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SEC Positional Rankings: The Secondary

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What is pass defense anyway?

Not even Vernon Hargreaves can stop Jarvis Landry
Not even Vernon Hargreaves can stop Jarvis Landry
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

This week, we turn our attention to defensive backs. The email we got about the schedule lists this as "CB", but I'm assuming we're supposed to rank the entire secondary. It seems odd to just rate corners and not the entire defensive backfield. So I'm going with secondaries, and if we're wrong to do it this way... oh well. Wouldn't be the first time.

Poseur

The two major stats I'm looking at last year were passing yards/game (and yards/attempt) and percentage of passes defended (PBU + INT). I'm looking to see, essentially, how easy it was to pass on a defense, and then how much of that was the secondary's fault. Last year, the average SEC secondary successfully defended a little over 14% of pass attempts with a ratio of 24% of passes defended to completions.

1 FLORIDA

The Gators had their issues last year, but the secondary was not one of them. Florida had the best pass defense in the SEC, and it was not a statistical mirage. They also led the SEC in pass defended percentage (17.87%) and had the highest ratio of PD to completions (35.85%). The Gators also return Vernon Hargreaves, III who was already the best defensive back in the conference as a freshman. A pretty solid top pick.

2 LSU

Bama and LSU were neck-and-neck in secondary production last year, and both units return three starters. LSU allowed 17 more yards passing a game than Bama, but faced over three more attempts per game. The difference here is in who they lose: Clinton-Dix versus Loston. Also, while Rashard Robinson is not technically a returning starter, he took over the job by the end of the season. LSU's secondary greatly improved as the season went on, and it should continue this season as they have solidified the roster back there and handed the keys to White and Robinson.

3 BAMA

Bama is still awesome, though. Landon Collins is already a star, and he anchors a pretty tough unit that returns almost all of its talent. It's nearly impossible to throw on Bama. The loss of Clinton-Dix hurts, but there's a bunch of young studs ready to take over.

4 TENNESSEE

The Vols had a pretty good secondary last year and they return all four starters, but there's a pretty wide gap between the top three and the rest of the SEC. Cameron Sutton emerged as a freshman, and he's now the anchor of the unit. They allowed 211 yards/game and were just above average in pass defended percentage. It's a unit they can rely on.

5 OLE MISS

A bit of an enigma. The Rebels only allowed 215 yards/game, but their percentages were terrible. Ole Miss' backfield were well below average in passes defended. However, they return Cody Prewitt, the SEC's interception leader, as well as all three other starters. This tells me everybody not named Prewitt needs to start pulling their weight.

6 AUBURN

Auburn surrendered a ton of passing yards last year, though part of that was opponents averaged over 35 attempts a game. That's a ton. Then again, when you see a weakness, exploit it. The Tigers have plenty of talent back there and Jonathan Mincy is the returning SEC leader in passes defended. It was an average unit that looked worse than it was due to the number of attempts.

7 TEXAS A&M

Pretty much precisely like Auburn. They allowed a boatload of yards as well, and their percentages were just about even with the Tigers. They return Deshazor Everett, who is getting pub as a 1st team All-SEC player, but I'm not as high on him as everyone else.

8 MISSISSIPPI ST

They only allowed 205.2 yards/game last year and they return three starters from that unit. Jamerson Love is another DB who emerged as a freshman last season. They return three starters, so it should be another year of solid, anonymous production in Starkville.

9 GEORGIA

A thoroughly mediocre unit last year that returns its best player in Damian Swann. Probably not going to improve to the point that is among the conference elite, but has enough experience and talent to not flirt with the basement either.

10 SOUTH CAROLINA

This was one of the better units last season, but they are losing their two most productive players. Spurrier stocks the cupboard enough that there shouldn't be too much of a dip, but there will be a dip in production.

11 MIZZOU

They let up a ton of yards, but they also pick off a ton of passes. They also allow 40.5 attempts a game, as they seem to delight in video game scores. The Tigers return one starter, but Braylon Webb was their best defensive back last year. So there's that.

12 ARKANSAS

They give up a lot of yards on not very many attempts, they don't make many plays, and they allow an incredibly high completion percentage. Other than that, they were great. They return three starters, so maybe some improvement is in order with some experience.

13 VANDERBILT

One of the best secondaries in the SEC last season has been gutted by graduation. Vanderbilt returns zero starters. Hope they enjoyed those productive defenses in Nashville.

14 KENTUCKY

The Cats return all four starters from a unit that was cover-your-eyes awful. They allowed nearly 230 yard/game, and only successfully defended 9.23% of pass attempts. The second worst team in the SEC had a 12.90% PD rate. Opposing QB's had a passer rating of 154.54 and completed over 65% of their passes. It's hard to conceptualize just how awful their secondary was last year. And now they get an encore performance. This isn't just the worst secondary in the SEC, this may be the single worst personnel group at any position in the SEC.

Billy

I'm a big mark for pass defense efficiency ratings, particularly yards-per-attempt, and completion rate. If you're making quarterbacks work to complete passes and limiting big plays, chances are your secondary is doing a good job even if they're not gobbling up interceptions.

1. LSU -- White and Robinson are superstars in the making outside, and Jalen Mills was a stabilizing force for this unit once he moved back to safety.

2. Florida -- Vernon Hargreaves may be the best freshman corner I've seen since Patrick Peterson, but the Gators lost a lot off of last year's stellar unit. Enough that I can't give them the top spot.

3. Ole Miss -- The Rebs deploy the three-safety defense as well as anybody, and Cody Prewitt/Tony Connor are as good a combination as anybody can trot out.|

4. Alabama -- Landon Collins has every tool in the shed for a safety, and Jarrick Williams has been around the block so he should work in fine. But corner's a bit of a question mark here.

5. Tennessee -- Four starters back off a unit that managed to be middle of the pack with an absentee front seven.

6. Auburn -- Jonathan Mincy's status is a concern, but Poseur's right -- this unit was a bit better than it appeared due to the number of attempts they faced. I'm kind of curious to see how former big-time receiver prospect Trovon Reed transitions to corner. The schedule gives him some time to grow into the job.

7. Mississippi State -- Not a great unit, but one that has a very good front seven and three starters back.

8. South Carolina -- Two starters back, and the Gamecocks have done a nice job of breaking in new corners under Lorenzo Ward.

9. Texas A&M -- The Aggies have three starters back off a group that intercepted 17 passes, but also allowed 31 touchdowns and 7.6 yards per attempt (11th in the league last season).

10. Georgia -- This was the unit that got Todd Grantham shipped off to Louisville. Only one starter returns for a new DC, but the Bulldogs have recruited too well for me to think they stay down too long.

11. Missouri -- Graduation is a bitch for this whole defense, but particularly the back end.

12.  Arkansas -- There's not much to like here, and this was a secondary last year that actually had a decent pass-rush in front of it.

13. Vanderbilt -- Like Poseur said, a nice unit last season that lost everything.

14. Kentucky -- I'm not sure they even want their four starters back.

Paul

Pass defense is always tough to gauge, and something that can wildly swing from year to year. You can feature modest talent in the secondary if your front seven can get after the passer. You can defend the pass well, even without much a pass rush. There's a deep interplay there. There's also philosophical defenses. Some predicate on snuffing out the passing game completely while others accept more passing success for the gain of turnovers. But we're evaluating the DBs here. DB is a spot young guys excel at all the time. In fact, the two best corners in the conference are likely true sophomores.

1) Florida

They probably have the best CB in the conference, maybe the nation, and who cares what else. Florida's ranked top 6 in pass defense in the SEC, and top 20 nationally, every year since 2008. Change coaches, change personnel, doesn't seem to matter.

2) LSU

Tre White is just behind Hargreaves for stud conference corners, and the LSU pass d outperformed most units last year. I'd consider White and Mills the only established studs here, but there's too many talented guys for this unit to not end up being awesome. Could very well be no. 1.

3) Alabama

What LSU is to safety, so is Bama to CB. They need to find some bodies here, but they always churn out good units and certainly feature some of the best talent in the conference.

4) Tennessee

Tennessee was young last year and still played pretty well. Now they infuse their secondary with even more talent, including early enrollee Todd Kelly Jr.

5) South Carolina

3rd in pass D in 2013, and 3rd in INTs, so why not? They should be solid.

6) Auburn

Aw hell, you could pass all over them in 2013, but they return two starters who are now Seniors, as well as JUCO S, that should boost them up some. Trovon Reed at CB is... interesting.

7) State

Not otherwise noteworthy, but they return a ton of experience, so should be a solid, middle of the pack unit.

8) A&M

Like Auburn, they were an open invitation to be passed on in 2013, but there's some talent here and should be helped with their overall improvement on D.

9) Ole Miss

It's the Cody Prewitt show and not much else. Tony Conner looks to be very good, and they were decent in all phases last year, but nothing really screams to me here.

10) Georgia

I'll give UGA the benefit of the doubt on talent alone here, because they were god awful last year.

11) Mizzou

They always seem to find players. Opportunistic last year, despite being able to slow the passing game.

12) Vandy

They were very good last year and lost everyone, but I believe in Derek Mason.

13) Arkansas

They are bad and didn't find instant answers like some conference mates that did.

14) Kentucky

Defense and rebounding are a little suspect, but they should be able to score...

Sorry, yeah, they suck.

Poseur

OK, Billy and I cast our votes before Ole Miss lost half of their secondary to injury. I don't think it affects the voting too much, but I put in a bit of penalty, which dropped Ole Miss a spot in our combined rankings if you were checking my math at home.*

*Why are you checking my math? Really. Get a life. This isn't that important.

With that caveat, our votes pretty much line up, except for Paul and I disagreeing on South Caroline. Other than that, there's almost total consensus on every vote.

1 Florida
2 LSU
3 Alabama
4 Tennessee
5 Auburn
6 Ole Miss
7 Mississippi St
8 South Carolina
9 Texas A&M
10 Georgia
11 Mizzou
12 Arkansas
13 Vanderbilt

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14 Kentucky