The SEC is often referred to as a “line-of-scrimmage league.” The battle up front between the offensive and defensive lines often dictates which team has control of the game.

Many linemen need a year of physical and mental maturity before starting in the SEC. Andrew Thomas, on the other hand, was a 15-game starter at tackle, earning Freshman All-America recognition from ESPN, USA TODAY and the Football Writers Association of America. A standout freshman season for an SEC offensive lineman was a solid indication that Thomas wouldn’t be in Athens long. He declared early for the NFL after his junior season and is now projected as a first-round pick in the upcoming draft.

As a three-year starter in the SEC, Thomas regularly battled NFL-caliber defensive linemen, so it’s no surprise that when he was asked to name the toughest players he faced, he named two pros and two future pros.

“I would say Jeff Holland. Derrick Brown. DaRon Payne freshman year. This year, K’Lavon Chaisson from LSU,” Thomas told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

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Holland, who played at Auburn from 2015-17, has bounced around the league as a former undrafted free agent. After a monster 2019 season, Brown, another Auburn Tiger, is getting talked about as a potential top-10 pick. Payne, a former No. 13-overall pick in 2018, is gearing up for his third season with the Washington Redskins.

In the SEC Championship Game, Chaisson recorded four tackles, including a sack, and a pass defended against the Bulldogs. He is currently ranked No. 21 on Mel Kiper Jr.’s Big Board.