The SEC has been known for producing physical defensive backs that have a knack for locking down the best receivers in college football. The NFL drafted a total of nine SEC defensive backs this past year, and this next class is not expected to disappoint either. Now that some of the bright stars have departed to play professionally, let’s take a look at some of the players who will be giving quarterbacks headaches and sleepless nights for this upcoming season.
Mark McLaurin, Mississippi State
Mark McLaurin is a name that most people outside of Mississippi may not know; unless you live in Louisville, Kentucky. Facing former Heisman winner, Lamar Jackson, and the Louisville Cardinals, McLaurin intercepted three passes in the TaxSlayer Bowl. To go along with his three interceptions, he added another three earlier in the season along with six pass deflections and a forced fumble to his resume. A hard-hitting safety with great ball-skills is always dangerous and it’s hard to find a better safety in the SEC that fits the bill. The Bulldogs aren’t usually known for a strong defense, but his 79 tackles and a few junior college transfers helped retool the defense as they were almost able to squeak out a win against this year’s National Champion, Alabama. Another solid season at Mississippi State will vault his name up to one of the top safeties in the upcoming draft.
Jamel Dean, Auburn
When you share the secondary with a player who made a name for himself as a freshman, it is easy to become overlooked and forgotten about. As impressive of a season as Carlton Davis had, Jamel Dean had one just as solid. He did not record an interception last year, but he finished with eight pass break ups. He has the size and the speed to match up with any SEC receiver and have the ability to hold his own in coverage. Pro Football Focus graded his regular season at an 87.2, which was the highest grade for any Auburn defensive player and an “NFL-caliber” rating. Not too bad for a guy who has had to overcome two knee surgeries and was once ruled medically ineligible at another school.
DeAndre Baker, Georgia
DeAndre Baker could have gone to the NFL Draft this past year and would have likely been drafted highly; another solid year and he could be considered to be amongst the best in the upcoming Draft Class. As a junior, and when facing SEC quarterbacks, Baker allowed his opponents a passer rating of 38.7 (the second lowest rating of all SEC corners). He played a large part in helping the Bulldogs become one of the nation’s best defenses last year as he intercepted three passes and deflected nine more as well. What’s more impressive than the fact that he was able to get his hand on 12 passes? The fact that he did not give up a touchdown at all last season. To say that quarterbacks and receivers will have a hard time facing Baker is an understatement.