Ranking 2014 position groups by team: Defensive Backs
Breaking down every team’s roster with an emphasis on experience and potential impact, here’s a team-by-team look at the SEC’s best position groups in the secondary heading into the 2014 season.
Note: These are based on every team’s roster at the cornerback and safety spots, not individual player rankings.
- SEC’s best players by position
- Team Position Rankings: Quarterbacks
- Team Position Rankings: Running Backs
- Team Position Rankings: Wide Receivers
- Team Position Rankings: Offensive Line
- Team Position Rankings: Defensive Line
- Team Position Rankings: Linebackers
- Team Position Rankings: Defensive Backs
14. Kentucky: The Wildcats managed just three interceptions all of the last season — none by cornerbacks — which ranked last in the SEC and tied for worst overall in the FBS ranks. Solid in the front seven, Kentucky’s pass defense was a serious liability with opposing quarterbacks completing passes at a 65.8 percent clip in 2013. Junior Fred Tiller is a returning starter at one corner along with senior Nate Willis. Assistant coach Derrick Ansley has recently incorporated the tennis ball drill to work on improving the secondary’s eye-hand coordination.
13. Vanderbilt: The Commodores, who replace all four starters in the secondary this season, will sorely miss the playmaking ability of corner Andre Hal and safety Kenny Ladler but coach Derek Mason likes the way his players are competing at the back end during camp. Sophomores Torren McGaster and Paris Head will likely start at the corner spots with juniors Jahmel McIntosh and Andrew Williamson at safety. Williamson was a top reserve last season and recorded two interceptions.
12. Arkansas: Veteran starters Tevin Mitchel and Alan Turner anchor the back end for the Razorbacks, a group focused on creating turnovers this season after ranking at the bottom of the SEC in the category last fall. Turner’s back as the team’s leading tackler at safety after posting an impressive 97 stops as a junior including 35 over his final three games. Fourth-year junior safety Rohan Gaines is hoping to return to 2012 form where he was named a Freshman All-American with 75 tackles and four pass break-ups.
11. Georgia: The season opener’s less than two weeks away, but the Bulldogs still haven’t figured out who is starting in the secondary besides senior corner Damian Swann. Shaq Wiggins’ transfer in May and the dismissals of Josh-Harvey Clemons and Tray Matthews this offseason left Georgia with uncertainty at the back end. Reserve Corey Moore’s been forced into a leadership role as a veteran safety. Sheldon Dawson, junior, and sophomore Quincy Mauger will be Jeremy Pruitt’s other two likely picks to start against Clemson.
10. Texas A&M: Reliable cornerback Deshazor Everett kept this unit hanging by a thread last season … barely. The Aggies ranked at the bottom of the SEC in total defense (475.8 yards allowed per game) and gave up six more touchdowns (55) than their nearest competitor. They’re hoping former Nebraska position coach Terry Joseph can spark a change at the back end this fall with a handful of veterans expecting to seize starting spots. Seniors Floyd Raven, Clay Honeycutt and Howard Matthews will split snaps at safety while Everett and De’Vante Harris are locks at the corners. Harris remains out indefinitely with a urinary tract infection, but there’s depth behind at the position including freshmen Armani Watts and Victor Davis.
9. Mizzou: It’s senior safety Braylon Webb’s turn to lead as the only returning starter in a turnover-rich secondary in 2013. Webb has started more games (30) than any other Mizzou player and his leadership will be vital to the Tigers’ success. Replacing playmakers Randy Ponder and E.J. Gaines at the corners is a serious challenge. Gaines was a first-team all-conference pick the last two seasons and likely Gary Pinkel’s best coverman over the last decade. He was selected in the sixth round by the St. Louis Rams. Aarion Penton made two starts last season as a freshman and is one of the defense’s most promising young players.
8. South Carolina: Lorenzo Ward’s decision to move multi-year starter Brison Williams from safety to corner should provide immediate help for the Gamecocks on the boundary since South Carolina’s replacing three out of four starters in the secondary. Al Harris Jr. is the program’s first true freshman starting corner since current Buffalo Bills standout Stephon Gilmore. Safeties Chaz Elder and Chris Moody are on a short leash with experienced hard-hitter Kadetrix Marcus in the picture.
7. Tennessee: Thin on experience in the front seven, the Vols’ secondary doesn’t have that problem. Tennessee returns all four starters at the back end led by rising star sophomore corner Cam Sutton and redshirt junior ballhawk Brian Randolph. True freshman Emmanuel Moseley had an excellent spring and will make an immediate impact as a situational player behind Justin Coleman at corner.
6. Alabama: A position group with much to prove this fall, the Crimson Tide secondary hopes it can make up for the loss of Vinnie Sunseri and HaHa Clinton-Dix starting with junior safety Landon Collins, a Thorpe Award finalist last season. Behind Collins, the mix of corners Tony Brown and Eddie Jackson along with fellow safety Geno Smith will try and keep opponents at bay through the air. Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones are also experienced options at corner. Jackson’s coming off an ACL tear in April but has appeared close to full strength in practice. Nick Saban hasn’t offered a timetable on Jackson’s return, but based on what he’s shown, he could play in the opener against West Virginia.
5. Auburn: The Tigers’ relentless rushing attack covered up some deficiencies on defense last season, especially in the secondary where Auburn was ranked 104th nationally in passing yards allowed per game (260). Based on the camp he’s had, Jermaine Whitehead’s developing into a solid player at free safety. At the boundary, converted running back Johnathan Ford is expected to start in the opener against Arkansas instead of JUCO transfer Derrick Moncrief. Third-year starting corner Jonathon Mincy is Auburn’s most reliable defensive back. He’ll shoulder much of the load early while Robenson Therezie’s eligibility issues are sorted out.
4. Mississippi St.: No team in the SEC has better all-conference potential across the board at the back end than the Bulldogs. Taveze Calhoun and Jamerson Love are two corners who could start for any team in the country while reserve corner Justin Cox could explode in his final season at his new starting safety position. Strong safety Kendrick Market started 12 games as a sophomore and improved as the season progressed, recording 62 stops. He is one of the team’s hardest hitters on special teams as well.
3. LSU: Equipped with perhaps the best cover tandem at the cornerback position in the nation, the Tigers’ defense will be solid at all three levels thanks to star sophomores Rashard Robinson and Tre’Davious White. Les Miles’ decision to lift safety Jalen Mills’ suspension at the start of fall practice provided a major boost at the position. Mills is LSU’s most veteran performer who has started every game in his career (26). As a sophomore in 2013, Mills’ three interceptions tied a team-high with Craig Loston.
2. Florida: No Fly Zone’s not very original, but airspace will be limited against the baby-faced Florida secondary this fall. Sophomore Vernon Hargreaves is developing into one of college football’s top corners, the type of talent a struggling NFL defense will build around in 2016. Veteran Jabari Gorman has settled in to his spot at spot, alongside Marcus Maye. Five-star true freshman Jalen Tabor along with fellow rookie Duke Dawson will more than make up for the loss of Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy. Tabor’s the likely starter with Dawson getting reps as a nickelback.
1. Ole Miss: Fins Up! Keeping your head on a swivel is essential for opposing wideouts this season going against the Ole Miss secondary, a hard-hitting group that picks off any errant throws hurled in its direction. Senior Cody Prewitt led all SEC players with six interceptions last fall and paired with junior Trae Elston headlines the league’s deadliest safety combo. Sophomore Tony Conner made 12 starts at the Husky spot in 2013 and ranked third on the team with 66 tackles. He could be this unit’s most talented player. Reliable corners Senquez Golson and Derrick Jones provide stability on the edges. Losing JUCO corner Tee Shepard to a toe injury was difficult to stomach, but the Rebels have depth at the back end.