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2022 SEC Unit Rankings: Top 5 secondaries in the SEC

Jesse Simonton08/04/22
The LSU Tigers are considered DBU, but Alabama, Georgia and Florida, among others, all have better SEC secondaries in 2022. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

Defensive backs have become even more important in today’s football, and no conference in the country produces more long, fast and versatile playmakers in the secondary than the Southeastern Conference. 

The SEC had five defensive backs go in the first 50 picks of the 2022 NFL Draft, including LSU Tigers corner Derek Stingley Jr. going No. 3 overall to Houston. Take a peak at some Way-Too-Early 2023 NFL Mock Drafts, and the SEC could have as many as five 1st Rounders come next April. 

Here’s a look at my Top 5 SEC secondaries in 2022.

1. Alabama

Alabama’s secondary was actually a liability at times in 2021 (No. 7 in the SEC in pass defense), but they’re healthy now, some younger guys are more seasoned and they added former 5-star LSU transfer corner Eli Ricks to the room. Nick Saban is regarded as the DB whisperer and he has assembled a crazy stacked secondary. The Tide have the SEC’s best safety in Jordan Battle, while Brian Branch, DeMarcco Hellams and Malachi Moore are all quality safety/star options versatile enough to play multiple positions. Ricks is expected to man one corner spot, with former 5-star Kool-Aid McKinstry battling Khyree Jackson and Terrion Arnold to hold onto his starting spot. Paired with a fierce pass rusher, the Tide’s secondary should be a major strength in 2022. 

2. Georgia

Georgia led the SEC with 16 interceptions (including four pick-sixes) last season, and while 1st Round safety Lewis Cine is gone, the room remains stocked with blue-chip talent. The Bulldogs are a great example of a rich man’s problems: They have perhaps the second-best secondary in the nation behind only the Tide, but there’s legitimate questions as to which former top recruit is going to start at corner opposite national title hero Kelee Ringo (sophomores Kamari Lassiter and Nyland Green are candidates, as are freshmen Daylen Everette and Jaheim Singletary), STAR (sixth-year senior William Poole is back but he’s not guaranteed a starting job) and safety (Is former WVU All-American Tykee Smith healthy after tearing his ACL in 2021?)

3. Texas A&M

Texas A&M returns four starters from a secondary that allowed just 13 passing touchdowns and only 5.8 yards per attempt — both second-best behind Georgia in 2021. Antonio Johnson is a future Top 50 pick, and the junior is capable of playing safety or nickel depending on the scheme. Senior Demani Richardson (a four-year starter) is a mainstay at safety for Texas A&M, while Tyreek Chappell impressed as a freshman at corner for the Aggies last season. Jaylon Jones is a quality corner who may not even hold onto his job, with 5-star freshman Denver Harris, who is capable of playing multiple positions, pushing for his spot. If new defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin opts to use Johnson at safety, then keep an eye on sophomore Deuce Harmon at nickel. 

4. Florida

The Gators’ secondary showed real improvement in 2021 (88th to 23rd nationally in pass defense efficiency) and should be the strength of their defense this fall. Corner Jason Marshall is an emerging star, while Florida also returns starters at safety (veterans Trey Dean and Rashad Torrence) and STAR (Tre’Vez Johnson). Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber will battle with Avery Helm and Jaydon Hill for the other boundary corner spot. The wild card for Florida is 4-star freshman Kamari Wilson, who could push Johnson or others for a spot at STAR or safety.

5. Ole Miss

The Rebels have depth and experience (albeit at other programs) in their defensive backfield this fall, a major boon for a unit that plays a 3-2-6 formation. They return four valuable starters (safeties A.J. Finley and Otis Reece and corners Deantre Prince and Tysheem Johnson) plus plucked Iowa State safety Isheem Young (a seamless scheme fit) and Auburn safety Ladarius Tenninson from the transfer portal. Ole Miss was among the better teams in the country last season limiting explosive plays, and that should be a strength again in 2022.

The best of the rest in the SEC:

LSU will feature a brand new secondary this fall, with as many as five starters coming from the transfer portal. They won the four-player transfer trade with Arkansas, as former Razorbacks’ safety Joe Foucha and nickel-back Greg Brooks have both garnered praise this offseason in Baton Rouge. The Tigers need All-Big 12 corner Jarrick Bernard-Converse to be healthy after the Oklahoma State transfer missed all of spring practice. 

I’m not sure how often teams will opt to pass against Missouri considering the Tigers’ potential problems stopping the run, but their secondary should be stout with four returning starters (including All-SEC corner candidate Kris Abrams-Draine) plus Clemson transfer Joseph Charleston and Texas A&M transfer Dreyden Norwood.

Finally, Mississippi State (Decamerion Richardson and Emmanuel Forbes) and South Carolina (Cam Smith and Darius Rush) lack the depth compared to other SEC secondaries but both programs tout really strong CB-duos.