Ranking the SEC's best players: Nos. 15-11
Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
This is the last day we'll count down the SEC's 30 best players in chunks of five.
Starting Monday, each of the top 10 players will get his own day until we get all the way down to the No. 1 player in the league.
I want to reiterate what I said when we started this project: These are my 30 selections based on what they've done in the SEC, what I project them to do next season, what coaches around the league think of them and how they impact the players around them.
Doesn't make them the right selections and doesn't make them the wrong selections.
I expected fierce debate. I expected to be second-guessed. I knew I would leave off some very deserving players (Hey, it's the SEC. There are more than 30 great players in this league), and I knew I would rank some players a lot higher than many of you would have.
When we're done, make out your own lists and send them to me. We'll probably do it again late in the 2009 season.
Here we go with selections 15-11:
No. 15: D.J. Williams, TE, Arkansas -- You'd have to look long and hard to find a better pass-catching tight end in college football than Williams. He's also worked hard this offseason to improve his blocking. What he does best, though, is get open, run after the catch and pick up key first downs. He returns for his junior season as the only Mackey Award semifinalist in 2008 to lead his team in receptions (61), receiving yards (723) and receiving touchdowns (3). With Ryan Mallett taking over at quarterback, Williams has a chance to put up monster numbers in 2009.
No. 14: Terrence Cody, NG, Alabama -- The ultimate run-stuffer, the 6-foot-5, 365-pound Cody became an instant hit among Alabama fans in earning first-team All-America honors last season after coming over from junior college. But he became an instant nightmare for teams trying to block him. He's a one-man wrecking machine in the middle, and when he was healthy last season before injuring his knee, nobody could handle him. He's determined to become an every-down player next season and wants to improve his conditioning to the point where he can play on third down and be just as effective when teams are throwing the ball. His goal is to play closer to 350 pounds. Still, they don't call him Mount Cody for nothing.
No. 13: Ciron Black, OT, LSU -- Black is one of those guys you swear has been playing for six years. That's because he's been such a fixture in LSU's offensive line, starting the last 40 games at left tackle. He considered turning pro last season, but returns as the best left tackle in the league. The 6-5, 325-pound Black is remarkably fast and agile for a man his size. He's been clocked in the 40-yard dash at 5.2 seconds and excels as both a pass protector and run blocker. Black's leadership for the Tigers has been invaluable, and he's one of those guys whose can-do attitude is infectious.
No. 12: Antonio Coleman, DE, Auburn -- A first-team All-SEC selection last season while playing through injuries, Coleman has 14.5 career sacks and 30 career tackles for loss. He chases the quarterback as if his life depends on it and should be something to see in Gene Chizik's scheme. The 6-3, 257-pound Coleman was leaning toward turning pro when Tommy Tuberville was ousted, but returned saying he wanted to be "one of the guys that turns it back around at Auburn." He needs 11.5 sacks next season to tie the Auburn record, and don't be surprised if he makes a run at it.
No. 11: Eric Norwood, OLB, South Carolina -- A first-team All-SEC selection each of the past two seasons, Norwood is the league's active leader in both sacks (22) and tackles for loss (43). He had nine sacks last season to finish second in the SEC. The 6-1, 252-pound Norwood played defensive end before moving to outside linebacker last season and has made 25 consecutive starts. What makes him so valuable is his ability to rush the passer and play the run equally well. He's been a clutch performer for the Gamecocks. Norwood initially announced that he was turning pro last year, but changed his mind and decided to return for his senior season.
- No. 16: Rennie Curran, LB, Georgia
- No. 17: Joe Haden, CB, Florida
- No. 18: Michael Smith, RB, Arkansas
- No. 19: Charles Scott, RB, LSU
- No. 20: Malcolm Sheppard, DT, Arkansas
- No. 21: Brandon LaFell, WR, LSU
- No. 22: Jeffery Demps, RB/WR, Florida
- No. 23: John Jerry, OT, Ole Miss
- No. 24: Chad Jones, S, LSU
- No. 25: Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia
- No. 26: Anthony Dixon, RB, Mississippi State
- No. 27: Javier Arenas, CB/RS, Alabama
- No. 28: Micah Johnson, LB, Kentucky
- No. 29: Dexter McCluster, RB/WR, Ole Miss
- No. 30: Myron Lewis, CB, Vanderbilt