Clearing the path: Top 5 incoming OL recruits add to SEC’s reputation

Calvin Ashley

The SEC is often a factory of offensive line talent, and this year was no exception. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, the top three offensive lines in college football were found in the SEC: LSU, Auburn and Alabama.

The fuel for these dominant lines is a well-stoked cupboard. In 2016, the SEC reeled in 16 4- and 5-star OL recruits, including both of the 5-star prospects in last year’s class.

Headlining the class of freshmen was Ole Miss’ Greg Little, who eventually delivered on his No. 3-overall ranking by starting the final four games of the year after Rod Taylor went down in the LSU game.

Little was somewhat outshined by the other true stud in 2016’s class, Alabama’s Jonah Williams. Williams started all 14 games for the Tide at right tackle and blew away the coaches with his dedication – being named the team’s offensive player of the week eight times.

The 2017 class is much deeper, as there are seven 5-star offensive linemen. Naturally, the SEC signed four of them.

Here’s a look at the best of the big boys.

1. Alex Leatherwood, Alabama – No. 1 OT, No. 4 overall

Highlights:

For the second consecutive year, Alabama landed a tackle who graded as the No. 4 overall prospect, and the aforementioned Jonah Williams didn’t disappoint.

In high school, Leatherwood looked like a man among boys – using his large frame and raw strength to bully defenders. The 6-6, 327-pound prospect will no doubt be turned into a monster by the Alabama training staff, possibly the best in the country.

Though Leatherwood could probably use a bit of work on technique, his physical tools are such that it’s easy to see why he could be dominant at Alabama. The Tide have waves and waves of linemen waiting in the wings, meaning that the coaching staff has the luxury of waiting for the Floridian tackle to develop.

No. 2 Trey Smith, Tennessee – No. 4. OT, No. 14 overall

Highlights:

At the Under Armour All-America game, we caught up with Tennessee commit Trey Smith, and he was equally impressive off the field as he was in pads.

Trey Smith thinking about academics at Tennessee, not just football

After losing a great ambassador in Josh Dobbs, the Vols appear to have locked down another one for years to come, as Smith is intelligent, perceptive, and a natural on camera. He has said he values academics as much as football, which is always refreshing in the NFL prospect-laden SEC.

SDS uses 247’s rankings, but it is worth noting that ESPN ranked Smith No. 1 overall hin this class.

Smith is huge and physical, comfortably carrying 310 pounds on his 6-5 frame. Another two-way athlete, he is quick and surprisingly nimble for such a large player. He uses his muscular arms to lock up defenders and drive them well past their starting point, and he rarely gives up on a play.

Though Smith would be the first to tell you that he played against inferior competition, he differs from Leatherwood in that he uses 100 percent of his strength on nearly every play, dominating high schoolers into the ground.

After a disappointing season in Knoxville, Butch Jones was able to fill two offseason holes with two elite Tennesee products in Smith and running back Ty Chandler. With generally weak offensive line play last season, Smith has a good chance of starting in week one.

3. Georgia’s class headlined by Isaiah Wilson – No. 5 OT, No. 16 overall

Highlights:

Kirby Smart was left with a ragtag offensive line in his first year at Georgia that made life difficult for freshman quarterback Jacob Eason. That won’t be anywhere near a problem going forward if this class pans out.

Georgia hauled in an entire elite offensive line in one class, signing six. Not only is the class deep, but it’s also talented, with four 4-star prospects in the bunch and the 5-star Isaiah Wilson as its anchor.

The “big six” as they’ve dubbed themselves, of Wilson, D’Marcus Hayes, Andre Thomas, D’Antne Demery, Netori Johnson and Justin Shaffer boast three top-20 tackles, the No. 7-ranked guard, and the No. 2 JUCO tackle.

As for Wilson, he could be best described as a mauler. Physical, explosive, and the largest prospect on this list at 6-7, 350 pounds, Wilson is another two-way player who attacks the line of scrimmage like it just insulted his sister.

Some classes hinge on one or two elite prospects to determine their success, but by the sheer rule of averages, this class should be really special.

4. Auburn’s class headlined by Calvin Ashley – No. 6 OT, No. 27 overall

Calvin Ashley

Highlights:

Though Georgia’s class in unmatched in recent SEC history, Auburn brought in their own haul. The Tigers added two 4-stars in No. 18 tackle Austin Troxell and No. 10 guard Nick Brahms, as well as Calvin Ashley, the 5-star crown jewel.

SDS also talked to Ashley at the Under Armour game, and he said that playing for Auburn has been a dream of his.

Committing to Auburn one of best days of Calvin Ashley’s young life

It’s easy to see why the 6-6, 31o-pound Ashley is a natural fit on the Plains. He excels at run blocking – locking up his matchup and driving him down the field. Ashley told SDS that he’s very familiar with Auburn’s pace and their zone blocking scheme.

Another intelligent prospect, Ashley has drawn comparisons to former Tiger Greg Robinson. Auburn has three holes to fill on its line, meaning Ashley could see the field early.

5. Austin Deculus, LSU – No. 10 OT, No. 48 overall

Austin Deculus

Highlights:

LSU has a knack for strong line play, as is evident by their No. 1 ranking in Pro Football Focus’ list of best protectors.

They added to that tradition by signing Austin Deculus out of Cypress, Texas, who looks to be next in the long list of franchise tackles in Baton Rouge.

Another prospect who already possesses SEC size in high school, Deculus measures 6-6, 331 pounds. He combines that size with remarkable consistency and an angry disposition, stabilizing a line that looked outmatched in most of his highlights.

Deculus was solid in pass protection but he really displayed that prototypical LSU toughness when run-blocking. He was like a one-man refuge for his running back on the edge, moving the pile with his strong arms and solid base. The 4-star prospect also displays a high motor, plunging through to the line to block linebackers and DBs on the second level. Putting defenders on their back seemed to be his goal on every running play.

Ed Orgeron has established a culture of physicality in Baton Rouge, and the no-nonsense Deculus will fit right in.

*All rankings  from 247 Sports composite

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