Picking the Preseason All-SEC Team
Picking the preseason All-SEC Team is equivalent to taking college football's best and deciphering which of the great talents are elite.
With an All-Star-caliber list of players to choose from, selecting an All-SEC squad takes time and deliberation because of how deep every position is. For example, there's seven starting quarterbacks in the SEC that all have a case for being the best in the conference.
Alabama's AJ McCarron, Arkansas' Tyler Wilson, Georgia's Aaron Murray, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Missouri's James Franklin, South Carolina's Connor Shaw and Tennessee's Tyler Bray all qualify, but there can only be one choice.
In the most dominant conference in college football, these are the players that separate themselves from the rest of the pack. You may find a few surprises along the way.
QB: Tyler Bray, Tennessee
Bray will have the best year in the SEC at quarterback in 2012.
Is that not who you were expecting? While it was a difficult choice to make, Bray is the right pick due to his skill set and the weapons at his disposal.
Let's not forget that Bray was tearing it up in the SEC before he was injured against Georgia. In five games, Bray passed for 1,579 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions for the Tennessee Volunteers. More importantly, he looked the part.
Smooth in the pocket and able to stretch the field with his strong arm, the sophomore quarterback dazzled spectators. Going into his junior season, Bray will have two of the best wide receivers in the conference to throw to in Da'Rick Rogers and a healthy Justin Hunter.
This is an advantage Bray has over last season's All-SEC quarterback because the Razorbacks' Wilson won't have Joe Adams, Greg Childs or Jarius Wright to throw to in 2012. The Vols will go as far as Bray takes them, and with 2012 labeled as his coming-out party, Tennessee should be a contender in the SEC East.
Second Team: Aaron Murray, Georgia
RB: Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina
It was devastating to watch Marcus Lattimore wince in pain from a knee injury he suffered against Mississippi State last year.
Any time a player of that magnitude suffers a season-ending injury, it's hard to stomach, so you can imagine how South Carolina fans felt last season. The good news is the best running back in college football returns.
Lattimore is a man's running back. Nothing about his game is pretty. Rather than "juking" the competition and dancing around would-be tacklers, Lattimore takes the hit straight on and continues to churn.
For those that are purists of the sport, it's easy to fall in love with Lattimore's game. In 2010, Lattimore gained over 1,000 yards on the ground as a freshman and scored 19 total touchdowns. He was the focal point of their offense, and the offense revolved around him last season before he was injured in the middle of the season.
Though Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks have groomed a talented quarterback in Shaw, Lattimore will touch the ball often in 2012.
Second Team: Zac Stacy, Vanderbilt
RB: Knile Davis, Arkansas
Following his absence in 2011, Knile Davis has sort of flown under the radar.
After a remarkable season in 2010, fans around the country debated which running back was the best. Was it Alabama's Trent Richardson, Lattimore or Davis?
Due to injuries suffered by Lattimore and Davis, that question never got answered, but perhaps 2012 will tell us who's better between Davis and Lattimore.
Like Lattimore, Davis invites contact. With raw power and aggression, Davis can break tackles, and his breakaway speed is remarkable for a 6'0", 226-pound running back. In fact, Davis runs a 4.3 in the 40-yard dash. Talk about being a freak.
Davis didn't have any stats last season due to a preseason ankle injury, but if he can average 6.5 yards per carry and score 14 total touchdowns like he did in 2010, he will keep defensive coordinators up late at night.
Second Team: Isaiah Crowell, Georgia
WR: Da'Rick Rogers, Tennessee
When Justin Hunter went down with a torn ACL in 2011, Da'Rick Rogers became the main attraction.
With Bray being absent for five games and Hunter missing nine games, Rogers stepped up in a big way and had a First-Team All-SEC performance.
Rogers led the Volunteers in receiving with 1,040 yards and he had nine touchdowns to go with it. After putting up such hefty stats in 2011, it's hard to believe that he might not be the best receiver on the team.
I went back and forth on which Volunteer receiver was better. Both Rogers and Hunter are explosive and capable of having 100-yard game performances, so it made for a difficult decision.
But when you think about Hunter having to rebound from an injury, it was easy to see that Rogers has a slight edge.
Second Team: Justin Hunter, Tennessee
WR: Ryan Swope, Texas A&M
Though Ryan Swope didn't face SEC competition week-in and week-out, you can't deny this senior wide receiver's talent.
Last season, Swope recorded 89 receptions, 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns for Texas A&M, and though the Aggies will be led by a new quarterback in 2012, expect Swope to continue producing at a high level.
Swope resembles Wes Welker in the way he plays the position. Seemingly always finding a way to get open in the secondary, Swope was Ryan Tannehill's primary target in 2011.
As he faces more physical secondaries in the SEC, he should have a more difficult time getting open, but Swope is experienced enough to be able to adapt and remain effective.
Second Team: Cobi Hamilton, Arkansas
TE: Chris Gragg, Arkansas
Chris Gragg will be one of Wilson's best options next season.
As previously mentioned, Wilson will be without most of his star-studded receiving corps, but having a guy like Gragg at tight end can certainly lessen the blow.
Last season, Gragg turned in an impressive junior season that saw him record 41 catches for 518 yards and two touchdowns.
With Arkansas maintaining its high-octane offense with Wilson under center, Gragg will benefit greatly from the Hogs pass-heavy attack.
Second Team: Philip Lutzenkirchen, Auburn
C: Barrett Jones, Alabama
Barrett Jones could go down as the best offensive lineman in Alabama history.
Bold statement, I know, but what Jones has done with the Crimson Tide is nothing short of sensational.
Last season, Jones was awarded with the Outland Trophy Award, and he was a unanimous pick for First Team All-American. That's after being named a Third Team All-American and First Team All-SEC in his sophomore campaign.
What's crazy about Jones is that he has another opportunity to gain all of these accolades again in his senior season. But this time, rather than playing at right guard, he'll be making the move to center for the Crimson Tide. That's just another reason to admire what this man has done at the collegiate level.
Second Team: T.J. Johnson, South Carolina
OL: Alex Hurst, LSU
Alex Hurst is an anchor on the LSU offensive line.
Last season, LSU was able to bulldoze through every opponent not named Alabama with their vicious running attack, and Hurst was a big reason why.
For his dominant performance at right tackle, Hurst was awarded with First-Team All-SEC honors by the coaches.
Though the Tigers have a new gun-slinging quarterback calling the shots in Zach Mettenberger, their true identity will still be the rushing game. With more experience under his belt, you can expect Hurst to top his 71 knockdowns from a year ago.
Second Team: Chris Faulk, LSU
OL: Chance Warmack, Alabama
Entering his senior season, Chance Warmack is a battle-tested veteran.
This will be Warmack's third season starting at left guard for the Crimson Tide, and for his blocking in 2011, he was named Second Team All-SEC by the coaches.
Much like LSU, Alabama's bread-and-butter is the running game, and though McCarron proved in the National Championship that he's a talented quarterback, Nick Saban won't shy away from his rushing attack.
Warmack is a well-rounded left guard that can pass block and clear holes for the running backs, and he'll be one of the best guards in the SEC.
Second String: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M
OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Expectations are high for Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel in 2012.
So high that ESPN's Todd McShay is predicting Joeckel to be a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
For the past couple of seasons, Joeckel has been a cornerstone on the offensive line, and as a true freshman in 2010, he received Freshman All-American honors.
Going against the best defensive linemen in the country will prove whether Joeckel is NFL ready or not.
Second Team: Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State
OL: Larry Warford, Kentucky
Ever since Larry Warford stepped on campus, he's been a valuable asset to Kentucky's football team.
As a freshman, Warford played in 10 games and earned himself a spot on the SEC All-Freshman Team.
From then, he continued to receive accolades from various media outlets, and he's been a dependable starter on the offensive line for the Wildcats.
Entering his senior season, Warford has the experience needed to have yet another stellar season.
Second Team: Alvin Bailey, Arkansas
DL: Sam Montgomery, LSU
The LSU Tigers will have the best defensive line in college football next year, and it's because they have the best defensive ends in the sport.
Holding one of those spots is Sam Montgomery, who had an All-SEC performance last season. After being placed on the AP First-Team All-SEC team in 2011, Montgomery is generating enormous hype for 2012.
His 13 tackles for loss and nine sacks registered last season permits Montgomery's name as a hopeful first-round pick of the 2013 NFL draft.
Though he may be slightly undersized, Montgomery's raw athletic ability and speed on the edge will allow him to get into the backfield on multiple occasions, which will alter opposing pass protection schemes.
Second Team: Sharrif Floyd, Florida
DL: Barkevious Mingo, LSU
Montgomery's partner in crime is Barkevious Mingo.
If you haven't had the opportunity to see Mingo play defensive end, just picture Jevon Kearse when he was at Florida.
Mingo is a 6'5", 240-pound defensive end that runs a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash. Try guarding that as an offensive tackle.
It was his speed that allowed him to get into the backfield and disrupt plays behind the line in 2011, as he ranked fourth in the SEC in tackles for loss with 13.5 and seventh in the conference in sacks with eight.
Second Team: Devin Taylor, South Carolina
DL: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney lived up to the hype as a freshman.
In his debut season with the South Carolina Gamecocks, the most heavily recruited athlete in 2010 was named SEC Freshman of the Year.
Clowney earned the prestigious honor after registering 32 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and six sacks. Now with a year of experience under his belt, who knows what kind of stats Clowney will produce?
Going into his sophomore season, Clowney should wreck shop at defensive end and wreak havoc in the backfield.
Second Team: Josh Boyd, Mississippi State
DL: Corey Lemonier, Auburn
Corey Lemonier was the best player on Auburn's somewhat depleted roster one year ago.
Lemonier can do it all. With his best attribute coming in the form of pass rushing, he proved in 2011 that he's a solid tackler on the outside.
Getting in the backfield was something Lemonier did consistently, as he posted 9.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries.
Though Auburn's 8-5 2011 season was somewhat uninspiring, Lemonier's performance at defensive end was something to gawk at.
Second Team: Bennie Logan, LSU
LB: Jarvis Jones, Georgia
Jarvis Jones was the breakout star in the SEC last year.
Sure, Tyrann Mathieu's phenomenal season was rewarded with the Bednarik Award, but Jones emerged out of nowhere.
Unlike Mathieu, Jones entered 2011 with very little hype after transferring from USC before redshirting the 2010 season. Well, it didn't take long for fans to realize that Jones could play.
Jones dominated at linebacker and led the SEC in sacks with 13.5 while leading the conference in tackles for loss with 19.5. To put it simple, Jones lived in the backfield last season, and entering his junior season, he's widely regarded as the best defensive player in the conference (via ESPN).
Second Team: Alonzo Highsmith, Arkansas
LB: Cameron Lawrence, Mississippi State
Can Cameron Lawrence get a little respect?
Mississippi State's linebacker had an incredible season last year, and he's the top returning tackler in the league. However, no one seems to be talking about him.
At 6'3", 230 pounds, Lawrence was second in the SEC in tackles last season with 123, and he averaged 9.5 tackles per game for the Bulldogs.
For whatever reason, various media outlets aren't giving Lawrence the respect he deserves, but here at Bleacher Report, we recognize greatness.
Second Team: Jonathan Bostic, Florida
LB: Nico Johnson, Alabama
There's a laundry list of talent in the SEC at linebacker, but you have to expect Nick Saban's crew to produce one of the top guys.
Saban is great at developing defensive schemes that put his guys in the right spot at the right time, and because of this, both Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley will have tremendous years for the Crimson Tide.
Heck, they have to in order for Alabama to make up for losing Dont'a Hightower. With four defensive players being taken in the first round of the NFL draft, Johnson somehow managed to be the fourth-leading tackler on Alabama last season.
At 6'3", 245 pounds, Johnson is a pure run-stopper, and his stats will increase next season as he becomes one of Saban's top guys.
Second Team: Jelani Jenkins, Florida
CB: Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
The Honey Badger, or King Mathieu as he's calling himself these days, is the definition of a pure playmaker.
Along with being a Heisman Finalist and Bednarik Award recipient, Mathieu broke the school record for forced fumbles as a sophomore. In just two seasons, Mathieu has managed to force 11 fumbles, create four interceptions and record 127 tackles.
Those are remarkable stats, but the best part about Mathieu's game is he always seems to make a play when his team needs him the most. But Mathieu isn't invincible.
As McCarron pointed out in the 2012 BCS National Championship Game, Mathieu has to become a better lockdown corner for the Tigers next season. But still, his natural abilities and playmaking persona makes him a Heisman candidate in 2012.
Second Team: Tharold Simon, LSU
CB: Jonathan Banks, Mississippi State
Jonathan Banks is a ball-hawking cornerback.
Banks has great closing speed on the ball and will be a staple for Mississippi State's defense in 2012.
He's coming off of his best season yet with the Bulldogs after intercepting five passes and deflecting 14 balls from the competition.
Banks' career with the Bulldogs has seen him make 12 interceptions in maroon and white, and with him returning as a senior, you have to expect Banks to have yet another great defensive season.
Second Team: E.J. Gaines, Missouri
S: Eric Reid, LSU
Eric Reid made the play of the year in the SEC last season.
With Alabama knocking on the door and closing in on what would have been a game-winning touchdown, Reid jumped up and wrestled the ball away from Michael Williams for an acrobatic interception.
To this day Alabama fans will argue that the play wasn't an interception, but that's neither here nor there. The fact remains that Reid is an athletic safety that can not only make game-changing plays like that interception, but he can lay the wood. Just ask Mississippi State's Vick Ballard.
Reid's 76 tackles and two interceptions gained him national respect as he found himself a Second Team All-American. He's a special safety with the potential to be one of the best defenders the SEC has to offer next season.
Second Team: Shawn Williams, Georgia
S: Bacarri Rambo, Georgia
No matter how many times I've watched him play, I still marvel at Bacarri Rambo's name.
It's by far the best name in college football, and after watching him dominate the game at safety for so many seasons, you think it would get old. That's just not the case.
As for Rambo's abilities on the field, he's second to none. Flying around and making big plays has become expected when Rambo's on the scene.
In 2011, Rambo had eight interceptions and eight pass breakups all while being a physical force in the box for the Bulldogs. Rambo's versatility makes him an incredible athlete, and for offensive coordinators, it makes him downright scary.
Second Team: Robert Lester, Alabama
K: Caleb Sturgis, Florida
Caleb Sturgis is the top place kicker in the SEC.
Last season, Sturgis was dead on for the Gators, as he hit 22 of 26 attempted field goals and made all 31 extra-point attempts.
Right behind him in the conference is LSU's Drew Alleman. Without question, Alleman's biggest moment in his career was the field goal he made in overtime on Nov. 5 to give LSU the victory against Alabama.
While Alleman proved that he's clutch, his 16 made field goals compared to Sturgis' 22 last season gives Sturgis the edge going into the fall.
Second Team: Drew Alleman, LSU
P: Brad Wing, LSU
Brad Wing is not only the best punter in the SEC, but he's the most popular player on LSU's roster.
Imagine that. A punter being the biggest star? Have we entered another reality? Really, it all comes down to one moment, and I think we all know what I'm referring to.
In LSU's romping against Florida last season, Wing showed that he's not only a deadly accurate punter, but he has swagger. On a fake punt that saw Wing take off and run down the sideline into the end zone, the play was called back for Wing celebrating/taunting going into the end zone.
As a result, the Australian punter is a superstar on campus. But seriously, this is one of LSU's greatest weapons on the field. When LSU's offense would fail to get things moving, Wing could alter the game of field position with his 44.4 average punting yards, and that's why he deserves all of the glamor he receives.
Second Team: Steven Clark, Auburn
KR: Tre Mason, Auburn
While Florida's Andre Debose is a dangerous return man, Auburn's Tre Mason might be more dangerous.
In 2011, Mason averaged 26 yards per return and had 633 return yards, including a 97-yard touchdown.
For the most part, Mason made things happen with the football as a freshman return man, and entering his sophomore season, he should be even better.
While Debose averaged 26 yards per return as well, Mason had more returns and had 138 more yards. So when it comes to the SEC's best kick returner, Mason gets a slight edge.
Second Team: Andre Debose, Florida
PR: Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
When Mathieu wasn't creating turnovers, he was making thrilling punt returns.
The guy simply strikes when he's needed most.
With LSU down 14-7 against Arkansas, Mathieu reeled off the third-longest punt return in school history to even up the score, and more importantly, shift the momentum. In a very similar circumstance, Mathieu took a punt to the house against Georgia in the SEC Championship Game to get the Tigers back into the game.
Following the spark created by Mathieu, LSU would go on to win both games by blowouts, and Mathieu would finish the season with 420 return yards and two touchdowns.
Second Team: Dustin Harris, Texas A&M