DBU! DBU! It’s time to get down to every LSU fan’s favorite unit to discuss, as we get to puff out our chest with pride and proclaim our greatness… so long as we pay absolutely no attention to last year’s results.
1. Alabama: The Tide have three players on the preseason All-SEC team, one on each of the three teams. It’s well-earned. Bama allowed a staggering 50% completion rate last year, and their PD/Comp rate was near 40%. That low completion rate is on the defensive backs, not just the pass rush.
2. Florida: Jalen Tabor led the SEC last year in pass defended and pass break ups. He returns this year along with two other starters to anchor a pass defense that allowed 6 yards/attempt. The Gators have question marks all over their roster, but not in the defensive backfield.
3. Georgia: Did you know the Dawgs posted the lowest passer rating allowed in the SEC last year? They also allowed under 6 yards/attempt, and allowed a completion rate of 51.7%. SEC interception leader Dominick Sanders returns. This was a phenomenal pass defense, and three starters return.
4. Mizzou: All four of the top pass defenses from last year return three starters, which includes Mizzou. This understates Mizzou, as they allowed the lowest yds/att in the SEC (5.7) despite giving up a rather high number of completion (61.9%). Not as stacked with stars as the other top units, they instead had to settle for having the best pass defense in the conference without any plaudits.
5. LSU: On talent alone, it is a top unit. Jamal Adams and Tre White are stars, and the unit returns four starters, and somehow will make space for some more playmakers. He’s the rub: this unit wasn’t that good as its press clippings last year. LSU allowed a passer rating of 122.83, twelfth in the SEC. TWELFTH. LSU allowed 6.4 yds/att, just a hair over SEC average. They allowed 22 passing TD’s, 13th in the SEC. And the DB’s only got to an average number of balls. This was a mediocre unit on a below average pass defense, a far cry from what we’ve experienced near every year under Miles, and a huge reason why Steele no longer is employed here.
6. Texas A&M: An under the radar unit that was surprisingly effective. A&M only allowed 6.1 yds/att and allowed a 10/11 TD/INT ratio. The Aggies allowed too many completions, and graduate half of the unit, but this should be a solid unit on a questionable defense.
7. Tennessee: Cameron Sutton is getting plaudits as a 1st team All-SEC DB, which is amazing for a guy who only broke up 6 passes and had 1 pick. In limited time, Mosely and Martin were more productive. Tennessee had a low completion percentage allowed but a huge yds/att, which indicates they give up a lot of big plays. There’s a lot of potential here, but it’s yet to be realized.
8. Vanderbilt: Another quiet, solid unit for the Dores, only this one was absolutely snack bit by awful luck. They only turned 10% of pass deflections into interceptions, an extremely low rate. They should turn that around a bit and have another middle of the pack pass defense.
9. Ole Miss: A unit that was nowhere near as good as its rep last season, and now has suffered massive personnel losses. Ole Miss was right with LSU in its numbers, only allowing a higher completion percentage and one more touchdown. There’s an expectation that Tony Conner’s health suddenly makes them an elite unit again. It doesn’t, and they never were.
10. Auburn: Auburn had a pretty good pass defense last season, but returns just one starter from that unit. And pretty good is a long way from being a great unit. Rebuilding, but there is some talent.
11. Mississippi St.: The next four units should dominate the bottom of our ballots, in some order. There’s a pretty steep drop to here, and the bottom four were all different shades of lousy.
12. Kentucky: An awful pass defense that might have been maxing out its talent, which is even more terrifying. The DB’s had pretty high ratios despite not being able to stop anyone from passing all over the place.
13. Arkansas: The Hogs allowed 8.2 yds/att. I can’t even describe how terrible that is, nor their 141.7 passer rating against. They only avoid the basement because they return three starters and surely the experience will lead to some improvement, right?
14. South Carolina: Teams completed 65.7% of their passes for 7.3 yds/att, and a rating of 134.77. And help is not on the way. That’s awful.
1. LSU: #NotSuspect. Yes, there was a down season last year, but six of the top seven return here, and that includes two freshmen that are not freshmen anymore and maybe the best safety in the country. A new defense that will make things a bit simpler in the secondary. No more checks and adjustments before each play, and that should cut down on the coverage busts we saw last season. I also have a feeling that the move of Tre’davious White to nickel may really pay off, because it’s going to be a lot harder for quarterbacks to avoid him.
2. Alabama: Three starters back, including the rare Alabama player that seems to be a little overlooked in Minkah Fitzpatrick. I feel like this unit was a little covered up by Bama’s dominant front seven last year, but you have to give the devil his due at this point.
3. Georgia: It’s weird to think of Georgia as a sneaky anything, and that’s probably because they fired their coach, but this secondary was really good last year and it returns three starters.
4. Florida: This group hasn’t met the hype in recent years to me. Maybe it’s because I watched Brandon Harris have maybe his best game of the season last year against them, but I just wasn’t impressed. That said, they were great too many other times to ignore, especially Jalen Tabor. Can’t all be #DBU.
5. Tennessee: This unit should climb in the ratings with the experience returning. Cam Sutton gets by on his return accolades a bit, but overall this unit should benefit from the improved pass-rush as well.
6. Mizzou: Not the most dynamic of units, but they do their jobs well and limit big plays. You pair that with the pass-rush the Other Other Tigers have had the last few years, it makes for a strong defense.
7. Texas A&M: This unit made a big statistic turnaround, but when you give up 200 yards a game on the ground, right away people aren’t going to pass much. That said, this secondary finds a way to avoid the big play, and lets the pass-rush help them out.
8. Ole Miss: I’m going to count Tony Connor in this unit even though he’s kind of a safety/linebacker hybrid. It’s not an incredibly dynamic group, but the Rebels do a nice job of hiding that.
9. Vanderbilt: The Commodores just don’t have the athletes to handle the better receivers in the conference, but they do their best to make you work for it, and turns out if you can just slow down passing attacks enough, college kids will make mistakes. Who knew?
10. Auburn: Rudy Ford’s grandchildren will have nightmares about Leonard Fournette.
11. Mississippi St.: Man, State has really fallen off in this area after a nice run of success with guys like Jonathan Banks, Darius Slay and Will Redmond.
12. Kentucky: The Wildcats have recruited better here than you’d think, and they just don’t have anything to show for it.
13. Arkansas: This is a secondary that wants to sit with two deep safeties and prevent the big play, and they were dead last in the league in pass plays of 20 yards or more. That’s not good.
14. South Carolina: I really hope they give Will Muschamp at least some time to bring in some talent here, because there just isn’t much.
1. LSU: No one has more talent. Not in the division, conference, or nation. And Poseur's point about it costing Steele his job is key. He was the issue. Aranda has simplified things, the coverage busts should go away and they were still 12th in defensive passing S&P+. They're gonna be good.
2. Alabama: One of the best in the country last year. And now Eddie Jackson is back for his 10th freaking year, alongside Minkah Fitzpatrick who was very good as a true freshman, showing impressive ball hawking skills. They're good.
3. Florida: They seemed a tad overhyped last year and part of that may be because they brought it on themselves. Hargreaves is gone, but Jalen Tabor is very good and they have some experience back from a unit that was 7th in defensive passing S&P+ in the nation.
4. Georgia: Very solid last year and not going to get any worse with Kirby Smart in charge of that defense. Not the most notable names, but they get results and are experienced.
5. Missouri: Knocked a bit behind Florida and Georgia because of inferior talent, but Top 20 in Passing S&P+ and no one put up big passing numbers on them last season
6. Tennessee: They were a little young and raw last year, but still were solid at 43 in Passing S&P+. A notch below the Top 5, but still good. Should improve.
7. Texas A&M: There's a good bit of experience coming back, Armani Watts is a tremendous tackler, ranking 1st in solo tackles in the SEC. They were also 2nd in Passing S&P+ in the country, but there's context to that which Billy mentions. Teams didn't need to pass on them because it'd be silly with how poorly they defend the run.
8. Ole Miss: A lot of the talent that was here the last couple years has moved on and we'll see how they respond. Which is sort of the story of the Rebs as a team. But Tony Connor is good and they were solid last year.
9. Vanderbilt: Same thing with every other Vandy defensive unit. Better than you think, play hard, don't let you beat them, very productive. But they're not talented and there's only so far you can get in CFB if you're just not as talented.
10. Auburn: They weren't as bad as you thought. Weren't great. But Muschamp did do some okay things with this unit. Of course now they're coached by Kevin Steele.
11. Mississippi St.: The Manny Diaz recovery tour did some solid work in Starkville and they performed adequately, but the talent here just isn't as good as it used to be.
12. Kentucky: Mark Stoops will break through one day. Or he won't. Probably won't, because teams are gonna throw on them a lot.
13. South Carolina: Not as bad as Arkansas!
14. Arkansas: Worse than South Carolina!
Wow, I balled Poseur's ranks up and threw them in the trash. Thank God this is a democracy. But Jake's not old enough to vote, so really this is just the Billy and Paul show. Thanks for playing everyone. I'm considering returning starters and production, but also pure talent as young DBs tend to play early and play well.
1. Alabama: Okay, I can jive with the Pose man here. Humphrey and Fitzpatrick have a claim as the conference's best corner duo. Eddie Jackson has proven to be one of those lower ranked recruits the school's thought highly of for a reason. LSU would have loved to have him playing opposite Jamal Adams these past few years.
2. LSU: 5th, Poseur? To me, you are penalizing them far too harshly for getting Kevin Steeled. The secondary has been good to great near exclusively for the past several years. Last year's primary issue was something we all knew coming in: confusion. Steele's defenses have a history of complexity and confusion on the back end that once again rang true in 2015. Enter Dave Aranda, the Sensei of Simplicity. Aranda's style is much more conducive to LSU's highly athletic "turn em loose" DBs. White is underrated and shifting to a formation-verstaile tour de force. Adams is already great and should further improve as a team leader. Kevin Toliver shined as a freshman the sky is the limit. The biggest issue is solving for the other safety spot, and frankly between veterans like Rickey Jefferson (who is reportedly in the best shape of his career), John Battle and Dwayne Thomas to young talents like Saivion Smith, Eric Monroe, Kristian Fulton... it will be more surprising if they don't find a passable, if not excellent, solution.
3. Texas A&M: Okay, hear me out. A&M had the 2nd highest Passing S&P+ in the conference behind Alabama last season. They will have arguably the top pass rush this season, definitely the top single pass rusher. The bring in Priest Willis, a top 100 transfer talent. They return 3 starters and 4 guys with deep experience. And Chavis has a nice history of coaching successful secondaries. I think this is the group my colleagues are farthest off on.
After my top 3, I'd like to point out that even though the SEC isn't a great passing conference, I even further punish the SEC East which didn't feature one true passing threat in 2015. Even the much heralded Josh Dobbs has numbers downright similar to Brandon Harris through the air. It's easier to play pass defense when you don't have to worry about stopping the pass much.
4. Georgia: Smart is a good defensive mind and they return a lot. There's almost zero name power here, but there's a nice collective with returning experience and a good defensive coordinator. Front 7 losses could make them drop.
5. Tennessee: I'm not overly keen on the "Tennessee leap into greatness", but I do like this secondary. Justin Martin/Cameron Sutton are a good corner combo. Remember, LSU wanted Martin to come in last season and fill the corner spot that wound up going to Toliver. Todd Kelly is a safety coming into his own and Nigel Warrior should be an instant impact player. Poseur knocks them for Y/A but doesn't penalize his no. 1 team, Bama, nearly as harshly, for similar performance (6.3 to 6.1).
6. Florida: I can buy this group, but it'll be interesting to see with the talent depletion up front and the loss of Hargreaves. For that reason I punish them from top 3 down to 6th. I like Tabor a lot, and Marcus Maye is one of the most athletic guys in the conference, but they simply lack the talent depth options of other programs. I could see this group taking a further, because I still think people are seriously underestimating the talent loss in their front seven.
7. Missouri: My colleagues are high on this unit. I'm ready to take the full insults that come with what I'm about to say: I've never heard of a single player in their defensive backfield two deep. So yeah, I pin Missouri's pass defense success on a really good front 7, including 1st round pick Shane Ray. Hey, I'm a talent guy. I punish those that lack. I can't drop Missouri to the bottom half because of production reasons, but man, I don't get the hype.
8. Ole Miss: I like Tony Connor and CJ Hampton. Lack of depth hurts here. They are just an average type group that will suffer more with front 7 losses.
9. Vanderbilt: Basically like Missouri lite. A surprisingly effective pass defense without any notable talent.
10. Mississippi St.: Kinda dig the Buckley and Sirmon hires. And they have a guy named Tolando Cleveland for god's sake, but man, not much here.
11. Auburn: Kevin Steele almost got Les Miles fired. This year he will try Gus Malzahn. Bielema next?
12. South Carolina: I give them the Muschamp boost. That's good for two shit tokens in a meaningless ranking.
13. Arkansas: The secondary ain't really their thing.
14. Kentucky: Calipari should have them in the tournament hunt again.
Well, wasn’t that fun? Before we get into my #DBU apostasy, I do find it interesting that Paul makes a case based upon talent for LSU and against A&M, then turns into a stat maven for Texas A&M, then back to ignoring the stats for Tennessee. It’s a bizarre, all over the map approach. #shotsfired
So make sure you send your hate mail to me. But here’s the thing: my method on every positional group has not wavered. I look at the stats, rate the returning starters, throw in a dash of talent evaluation, and then make my rankings accordingly. No one had much of a problem with it when the same method downgraded Alabama’s LB corps.
It’s entirely possible, even likely, Paul is right. Last year’s struggles were entirely due to Steele making things too complex. Now, we’ll let pure talent run free in a simple system, and we’ll go back to prior results. But in support of Mizzou, “Show me.” LSU’s defensive backs were awful last year. On straight production, they are down there in that bottom tier, but I gave them a talent bump to get them where they are. Everyone else decided to entirely ignore last year’s results and look solely at the talent on hand, which is impressive.
But I’ve never made my ratings based upon talent evaluation. They have always been founded upon statistical production, and it would be the height of dishonesty for me to overrule the stats in favor of LSU when I haven’t done it for other teams in the past. But, in the end, my dissent meant nothing…
6 Texas A&M
8 Ole Miss
11 Mississippi St.
13 South Carolina