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2019 SEC Unit Rankings: Defensive Backs


Louisiana Tech v LSU
This guy? Yeah, this guy.
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

We’re nearing the homestretch in our unit rankings, and now we get to everyone’s favorite argument: who is DBU?

To go about finding the answer, we first start with the overall pass defense. We look at yards allowed per pass attempt, completion percentage, and QB Rating allowed, two big benchmarks on how the passing game performed. Yes, I know I could using S&P+ here, but I like starting with traditional stats and if you want Bill C’s work, you can always go look at it.

But we don’t stop our inquiry at this point. We then have to try and assign some responsibility for the quality of the pass defense because let’s be honest, Mississippi St. had the best pass defense in the conference, and it wasn’t because of the DB’s. It was that ferocious pass rush which ruined quarterbacks.

The gut reaction is to track interceptions, but interceptions are a function of pass break ups. Teams will usually turn 15-20% of their passes defended into interceptions, so we want to look at passes defended first, and then see if those picks are on the high (or low) side.

The average SEC pass defense will get a pass defense (either a PBU or an INT) on roughly 15% of pass attempts. So we’re looking for teams with good pass defenses who are above that 15% barrier… those are your elite pass defenses.

So, who is DBU? Let’s look at the numbers.

2018 SEC Pass Defense

Name Pct. Yards/Att Rating PBU PD PD/Att INT/PD Return
Name Pct. Yards/Att Rating PBU PD PD/Att INT/PD Return
Mississippi State 55.3 5.5 101.47 45 58 14.57% 22.41% 1
LSU 49.7 5.8 103.99 65 82 18.26% 20.73% 2
Georgia 61 6 117.47 49 57 13.48% 14.04% 3
Florida 54.2 6.2 112.69 56 70 18.42% 20.00% 3
Alabama 52.5 6.4 115.79 75 89 19.14% 15.73% 2
Kentucky 57.4 6.4 119.05 55 64 17.02% 14.06% 0
Auburn 55.5 6.8 118.11 54 68 16.11% 20.59% 4
South Carolina 62.1 7.1 127.9 47 53 12.56% 11.32% 2
Tennessee 63 7.6 141.59 30 39 11.11% 23.08% 3
Vanderbilt 61.3 7.6 136.12 56 69 16.47% 18.84% 1
Missouri 55.7 7.7 133.33 41 51 11.46% 19.61% 2
Mississippi 63.3 7.9 148.24 44 51 12.91% 13.73% 3
Texas A&M 60.7 8.2 147.33 45 52 12.94% 13.46% 2
Arkansas 63.4 8.5 152.71 41 46 13.26% 10.87% 2

1. LSU. Of course. The Tigers allowed just 5.8 yards/attempt and a completion percentage under 50 percent, which is insanely great. LSU loses Greedy Williams and might somehow be better this year, thanks to improved depth and freshman sensation Derek Stingley. Grant Delpit might be the best defensive player in the nation, and LSU is so loaded, they can’t find a spot for Jacoby Stevens to start. Delpit led the SEC with 14 passes defended, but Kristian Fulton wasn’t far behind at 10. They are a lethal combo.

2. Alabama. At 19.14%, no team had a better PD/Attempt ratio in the SEC. The difference here is that Bama’s pass defense simply wasn’t as good as LSU’s, and that’s with a far superior pass rush. Xavier McKinney has 12 PD and is their top returning starter, but being Bama means that Trevon Diggs can miss half the season with a broken foot and return as a first team All-SEC player as voted by the media. I get their confidence, much like LSU has with Chaisson, but Chaisson didn’t get to be on the preseason All-SEC team, much less first team.

3. Florida. CJ Henderson is an elite cornerback. Full stop. The Gators also return three starters from one of the best units from last season. The Gators DB’s were marginally better than LSU in PD/Att, but again, they don’t quite compare in overall quality of pass defense to LSU. But still, this is an excellent unit, one of the best in the nation.

4. Georgia. The Dawgs were under our 15% threshold, but they do return three starters from a secondary that allowed just 6 yards per attempt. The concern is that they allowed a whopping 60% completion rate, which should logically have put them near the bottom if not for such a low YPA. I have no earthly idea how JR Reed made first team All-SEC with just 4 PD, but Eric Stokes was a machine back there.

5. Auburn. Auburn had a middle of the pack pass defense last season in the SEC, but they return all four starters, which is a pretty darn good sign. Noah Igbinoghene made a seamless transition from WR to CB last season and could turn those 12 PD into some interceptions this year.

6. Mississippi State. State had a good case for the best pass defense in the conference last season, though it might be more attributable to their line. Still, it’s hard to look down on 5.5 YPA and a 8/13 TD/INT ratio. Just one starter returns and this could be a rebuild project.

7. Missouri. A massive wild card. They had a pretty bad pass defense last year, and they posted a mere 11.46% PD/Att, the second worst mark in the conference. So why the relatively high rating? They return two guys in the secondary, Christian Holmes (14 PD) and DeMarkus Acy (13 PD). If you’re only gonna return two guys, return two guys who rank in the top three in returning passes defended.

8. South Carolina. Right in the middle of the pack of pass defenses. They allow way too high of a completion rate, but they are right in the middle of the SEC at 7.1 YPA and 127.9 passer rating allowed. They are sort of this island between the top teams and the bottom half of the conference. To give credit, Jaycee Horn was quite impressive as a freshman, so this unit could step up to that top tier, but right now, they are in this in between place.

9. Tennessee. OK, the pass defense wasn’t terribly good last year, but it wasn’t an all-out disaster either. They return three starters from a unit that had the lowest PD/Att ratio in the SEC, which either speaks poorly of their talent or shows they have room to improve. I’m feeling charitable with so many starters coming back.

10. Ole Miss. A near carbon copy of Tennessee, only slightly worse at everything. Ole Miss also returns three starters from a unit that was treading water last season last year due to a rash of injuries. That excuses some of the numbers and they are a candidate for a bounce back, but this is a unit that’s been in decline for 4-5 years, and there doesn’t appear to be any reinforcements coming.

11. Kentucky. As much as we talk about the Wildcats losing special talents like Bennie Snell and Josh Allen, the biggest issue on the team is its secondary. They had a really good pass defense last season, partly due to a deep, experienced secondary. Well, that unit is gone. Not a single cornerback with starting experience returns and both primary safety starters graduated. Kentucky will be forced to rely on some new faces right away, so expect a decline. The question is, how big?

12. Vanderbilt. The Commodore pass defense rates as not that bad. It wasn’t good, mind you, but they avoided the dregs of the conference, had some respectable if below average numbers, and even competed with the SEC’s elite in interceptions. They also boasted an above average PD/Att rate. Unfortunately, only one starter returns, so they might find themselves in the dregs this season.

13. Texas A&M. This was one of the worst pass defenses in the SEC last season, and that was with an amazing pass rush up front. The Aggies allowed over 8.2 yards per attempt, a simply inexcusably awful number. Their 26/7 TD/INT ratio was second worst in the conference. This was a horrifically bad unit. Now, the good news is that Myles Jones (9 PD) showed some promise last year and is not one of their two official starters returning, as he didn’t seize the job until late. But this unit could improve dramatically and still be in the bottom half of the SEC. They were that bad, and it’s not like they improved as the year went on. They allowed a higher completion rate and passer rating in November than in any other month. The 8.5 YPA was better than the comical 9.1 they allowed in September, but that’s barely improvement, and November was the only month in which A&M averaged allowing 300+ yards per game. The Aggies secondary was putrid, and it really feels like the national punditry believes Jimbo gets to wave a magic wand and make it suddenly better. Hope is not a plan.

14. Arkansas. The only thing keeping the Aggies out of the basement is the fact the Hogs were even worse and have even less hope of improving suddenly. The Hogs ranked dead last in completion percentage (63.4%), YPA (8.5), passer rating (152.71), and TD/INT ratio (22/5). They return two starters, but lose their best player. It could be a long year again.