This year’s crop of SEC safeties is a bit top heavy, if only because the two at the top of the list are arguably the best players at the position in the entire country. There is depth throughout however because there is never a lack of talent or athleticism in the Southeastern Conference. Auburn has some very qualified candidates, but can they land two of the top ten?
1. Landon Collins, Alabama
Simply put, Landon Collins is the best safety in college football. He is both fast and physical, and has ball skills as well. Collins is diverse enough to play close to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, but can also cover receivers one-on-one when necessary. Last year, Collins had 70 tackles, including four tackles for a loss, as well as two interceptions and eight pass breakups. He is an All-American candidate and a likely first rounder in 2015.
2. Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
Last season, Cody Prewitt earned first team All-American honors from the Associated Press in addition to a first team All-SEC selection by both the league’s coaches and the AP. He had six interceptions, which led the SEC, and added 13 pass breakups. Prewitt was the Rebels’ second leading tackler with 71 total, including 4.5 for loss. The senior also forced two fumbles. Like Collins, Prewitt has the ability to play both the run and the pass, and could earn more national honors this season.
3. Brian Randolph, Tennessee
Brian Randolph has had to deal with injuries often, but when he’s healthy, he is one of the best safeties in the Southeastern Conference. Randolph was a Freshman All-American in 2011, but he missed a large chunk of 2012. Last season, Randolph was at his best and he led the Vols with four interceptions and added 75 tackles and seven pass breakups. The secondary is better around Randolph this season than last, which should only help him make more plays in 2014.
4. Tony Conner, Ole Miss
Tony Conner plays the Husky position for Ole Miss – a hybrid linebacker-safety role that is very similar to Auburn’s Star. Conner played a lot as a true freshman last season, starting 12 games, and produced right away. He was a Freshman All-American thanks to 66 tackles, five tackles for loss, and seven pass breakups. Very fast for his 220-pound frame, Conner still has some fine tuning to do when it comes to pass coverage. However, he should be even better in 2014 as a sophomore.
5. Robenson Therezie, Auburn
Like Conner, Robenson Therezie also plays a linebacker-safety hybrid position as the Star at Auburn. Therezie is tough – he played through a broken hand this spring – which is a vital trait for his role in the defense. Therezie is also athletic enough to contribute as a punt returner. However, there are currently concerns that he will be able to play in the Tigers’ season opener on August 30. What was originally believed to be an injury may actually be an academic issue. According to Gus Malzahn, Therezie is “working through some eligibility issues.” Therezie is a productive leader for Auburn on defense, and his presence would surely be missed if he can’t play in week one. Last season, the senior had a team-high four interceptions in addition to a solid 57 tackles and three tackles for loss.
6. Braylon Webb, Missouri
Braylon Webb played in the shadow of EJ Gaines last season, but Webb returns this year as one of the most experienced defensive backs in the Southeastern Conference. Webb has started 30 games and played in 38 across the past three seasons, and will be a sorely needed veteran presence on defense for Mizzou. In his career, Webb has amassed 189 tackles and he had 89 of them in 2013. Webb has also accumulated three tackles for loss, three interceptions and has broken up seven passes.
7. Jermaine Whitehead, Auburn
Whitehead has had a similar career path to Webb as a very experienced, though often overlooked, defensive back. The Tigers’ senior has 29 career starts, including all 14 games last year. Whitehead is a bit on the light side at 5-foot-11 and 193 pounds, but he has no problem playing close to the line of scrimmage and had 2.5 tackles for a loss last season. Very active all over the field, he was fourth on the team in 2013 with 65 total stops, ranked second with six passes broken up, and was third on the squad with two interceptions.
8. Alan Turner, Arkansas
Alan Turner is the best returning player from what was a poor Arkansas secondary in 2013, but he should be considered one of the SEC’s top strong safeties. He led the Razorbacks last season with 97 tackles, and is a better run stopper than a pass defender. However, he does have the skillset to contribute in coverage as well, proving it in 2013 with two interceptions and five pass breakups.
9. AJ Stamps, Kentucky
It is a bit of a risk placing a player among the top ten SEC safeties that hasn’t played a down in the conference, but AJ Stamps is that good. He chose the Wildcats over Ohio State as a junior college transfer, and he gives immediate legitimacy to at least one portion of the UK secondary. Stamps was thought likely to be a cornerback when he signed, but instead stepped onto the Kentucky campus as the starting free safety. He is athletic enough to matchup in one-on-one situations when needed, and should have a nice year in 2014.
10. Quincy Mauger, Georgia
There was a great deal of unexpected turnover in the Georgia secondary this offseason with one starter being dismissed from the program and two others choosing to transfer – including both starting safeties. With that in mind, it would be understandable to expect that the Bulldogs would suffer at the position. However, Quincy Mauger played often as a true freshman last season and he started seven games. Mauger had 57 tackles and an interception last year, and should only improve with more playing time.