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.
85. Brian Randolph, Jr., S, Tennessee
One of four returning starters in a much-maligned Vols secondary, the first safety in our Top 100 came back strong in his return from a season-ending injury and led Tennessee with four interceptions in 2013. Randolph started every game and was the Vols’ most active defensive back averaging 6.3 tackles per contest.
Lacking depth with a handful of inexperienced starters, Tennessee’s defense has been its downfall in recent years. The Vols shaved a touchdown off their 2012 statistically program-worst defense every Saturday last fall and big plays weren’t as common. First-year coordinator John Jancek leaned on a preseason visit from a group of Navy SEALS to demonstrate accountability to each individual player and the Vols responded. Linebacker A.J. Johnson and Randolph enjoyed great seasons with an adjusted mindset on erasing the bad plays and focusing on the next.
Randolph acts as Tennessee’s enforcer near the sticks and packs a punch at first contact. He could be in for quite a season in the back seven considering what the Vols are having to replace up front. Tennessee’s pass-rush will be virtually unknown after saying goodbye to its entire defensive line including Jacques Smith and Daniel McCullers.
He won’t have to make as many touchdown-saving tackles in the open field with the help of Cam Sutton and LaDarrell McNeil, but No. 37 will be in on plenty of plays.
2013 statistics: 75 tackles, 4 INT, FF
2014 projection: 80 tackles, 3 INT, 2 FF
Photo Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports