The SEC’s co-leaders in interceptions last season return, but otherwise, there is a lot of transition in the defensive backfields. Still, there’s enough familiar names from last season, as about half of the players with at least ten passes defended return to the fold.
1. LSU. The Tigers’ pass defense last year was fourth in yards/attempt and second in passer rating allowed, and it was primarily the responsibility of the secondary, which had more interceptions than TDs allowed and being the only SEC defense to notch a pass defense on over 20 percent of each 100 attempts. Two corners are gone, hurting depth, but everyone else is back from one of the best secondaries in the nation.
2. Georgia. DeAndre Baker is an active corner with 12 passes defended last season and J.R. Reed was an active tackler as a safety. They are the only two starters returning from a unit which allowed one of the lowest yards/attempt.
3. Mississippi State. Safety Mark McLaurin tied for the SEC lead in interceptions. State had an underrated pass defense, and they earned a PD on 18.5 percent of 100 attempts, an elite level.
4. South Carolina. Quietly had an effective pass defense, and they return two of their four starters. They break up a lot of passes, and are dead even in TD/INT ratio.
5. Alabama. The best unit in the SEC last year had insanely great numbers: 5.4 yds/att, 19.95-percent PD/att, 96.79 rating allowed, and an unbelievable 8/19 TD/INT ratio. Here’s the thing: they return zero starters from that unit, and six of the top eight on the depth chart. I know they recruit like mad, but… come on.
6. Auburn. Another elite pass defense that will take a step back due to personnel losses, though it also showed the seams last year. Auburn DBs didn’t get to many balls, so their great pass defense may have been driven more by pass rush.
7. Vanderbilt. A solid, middle-of-the-ack defense which lacks ball hawking skills. However, they do return LaDarius Wiley at safety, the team’s leading tackler last season.
8. Florida. The pretenders to the DBU throne took it on the chin last year. The Gators allowed 8.0 yds/attempt, which is just atrocious. There’s some signs the team is ready to turn it around, and they have some big names in Marco Wilson and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. But those names got lit up like a pinball machine last season.
9. Kentucky. Mike Edwards and Darius West combined for 181 tackles last season. That’s a bit of dubious distinction for a pair of safeties, but they do have the needed ability to bottle up big plays.
10. Ole Miss. The Rebels return all four starters from a unit that was not terribly good last year, but was at least somewhat credible. Should improve but not a whole lot of upside.
11 .Tennessee. They did it with mirrors last year, allowing just 7.0 yds/attempt despite any real contributions from the secondary. It’s going to come crashing down this year.
12. Texas A&M. Allowed 7.5 yds/att, 28 touchdowns,59.8% completion rate and a passer rating of 140. The Aggies return three starters, but is that a good thing?
13. Missouri. Played pass defense a lot like A&M only with less TD’s allowed. However, the secondary had PD/att rate of 11.1% and lack any sort of standout players.
14. Arkansas. Finished dead last in nearly every pass defense category and will try and top that this season by completing the full sweep.
This feels like an area where we’re going to hear a lot of new names this season.
1. LSU. Crazy as it is to think with the potential hole at one cornerback spot, LSU still returns the SEC’s top corner and a freshman All-American at safety. Plus two fifth-year seniors and a ton of four- and five-star talent. Plus a P5 graduate transfer for some extra depth. There’s a question mark at one position, but too many strong potential answers for it.
2. Georgia. Reed and Baker are studs, and Richard LeCounte could be an up-and-comer.
3. Mississippi State. Three starters back from a pretty disruptive group. New coordinator, but you can’t go wrong with experience.
4. Alabama. It’s hard to put a new group this high, but it’s Bama. They certainly don’t have any excuse.
5. South Carolina. Rashad Fenton is better than he seems, and Jamyest Williams could break out.
6. Florida. Trial by fire for this group last year, but Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson could grow from the experience.
7. Kentucky. All four starters are back from a group that quietly did well against a few good teams -- with the exception of two busted coverages versus Florida.
8. Auburn. This entire defense fits what Kevin Steele wants very well. There’s no individual star, but a big group of solid players.
9. Ole Miss. There are some bad groups in this bottom half. Ole Miss can at least hang its hat on having returning starters.
10. Texas A&M. The corners are back, but this group gave up the most touchdowns in the conference last year.
11. Tennessee. Warrior and Abernathy have their moments, but the Volunteers are a ways away from coming back here.
12. Vanderbilt. Joejuan WIlliams is okay, but that’s about it.
13. Arkansas. Defense is where BERT’s problems in recruiting really showed up.
14. Missouri. You’d think practicing against Drew Locke would help a little.
Not much difference in our ballots other than some quibbling over where to put Vanderbilt, but that’s not a huge deal. I think they are average, Billy thinks they are below. average. There’s a chance for some of the usual players to improve, especially Florida if their talent starts to live up to their reputations. We both expect Bama to slip a little bit from their absurd heights of last year, but they will still be stacked with talent and could very well be back at the top of the ratings.
With only two ballots this week, I’ll break ties in favor of the program with the better reputation, however nebulously we want to define that.
3. Mississippi St
5. South Carolina
9. Ole Miss
12. Texas A&M