Rant Sports’ Preseason All-SEC First Team
All-SEC Preseason 1st Team
The college football season is less than three months away, so before the anticipation starts to mount to unhealthy and dangerous levels, let’s take a peek around the conference and identify who makes up the first team All-SEC preseason team.
A number of the names will look familiar to you if you saw the top 25 NFL draft prospects published earlier this spring. It goes without saying that if you’re a top draft prospect, you’re likely among the best at your position in the conference. This was a difficult team to name with the exceptional depth at quarterback, wide receiver and linebacker in particular, so that meant some exceptional talent was left off the list.
I tried to model this team as closely as possible to what would line up on the football field. Therefore, I simply didn’t take the five best offensive linemen, but rather I took the two best tackles, two best guards and best center. Similarly on defense, I followed the same approach when naming the top 11 players, so the team won’t feature a defensive line comprised of three or four ends and in the defensive secondary, I took a true free and a true strong safety.
At linebacker, however, I exercised a little wiggle room and took the best linebacker talents despite this team operating out of a four-man front. When you get to the linebacker spots you will see two linebackers who operate out of a three-man front, but they are simply the best in the league no matter the scheme.
Keep in mind, I did not include special teams players.
Jadeveon Clowney-South Carolina-DE
The presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft headlines this year’s preseason all-conference squad after a 13-sack season as a sophomore. Entering his junior season, the freakishly talented Clowney could challenge for 20-sacks and be the rare defender to challenge for the Heisman trophy.
Johnson has flashed his potential during the first two seasons he has been at LSU, but this year he will be the leader on the line after losing four starters to graduation or the NFL. At 6’4’’ and 304 pounds, he has the size to plug the run game and the first-step quickness to be a disruptive pass-rusher.
Injuries and playing out of position at end have stunted the development of Easley to an extent. This year he moves to the interior where his career could mirror that of Sharrif Floyd and become a first-round pick after a strong final collegiate season.
Dupree made the move from linebacker to defensive end this spring after making a combined 91 tackles with 6.5 sacks and 12.5 for loss, which were all top-10 numbers within the SEC. His combination of size (6-4, 255), speed and exceptional athleticism makes him a big-play waiting to happen. Dupree made the team over Arkansas end Chris Smith, who finished just shy of double-digit sacks last year.
The next in a long line of great Crimson Tide linebackers, Hubbard has incredible size at 6’6’’ and 248 pounds to be the premier 3-4 outside linebacker in the nation. Hubbard is coming off an 11-sack season and should have little problem approaching 15 this season.
Mosley returns to Tuscaloosa to try and win another BCS title and improve his run-stopping ability. He is the leader of the Alabama defense and one of the more instinctive linebackers in the nation.
The 6’2’’, 240 pound linebacker is coming off a 138-tackle sophomore season that led the conference in 2012. Johnson made a career-high 21 tackles in the loss to Mississippi State and has made large strides since his freshman All-American season in 2011.
Purifoy is one of the nation’s best cover corners despite his off-the-field issues. He has great hands, which has led to him playing some wide receiver this season. He will challenge for the Thorpe award, which has gone to SEC defenders four years in a row, along with teammate and fellow corner Marcus Roberson.
Nickoe Whitley-Mississippi State-FS
Whitley is the lone returning starter from last year’s secondary that was perhaps the best in the nation, so Whitley will take on a bigger leadership role as a redshirt senior in 2013. With nine career interceptions, a healthy Whitley will be a ball hawk and tackling machine in State’s secondary.
Loston is one of the best strong safeties in the nation and a candidate to be the first safety taken in the 2014 draft. The 6-2, 208 pounder had a breakout second half last year, picking off three passes in the final seven games, while averaging six tackles per game over that span.
Hal may be a surprise on this team over players like Deion Belue, Roberson or Damian Swann, but after making his mark in the return game early in his career, Hal has quickly emerged as a top corner. He had some growing pains early in 2012, but in 2013 he will continue his development and make this projection stand up.
Kouandijo could end up being the best left tackle in the nation and be a top pick in the 2014 draft. He will be the anchor at left tackle for the Crimson Tide as they look to capture a third straight title.
Gabe Jackson-Mississippi State-LG
The two-time All-SEC left guard selection has started 39 games so far in his time at Starkville and was on a number of All-American teams last season. At 6-4 and 320 pounds, he has the prototypical size you look for in an interior lineman and is blessed with tremendous athleticism.
Swanson is on the Rimington award watch list as one of the best at his position in the nation and will be a leader in Arkansas' run-first mentality under first-year head coach Bret Bielema. He could be among the first at his position taken in the 2014 NFL draft.
Steen was “the other guy” on the dominant Alabama offensive line that featured three future NFL draft picks, including two taken inside the top 11. Steen is one of the more underrated guards in the nation and vital to Crimson Tide’s dominant running game.
Jake Matthews-Texas A&M-RT
Matthews will play left tackle this season now that his former teammate Luke Joeckel was the No. 2 pick in the draft, but Matthews will man the strong side in this team. He has the size, strength, intangibles and bloodlines to be a high future first-round pick.
The conference is relatively devoid of established tight end talent this year, but Lynch is the most experienced and productive entering 2013. He is in a program that produces NFL talent and after a breakout season a year ago, with 24 receptions, 431 yards and three touchdowns for an impressive 18 yard average, Lynch will look to double that TD mark and approach 40 receptions this season.
The top freshman wide receiver in the conference returns after a 1,000-yard, 10 touchdown campaign. This year’s Crimson Tide aerial attack could break school records with Cooper doing his best Julio Jones impersonation. He could approach 75 receptions for 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns as a sophomore.
Ole Miss-Donte Moncrief-WR
Moncrief had three games with more than 144-yards last year, including 177 vs. Mississippi State. He should blow past the 1,000-yard barrier this year and improve on his 10 touchdown receptions he had as a sophomore. He makes the team over Mike Evans and Jordan Matthews.
Despite only 175 carries as a freshman in 2012, the 6-2, 216 pound Yeldon tallied 1,108 yards and 12 touchdowns for a 6.3 yards-per-carry average. He split carries with Eddie Lacy and will split carries this year, but when he had more than 11 carries in games last year, he averaged 133.5 yards per game. Two of those games were the SEC Championship Game and the BCS National Championship Game.
Gurley’s 1,385 yards was only 24 yards shy of leading the SEC in rushing yards as a freshman and he did that sharing carries with fellow frosh Keith Marshall. He had nine games eclipsing the century mark and scored a touchdown in 11 of the Bulldog’s 14 games. He finished with 17 on the season. A 1,600-yard season with 20 touchdowns is a realistic mark for the sophomore, even with Marshall in the same backfield.
Surprise! It’s not the reigning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel. This is not a slight to “Johnny Football”, but rather an endorsement to McCarron, who could finish his Alabama career as the greatest quarterback in the program’s history. McCarron has a chance to be the starting quarterback for three straight national titles.