It’s SEC preview week and here is a look at the top five position groups in the conference heading into the 2021 season.
1. LSU DEFENSIVE BACKS
Per usual, the Bayou Bengals have phenomenal talent in their defensive backfield, and it all starts with their two corners, Derek Stingley, Jr. and Elias Ricks. Not only are they the best corner duo in the country, but they might be the top two individual overall corners as well. Stingley has proven he is a rare specimen, and Ricks burst onto the scene last year, finishing the season as PFF’s No. 1 player in all of college football in man coverage.
Safety is a bit of a concern after losing Jacoby Stevens to the draft and Maurice Hampton to the portal, but Todd Harris and Cameron Lewis certainly should be more than capable, as is Georgia transfer Major Burns. And watch out for true freshman Derrick Davis Jr., a Rivals100 guy who came in as an early enrollee and has been turning heads. There is nasty depth at LSU.
2. GEORGIA LINEBACKERS
You could really consider any of the three levels of the Dawgs defense as their best position group but, for me, the linebackers stand out a little more because of their versatility. Nolan Smith is awesome as an OLB, but plays a lot with his hand in the dirt as a pass rusher, and he’s very skilled at getting after the QB. Adam Anderson is phenomenal in space, playing the “Jack” position for Dan Lanning‘s group, but is also a very strong edge rusher. Inside Nakobe Dean and Quay Walker form a nice 1-2 punch with veteran Channing Tindall behind them.
However, there are two freshmen to watch here that could both get some serious playing time: Xavian Sorey on the outside and Smael Mondon on the inside. They have both impressed early and could see the field sooner rather than later.
3. KENTUCKY OFFENSIVE LINE
Kentucky‘s absolute strength coming into the season, the offensive line, has solid players across the board with a true elite talent at left tackle. Darian Kinnard is simply one of the best in the business, especially in the run game, as he’s PFF’s top-graded run blocker over the past two seasons.
LSU transfer Dare Rosenthal shores up what was probably the only real weakness on the line at right tackle, and Luke Fortner is a very strong player at guard who will warrant All-SEC consideration. Jeremy Flax at guard and Quintin Wilson at center round out a group that really has no weaknesses, and will be particularly strong opening holes for Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke on the ground.
4. ALABAMA DEFENSIVE BACKS
Another year, another embarrassment of riches for Nick Saban in the secondary. You could make a case for nearly any unit on this Alabama team to be its best, but the defensive backs have a combination of experience, high-end talent and depth that is unmatched.
Josh Jobe is one of the best press corners in the country, and Jalyn Armour-Davis is another really good player on the outside. Malachi Moore had an exceptional true freshman season playing the Star role, covering guys in the slot and dropping back as a safety at times as well. Jordan Battle made a big jump last year as a sophomore, and has the versatility to play strong and free safety, while DeMarcco Hellams and Daniel Wright both have plenty of experience.
And watch out for super talented freshman Ga’Quincy “Kool-Aid” McKinstry, who figures to be in the two-deep this fall and will impact the return game.
5. TEXAS A&M DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
While DeMarvin Leal is obviously the big name here, there’s plenty of depth here on the DL for the Aggies. Leal, however, is a true specimen and one of the best pass rushers in the country from both the edge and inside, and he’s a very strong run defender as well. Tyree Johnson joins him on the outside, and he will be routinely punishing teams for the double teams that will be consistently heading Leal’s way, as Michael Clemons, who is coming off of a season-ending injury.
On the inside, Texas A&M returns Jayden Peevy, who will lead a relatively inexperienced group, but there’s plenty of talent between the likes of Adarious Jones, Isaiah Raikes, Dallas Walker and a couple of true freshmen in Tunmise Adeleye and Shemar Turner, both of whom will get plenty of reps early on in their careers in College Station.