Ranking SEC O-line depth charts for 2017
We continue our series of depth chart rankings, this time moving to the offensive line. Because of the fluid nature of positions on the line, we’re not listing players, but have tried to name some relevant guys from 2016 who won’t return and one significant player who will be back. Let’s get to it.
14. South Carolina: Loses — Mason Zandi. Returns — Jr. G Zack Bailey
Carolina was the SEC’s worst line in 2016, allowing the most QB sacks (41) and ending up with the next-to-worst ground game in the league (134 yards per game, 3.7 yards per carry). They lose only one starter, and the rest of the group is a year older, but the Gamecocks’ ability to climb the ladder of the SEC East will be mostly built off getting this group to overachieve.
13. Ole Miss: Loses — Robert Conyers. Returns — Soph. T Greg Little
Ole Miss disappointed in 2016. The Rebels were 12th in the league in rushing, and the line allowed 26 sacks. Senior center Conyers was competent, but there is more talent. Little was one of the most recruited players in the nation in 2016, and will need to make strides in 2017.
12. Vanderbilt: Loses — Will Holden, Barrett Gouger. Returns — Jr. T Justin Skule
Vandy didn’t have a great line in 2016, managing just 165 yards per game on the ground and allowing 32 sacks. (Makes you appreciate Ralph Webb’s consistent greatness all the more.) Will Holden, a second team coaches’ All-SEC pick, and tenacious center Gouger are out of elibibility. Vandy will return the other three starters, but probably lost the two best players off a relatively poor line.
11. Arkansas: Loses — Dan Skipper. Returns — Sr. C Frank Ragnow (pictured)
The Razorbacks uncharacteristically struggled up front in 2016, finishing tied for 10th in the conference in rushing, with just 4.1 yards per carry and next to last in QB protection, as they allowed 35 sacks. Mammoth senior tackle Dan Skipper, a consensus first team All-SEC choice, is finished in Fayetteville.
If Arkansas is looking to build, they should start with second team AP All-SEC center Ragnow, a 6-5, 319-pound bowling ball in the middle, who was actually ranked as the best center in the nation by Pro Football Focus. He’ll need plenty of help.
10. Georgia: Loses — Brandon Kublanow, Greg Pyke, Tyler Catalina. Returns — Sr. T Isaiah Wynn (pictured)
The Dogs’ line was a bit underwhelming in 2016, managing just 191 yards per game on the ground (4.7 yards per carry) despite having Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Georgia also allowed 24 sacks, which is fairly average. UGA lost three senior starters. Wynn (6-2, 280) is relatively small and mobile, but has the speed to help UGA spring long runs on the outside of the defense.
This might be the weakest position group on the UGA team, and some newcomers will need to step up in a big way. That’s why Kirby Smart made it a priority on the recruiting trail.
9. Mississippi State: Loses — Jamaal Clayborn, Devon Desper, Justin Senior. Returns — Sr. T Martinas Rankin
State had the Rodney Dangerfield line of the SEC. They had no All-SEC players, but still averaged 231 rushing yards per game, with 5.6 yards per carry. They also allowed just 18 sacks. Unfortunately, three senior starters are gone. Rankin was a highly regarded JUCO who is a returning starter at tackle. There will be lots of unfamiliar faces beside him next year.
8. Florida: Loses — None. Returns — Jr. G Martez Ivey, Soph. Jawaan Taylor
Florida’s line is one of those odd situations where the parts look better individually than collectively. UF had the worst running game in the SEC (128 yards per game, 3.7 yards per carry) and struggled in pass protection (28 sacks allowed). The good news is that they lost virtually no one, and return some talented veterans including consensus second team All-SEC guard Ivey (6-5, 305), who is a handful in short-yardage situations. Don’t be surprised if Florida bookends him at tackle with Taylor, a freshman All-American. This group could be much better — or they could underachieve again.
7. Tennessee: Loses — Dylan Wiesman. Returns — Sr. G Jashon Robertson
Tennessee’s line was an early source of frustration in 2016, placing them in the middle of the league in rushing and pass protection stats. Guard Wiesman is the only player who won’t be back, and in 2017, UT is likely to start three seniors, including Robertson (6-3, 305), who was SEC All-freshman in 2014. Injuries in recent years have forced Tennessee to develop depth, but the Vols didn’t have a single All-SEC lineman in 2016.
6. Texas A&M: Loses — Avery Gennesy, Jermaine Eluemunor. Returns — Soph. C Eric McCoy
One of the surprises of 2016 was the development of the run game in College Station. A&M went from 150 rushing yards per game in 2014 to 169 in 2015 all the way to 212 in 2016. They allowed only 21 sacks, and generally were a solid unit. Gennesy was an All-SEC pick (coaches’ first team) and Eluemunor played well inside. The main returning man is center McCoy, who was incredibly consistent in opening inside running lanes, and hopes to do so again in 2017.
5. Kentucky: Loses — Jon Toth, Ramsey Meyers. Returns — Sr. G Nick Haynes
Kentucky ran the ball remarkably well in 2016, 234 yards per game, good for third in the SEC. Much of the credit went to coaches second team All-SEC pick Toth at center, but it was truly a group effort. Toth and sometime starter Ramsey Meyers are gone, but an experienced group returns, led by Haynes, (6-3, 316), a mobile guard who can show a mean streak when needed. Kentucky might not equal those rushing stats in 2017, but it might cut down on the 28 QB sacks allowed.
4. Auburn: Loses — Alex Kozan, Robert Leff, Xavier Dampeer. Returns — Sr. G Braden Smith
The Tigers rushed for an astounding 271 yards per game in 2016, and allowed just 19 sacks. Unfortunately, two full-time starters and a part-time starter are gone, including All-SEC picks Kozan (first-team AP, second-team coaches) and Leff (second-team AP). The interior has been a strength, and Smith (below) was a 2016 All-SEC pick who could star in 2017.
3. Missouri: Loses — None. Returns — Sr. T Tyler Howell
Mizzou was one of the SEC’s biggest surprises in 2016, paving the way for 205 yards per game on the ground, and allowing an SEC-least 14 sacks, despite employing a passing offense. The Tigers also lose virtually no one, and should have a solid group for 2017. Howell, a JUCO transfer who had an excellent year in 2016, could be a key to the group from his spot at left tackle.
2. LSU: Loses — Ethan Pocic, Josh Boutte. Returns — Jr. G Will Clapp
LSU’s tough line helped the Tigers rush for 233 yards per game on a conference high 6.1 yards per carry. The Tigers allowed just 19 sacks, tied for third fewest in the conference. Pocic was a star at center, earning first-team All-SEC by the coaches and the AP. Boutte was a gigantic (6-5, 346) veteran, who earned second-team All-SEC recognition from the AP. Clapp was much smaller (a mere 6-5, 309), but earned freshman All-American honors in 2015 and was chosen first team All-SEC by the coaches. The Tigers will be fine, but Pocic was probably the best center in the league.
1. Alabama: Loses — Alphonse Taylor, Cam Robinson. Returns — Soph. T Jonah Williams
As usual, Alabama will be tough up front. The Tide averaged 38.8 points per game in 2016, and the line paved the way for 245 rushing yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry. The Tide did allow 25 sacks, which was a middle of the pack figure for the SEC. Taylor was a solid senior and Robinson was an all-SEC performer and early NFL Draft entrant. Williams is a massive tackle (6-5, 296) who was second-team AP All-SEC as a true freshman. Guard Ross Pierschbacher was also second-team AP All-SEC, and will also return.