone returning starter in the Bulldogs’ secondary. The NFL scouts love this kid, and he has a big future playing on Sundays. He totaled 88 tackles last year and has a combined 10 picks during his three-year career. MSU needs Whitley to lead the inexperienced secondary in the worst way.

One final run

5. Byron Moore, Tennessee (SR)
6. Jaylen Watkins, Florida (SR)
7. Demetruce McNeal, Auburn (SR)

Byron Moore was tied for the lead in the SEC with five INTs, but there’s so much more to his game that needs to develop. Moore was a victim of Sal Sunseri’s reckless 3-4 defense, and half of the time Moore, along with the entire defense, was out of position. That changes this year under John Jancek. Moore’s game should get much better…Jaylen Watkins moves from corner to safety to help replace Josh Evans and Matt Elam. Watkins has excellent ball skills and finished with three INTs, eight pass break ups and 11 passes defended. He should be even better at safety…Demetruce McNeal was a bright spot on Auburn’s forgettable defense last year. He finished second on the Tigers with 90 tackles and has made 19 career starts. McNeal should help a mediocre secondary get back to elite level.

Up-and-comers

8. Trae Elston, Ole Miss (SO)
9. Tray Matthews, Georgia (FR)

One thing about Trae Elston is that he isn’t afraid to hit you in the mouth. He’s known as a hard hitter and his reputation precedes him. He started nine games as a true freshman, which will pay dividends during this season. He led the Rebels with six pass breakups and even recorded a sack. Elston is a big-time athlete who is very aggressive…Tray Matthews – haven’t heard of him? He’s Georgia’s new talented safety. And yeah, I know he hasn’t played a game yet, but the early enrollee balled out this spring in Athens. All the talk surrounds Josh Harvey-Clemons, but Matthews will be the better safety of the two. He will remind you of Alec Ogletree. He’s a big-time hitter who always seemed to be in the right position for a freshman in the spring game, showing he’s well beyond the FR next to his name. Am I going out on a limb with Matthews? Sure, but he won’t let me down.

A veteran

10. Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama (JR)

The forgotten Iron Man of Alabama’s defense, Vinnie Sunseri plays it all. He excelled on special teams his freshman year and transitioned over to safety last year. Sunseri’s the third leading returning tackler on the Tide, making 54 stops, 4.5 tackles for loss and two INTs. There’s nothing flashy about Sunseri’s game; he’s just a gritty football player who loves to hit you in the mouth.

Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports





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Comments 4

  1. Sunseri has a lot of promise. He was caught out of position a few times last year but he’s got heart. He can definitely climb a few spots on this ranking by the seasons end.

    • I like Vinnie but his speed is an issue. You saw Geno Smith in for him late in the season and in the SECCG, when we needed speed at his position. Vinnie’s got great football instincts and he’s a good hitter but he will get beat downfield a lot now that people have figured that out…

  2. Jon, did you see the play in the spring game when Mathews got upended by a chop block, rolled to his feet and made the play without missing a step? Bright things ahead for that young man.