The powers that be at SB Nation have asked each of the SEC blogs to vote on the best positional units in the SEC. Seeing as none of us can agree on anything, we are pooling our vote as one. Also, we get some easy columns out of the deal, and then I just submit my own ballot anyway. Don't tell the other guys.
We kick things off with the Defensive Lines. Take it away, Billy.
I feel like there really aren't any units loaded down with multiple proven guys. Sure, a lot of schools have recruited well at the position, but they're just thin on guys that have proven it. Especially with Auburn possibly losing Carl Lawson for the year. They have Gabe Wright, but who else? Florida's in the same boat with Dante Fowler, LSU with Danielle Hunter or Arkansas with Trey Flowers.
Oddly enough, I really think Mississippi State's group is about to break through with Chris Jones (I'll call it now and say he'll be the conference's best lineman by the end of the year), Kaleb Eulls and Preston Smith. Ole Miss has lot back, but they're still building depth behind their first group.|
But if we're putting pen to paper and ranking 'em:
7. Ole Miss
11. South Carolina
14. Texas A&M
The potential loss of Lawson really hurts Auburn. We're not sure if he's out for the year or not, but he is going to miss significant time and I think it very well could end up being the entire season. That takes Auburn out of what was sure to be the #1 spot for me.
When three of the guys repeatedly showing up on the Pre-Season All-SEC lists are guys who haven't really done anything yet (Robinson at Bama, Nkemdiche at Ole Miss, and Jones at MSU), you know it's a bit of a down year. All of those guys are extremely talented and have shown flashes of brilliance, but none are a complete player who keeps you up at night... yet. For all of the talk about how much QB talent the SEC loss, the attrition at defensive line was just as big. Of the top 10 DL in sacks last season, only four return, and none from the top 5. The DL returning sack leader is Alvin Dupree of Kentucky (his partner in crime, Za'Darius Smith, is also a top 10 returnee). That's right, Kentucky has the same number of top ten sack leaders returning than the rest of the SEC combined.
Of course, guys will step up, they always do, especially in a conference as stacked with blue chip prospects as the SEC. When ranking teams, you have to balance inexperienced yet incredibly high upside teams like Alabama and LSU against solid units returning almost everyone but without quite the same ceiling like Kentucky and Georgia. I think two teams have the best combo of upside and experience, and that's Florida and Missouri. Florida returns one of the best players in the conference in Fowler and a budding star in Bullard. Mizzou loses the SEC Defensive PoY, but also returns Golden, their sack leader, and lots of defensive tackle depth. I agree with Billy on State's mix of depth, experience, and upside, while I completely disagree with him on the quality of Mizzou's line. I think it will be excellent again.
That group at 4-6 all have the potential to end the season ranked #1. They have the most raw talent, and some returning studs, but I'm hedging my bets on each of them. One of them will certainly make me look foolish for ranking them so low, maybe all three.
9. Ole Miss
12. South Carolina
14. Texas A&M
Surprised to see Mizzou at the top of Poseur's list. They'll be near the bottom of mine. Simply put, they lost their two best players, their top two leaders in sacks. We don't know if Markus Golden is anything without having the benefit of playing next two and behind two guys that created a ton of havoc and drew a lot of attention all on their own. Nobody else on that line stands out, either.
It's an interesting mix of groups. I'm not sure there's a standout group. Lots of highly recruited talent, like Billy mentioned, but who emerges? The groups returning the most were also not terribly good last season, so while experience is nice, it's hard for me to support that route.
Auburn had a super deep rotation last year, but losing Dee Ford and now probably Carl Lawson, they won't be quite as strong. Good but not great. Georgia's crew is pretty underrated. Ray Drew managed 6 sacks last year, and they still consider him a backup. Ole Miss has some talent. And I do see the logic in predicting a big year for MSU's line. But you know what? I'm gonna make you all hate me.
The best crew here is Alabama. A'Shawn Robinson is a burgeoning superstar. He recorded 5.5 sacks last season as a true freshman in the SEC. Brandon Ivory is a solid plug in the middle that will allow Robinson and his running mate, Jonathan Allen, more ability to get up field and make plays. I think this could be the biggest playmaking group from the Bama OL in some time. Robinson has Marcel Dareus type of upside. Oh and that's just your starters. They get back DJ Pettway, added Darren Lake, Jarran Reed, and a guy you all may have heard of, Da'Shawn Hand. Honestly, as I typed this out it became clear to me how this is the clear cut best group in the conference.
The rest after them have too many questions of depth or lack of experience.
7) Ole Miss
12) South Carolina
I'll just say that Mizzou returns two ends in Golden and Ray who combined for 11 sacks and 22 TFL's. they also return every single member of last year's two-deep at defensive tackle. Yes, they lost Sam and Ealy, but they retain everybody else, and the two backups at end were both extremely productive. I see no drop off and even improvement. The problem is the rest of their defense.
The final ballot:
3. Mississippi State
7. Ole Miss
11. South Carolina
14. Texas A&M