SDS talent evaluators Jon Cooper and Brad Crawford spent several months breaking down last year’s highlights, incoming talent and projected 2014 impact following spring practice to compile a list of the SEC’s Top 100 players heading into fall. Athletes were selected by position then ranked overall counting down to No. 1.
Stick with SDS throughout summer and get in on the action using the hashtag #SDSTop100 as we unveil a new player daily leading up to opening night on Aug. 28.
80. Austin Shepherd, Sr., OL, Alabama
Shepherd’s a fifth-year senior who earned a spot as a first teamer during his junior campaign for the Crimson Tide and comes into this season as Alabama’s starting right tackle. He’ll be challenged during fall practice by JUCO transfer Dominick Jackson who is two inches taller — 6-foot-7, 305 pounds — and is an expert run blocker.
With that being said, don’t expect the grizzled vet with the mountain man beard to relinquish his spot to a newcomer that easy. After all, Shepherd isn’t long removed from being a No. 2 himself. A former roommate of Chance Warmack, Shepherd learned the ropes at tackle in 2012 after serving as the primary backup for D.J. Fluker as a third-year sophomore. Crimson Tide offensive line coach Mario Cristobal isn’t expecting perfection out of the Georgia native, but there’s depth at his position and guys who will compete for time.
Based on what happened last time out for Alabama up front, a strong start against West Virginia in the opener will provide an immediate confidence boost for a unit that was pushed off its feet and embarrassed against the Sooners. Alabama has the nation’s best backfield and it’s Shepherd’s job to make sure T.J. Yeldon and Co. have room to work.
2013 statistics: Started every game at right tackle last season after playing 10 games as a reserve in 2012.
2014 projection: Right tackle is again Shepherd’s job to lose this fall. He should be an impact player on the edge against some of the SEC’s best pass rushers.
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