The SEC's Top 50 Players for 2013
Over the last decade, the SEC has solidified its status as the superior conference in college football.
Not only has the league been home to the last seven BCS national champions, but it’s also routinely produced some of the sport’s biggest stars and some of the most coveted NFL prospects.
The 2012 season was yet another banner year for the SEC.
Alabama kept the conference’s unprecedented championship streak alive by bringing home another national title; Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel became the fourth SEC player in the last six years to win the Heisman Trophy; and once the NFL Draft rolled around, the conference kept its reputation as a pro-producing powerhouse alive and well by setting a new record with 63 total players selected, including 12 first-round picks, which is also a new record.
The league has waved goodbye to standouts such as Jarvis Jones, Luke Joeckel, Dee Milliner and Barkevious Mingo. However, there’s a whole new wave of stars returning for the 2013 season.
South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney and Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel are the two SEC players who will receive the most publicity this offseason, but there are plenty of other impact players who are worthy of praise as well.
Here’s a look at the SEC’s top 50 players for the 2013 season.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Size, speed, strength, toughness, instincts, natural playmaking ability—Jadeveon Clowney has all the skills and physical traits that you look for in a superstar defender.
The explosive edge-rusher is truly the total package. He's the type of rare physical specimen that you just don't see on the collegiate level very often.
After putting together a spectacular sophomore season in 2012, in which he totaled 13 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss, 40 solo tackles and three forced fumbles, Clowney has now earned the reputation as being the most valuable player in all of college football.
The freakishly athletic 6'6'', 272-pound junior is a dangerous and dynamic defender, who is capable of causing tremendous chaos in the trenches.
Clowney has gone from being considered the consensus No. 1 overall prospect of the 2011 recruiting class to now being the overwhelming favorite to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
He's certainly worthy of all the hype that he'll receive throughout the offseason.
2. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
There were plenty of breakout stars in college football last season, but none of them had the type of year that Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel did.
Going into the 2012 season, Manziel was nothing more than just an unproven redshirt freshman, who had to show that he could handle the transition to playing in Kevin Sumlin's spread-style offensive attack.
Ultimately, Manziel proved to be a perfect fit for Sumlin's system. He wowed onlookers with incredible performances on a weekly basis—totaling 5,115 yards and accounting for 47 touchdowns—as he led the Aggies to a surprising 11-win season.
After becoming the first-ever freshman player to win the Heisman Trophy, it's obviously going to be tough for Manziel to match his exploits from his debut season. Still, the dazzling dual-threat signal-caller should once again be one of the top overall players in the country in 2013.
3. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
When Georgia's 2011 leading rusher Isaiah Crowell was kicked off the team last spring, it left a huge hole to fill in the Bulldogs' backfield. Luckily, Crowell's successor, Todd Gurley—a heralded 4-star recruit from Tarboro, North Carolina—was able to put together a fantastic freshman season.
During his first year in Athens, Gurley looked like the second-coming of Herschel Walker.
The 6'1'', 218-pound beastly back bulldozed his way to 1,385 yards on the ground, scored 18 touchdowns and played a key role in Georgia's run to the SEC championship game.
Unfortunately for SEC defenses, that 2012 performance may have only been just a preview of what Gurley is really capable of. The star sophomore is arguably the most talented rusher in all of college football.
4. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
Alabama's defense has been a dominant force over the last two years, and it's been the main reason why the team has won back-to-back national championships. The Tide have finished each of the past two seasons ranked first in the nation in both total defense and scoring defense.
Though the unit lost some of its top players from 2012 such as DT Jesse Williams, CB Dee Milliner and LB Nico Johnson, Alabama should once again have one of the top defenses in the country in 2013.
The centerpiece of the stout 3-4 defense will once again be inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. The Tide needed Mosley to step up and become a leader last season, and he did just that. He led the team with 107 tackles, including 66 solo stops, eight tackles for loss and four sacks.
The 6'2'', 232-pound senior has been groomed to be Alabama's next great linebacker, and he proved last year that he's got what it takes to fill that role. Mosley is undoubtedly one of the most valuable team leaders and one of the top overall impact defenders in the country.
5. A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee
Tennessee's defense was downright dreadful in 2012. The Volunteers ranked last in the SEC in both scoring defense and total defense, giving up an average of 35 points and 471 yards per game.
Still, the lackluster unit did feature a few solid individual performers such as LB A.J. Johnson, who shined and took the next step toward stardom this past fall.
Johnson led the SEC with 138 total tackles, including 63 solo stops and 8.5 tackles for loss. He was also a solid goal line short-yardage back, rushing for six touchdowns on 12 carries.
The 6'2'', 240-pound junior is a prototypical SEC linebacker. Johnson possesses the size, strength, athleticism and natural playmaking ability that will certainly catch the attention of NFL scouts.
6. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
If you had polled every Texas A&M fan before the 2012 season started and asked them who would lead the Aggies in receiving, it's very likely that every single one of them would have said Ryan Swope, who had totaled 169 catches in his previous two seasons.
Ultimately, however, it was breakout star freshman Mike Evans who proved to be the team's go-to weapon in the passing game.
Johnny Manziel's favorite target led the team with 82 catches for 1,105 yards and scored five touchdowns in his freshman campaign.
Texas A&M was the only BCS school who offered a scholarship to the highly athletic 6'5'', 218-pound former basketball star from Texas' Ball High School.
After witnessing the remarkable performance he had in his first season of action, you can bet that the Aggies' current coaching staff is very grateful that the previous regime had faith in Evans' raw potential.
7. T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
Alabama has produced some outstanding running backs in recent years such as Trent Richardson, Mark Ingram and Eddie Lacy. Now, the Tide rusher who has the entire SEC buzzing is T.J. Yeldon.
Although he had to split carries with his veteran teammate Lacy last year, Yeldon still managed to do plenty of damage to opposing defenses any time he got the ball in his hands.
During his freshman campaign, the extremely gifted 6'2'', 216-pound Alabama native rushed for over 1,100 yards on just 175 carries (6.3 yards per carry) and scored 13 total touchdowns.
With Lacy now gone, Yeldon will have the opportunity to prove that he can be a true workhorse back in 2013.
8. Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt may have lost two of its most important offensive pieces from the 2012 season—QB Jordan Rodgers and RB Zac Stacy—but the Commodores will still feature an elite playmaker on offense in 2013.
After leading the SEC with 94 catches for 1,323 yards this past season, WR Jordan Matthews has now established himself as one of the premier pass-catchers in all of college football.
The 6'3'', 205-pound senior is a matchup nightmare, who is capable of creating explosive plays in the passing game. He demonstrated that in 2012, when he hauled in 17 catches of over 20 yards and had eight catches of over 30 yards.
Matthews' production may take a hit now that Rodgers is gone and opposing defenses will key on shutting Matthews down, but he'll still be one of the most feared offensive weapons in the nation in 2013.
9. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama
The moment: 4th-and-goal from the two-yard line, 1:46 left on the clock, Alabama trailing Texas A&M 29-24 in front of 100,000 anxious fans in Tuscaloosa. With the game on the line, AJ McCarron dropped back, threw right, and we all know what happened next—interception!
The Aggies managed to pull off one of the most shocking upsets of the season over the undefeated top-ranked Tide.
While that play may not have ultimately cost Alabama a chance to win another national championship, it did cost McCarron a shot to win the 2012 Heisman Trophy.
You could easily make the argument that if the QB had thrown a touchdown instead of an interception on that one fateful play and led the Tide to victory, it would have been McCarron standing on the stage in New York City in December instead of Johnny Manziel.
The senior signal-caller's numbers were certainly Heisman-worthy. McCarron transformed from a game-manager into a game-changer during his second year as a starter. He led the nation with a 175 passer rating, tied for third nationally with a 9.3 yards per pass average and finished the year with an outstanding 30-3 touchdown-interception ratio and a 67 percent completion percentage.
After leading Alabama to consecutive national championships in each of his first two seasons as a starter, McCarron has to now be considered one of the top contenders for the 2013 Heisman Trophy. He may even deserve to be labeled as the early favorite.
10. Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
At just 6'1'', 210-pounds, Aaron Murray clearly doesn't have the size that NFL scouts are looking for in a prototypical prospect. However, Murray didn't let his slight stature stop him from making plenty of big plays through the air in 2012.
The three-year starter was the only quarterback in the country who averaged over 10 yards per pass attempt last year.
Murray finished the season tied for third in the nation with 62 passes of over 20 yards. He also tied for second nationally with 33 passes of over 30 yards and 19 passes of over 40 yards.
With receiving weapons like Malcolm Mitchell, Michael Bennett and Arthur Lynch at his disposal, the strong-armed senior signal-caller should once again create plenty of big, explosive plays in the passing game, and he should again have the Bulldogs in contention to win another SEC East division title in 2013.
11. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
With players such as Michigan's Taylor Lewan, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Notre Dame's Zack Martin and North Carolina's James Hurst all returning to the college game, there's going to be a lot of arguing over who the best senior offensive tackle prospect in the 2014 NFL draft class really is.
When it comes to underclassmen tackles, though, there's one player in particular, Alabama's Cyrus Kouandjio, who simply stands out from the rest of the crowd.
Kouandjio, a native of Cameroon, flourished in his first season as the Tide's starting left tackle in 2012. The big, athletic and powerful 6'6'', 311-pound junior shut down some of the top pass-rushers in the SEC, and he showed that he could excel as both a run-blocker as well as a pass-protector.
The former top-ranked tackle of the 2011 recruiting class has the type of rare physical skills that NFL scouts will become enamored with. Don't be surprised if Kouandjio emerges as a serious contender to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
12. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
In recent years, there have been plenty of standout defensive backs such as Matt Elam, Ahmad Black, Janoris Jenkins, Joe Haden and Major Wright who have called Gainesville home.
Going into the 2013 season, the Gators are once again loaded with potential stars in the secondary, the most notable being CB Loucheiz Purifoy.
Purifoy shares many of the same physical traits as his prodigious predecessors.
The 6'1'', 189-pound junior is a highly athletic and explosive quick-twitch athlete, who has the speed to run with any receiver in the country. When you add in the fact that he's got ideal size for the position and impressive instincts, recognition skills and coverage ability, you have the makings of a potential elite NFL prospect.
With Purifoy, fellow cornerback Marcus Roberson and converted safety Jaylen Watkins controlling the back end, the Gators will have one of the best secondaries in college football in 2013.
13. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Fifteen schools have produced multiple Outland Trophy winners, but Nebraska is the only program in college football history that has ever had two different players win the prestigious award in consecutive years (Larry Jacobson and Rich Glover did it in 1971 and 1972; Dave Rimington and Dean Steinkuhler did it in 1982 and 1983).
The Cornhuskers may soon have some company in that category if Texas A&M's Jake Matthews can follow in the footsteps of former teammate Luke Joeckel, who took home the trophy in 2012.
Matthews, the son of NFL Hall of Fame OT Bruce Matthews and cousin of perennial NFL Pro-Bowl LB Clay Matthews, passed up the chance to be a potential top-20 pick in the 2013 NFL draft in order to return to College Station for one more year.
Not only does the highly skilled 6'5'', 305-pound senior have all the physical tools that scouts are looking for in a franchise tackle prospect, but he's also got the type of talent it takes to be an All-American performer and a top contender for the Outland Trophy in 2013.
14. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
Amari Cooper's brilliant performance against Notre Dame in the BCS championship game—during which he caught six passes for 105 yards and scored two touchdowns—was a fitting end to his outstanding freshman campaign.
Cooper finished his first season with 58 catches for 999 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The incredibly gifted 6'1'', 198-pound pass-catcher looks like he's destined to become just as big of a game-changer in Tuscaloosa as his much talked-about predecessor Julio Jones.
15. Craig Loston, S, LSU
Eric Reid, who was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers with the No. 18 overall pick in this year's draft, was the star safety of LSU's secondary in 2012. However, his counterpart in the Tigers defensive backfield, SS Craig Loston, was equally impressive.
During his first season as a starter, Loston proved to be one of the toughest and most physical defenders in the country.
The 6'2'', 205-pound senior was constantly flying around the field and trying to destroy any player in a different color uniform.
With Reid now gone, Loston will take over as the leader of LSU's secondary in 2013. The former All-American recruit from Houston should be even better in his second season as a full-time starter.
16. Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas
Since Arkansas endured such a miserable season in 2012, the performance of DE Trey Flowers seemed to go largely unnoticed.
Though he didn't receive a ton of attention, Flowers was quietly one of the top sophomores in the SEC this past season. He totaled six sacks, 11 quarterback hurries and 13 tackles for loss.
Flowers never received any scholarship offers from the big, prominent powerhouse SEC programs during his days as an under-the-radar recruit at Columbia High School in Alabama. Now, he's playing with the purpose and the motivation of showing all those schools what they missed out on.
The undersized, yet often unblockable 6'4'', 243-pound junior should emerge as one of the most disruptive defensive ends in college football in 2013.
17. Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia
The Georgia defense lost two ultra-talented linebackers, Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, who were both first-round picks in this year's NFL draft. The linebacking unit will now need another player to emerge as a leader in 2013.
Luckily, the Bulldogs have an emerging star on the outside in sophomore Jordan Jenkins.
Though he was overshadowed by Jones and Ogletree in 2012, Jenkins still put together a mighty impressive freshman season. He showed all the necessary skills it takes to be a dominant edge-rusher in a 3-4 defense, as he totaled five sacks, eight tackles for loss and 23 quarterback pressures.
Jones, who was one of the best defensive playmakers in the country over the past two seasons, has left some huge shoes to fill. However, Jenkins has the talent to develop into the same type of disruptive defensive difference-maker that his former mentor was.
18. Dominique Easley, DE, Florida
Florida's defense lost five players who were selected in the 2013 NFL draft, including first-round picks Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam.
Replacing that type of talent certainly isn't going to be easy. Luckily, though, the Gators have returning players such as DE Dominique Easley, who should emerge as a key leader this fall.
After experiencing a knee injury late in the 2011 season, Easley eased back into the mix this past fall. He totaled four sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and played a key role in helping Florida's defense rank fourth in the nation against the run.
The agile and physical 6'2'', 280-pound former blue-chip prospect was one of the gems of Florida's top-ranked 2010 recruiting class. While Easley hasn't yet reached his full potential, he should finally put it all together and become a star defender in his senior year.
19. Gabe Jackson, OG, Mississippi State
Now that Chance Warmack has moved on to the NFL, the title of "Best Guard in the SEC" is currently up for grabs.
Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson seems like he definitely deserves to be bestowed with the honor.
Like Warmack, Jackson is a powerful, physical and mauling blocker, who can open up huge holes in the running game.
The 6'4'', 320-pound senior has been a starter for the Bulldogs since his redshirt freshman season. During that time, he's grown into an offensive line leader and linchpin in the trenches.
20. Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss
Ole Miss is bringing back basically every key starter from the 2012 season. However, none of those returning Rebels are as important, or as talented, as the team's top offensive playmaker, WR Donte Moncreif.
Moncrief is coming off a fantastic sophomore season, in which he hauled in 66 catches for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The 6'3'', 216-pound pass-catcher is an absolute matchup nightmare for opposing defensive backs. Few other receivers in college football can offer Moncrief's combination of size, athleticism, sure hands and big-play ability.
The former 4-star recruit should be even better in 2013, now that he's had a full season's worth of experience playing with QB Bo Wallace.
21. Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama
Going into the 2012 season, Adrian Hubbard was given the unenviable task of having to replace Courtney Upshaw, who had led Alabama's defense in sacks in each of his final two seasons.
Though Hubbard wasn't able to match Upshaw's impressive numbers from the 2011 season, he still quickly developed into a dangerous rush linebacker on the outside of the Tide's 3-4 defense.
Hubbard led the team with seven sacks, and he also totaled 11 tackles for loss and forced three fumbles.
The 6'6'', 246-pound junior has the potential to ultimately grow into an even more dominant defender than Upshaw was.
22. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
Seven LSU defenders were picked in the 2013 NFL draft, including four defensive linemen—Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Bennie Logan and Lavar Edwards.
That means the Tigers are going to have a bunch of new, fresh faces in the trenches in 2013. Fortunately, they'll have one of the best young tackles in the country, Anthony "the Freak" Johnson, to lead the way.
The 6'3'', 304-pound former 5-star recruit from New Orleans possesses remarkable agility, athleticism and explosiveness for his size.
After showing steady signs of improvement in his first two years, Johnson now looks ready to take the next step forward and become a truly dominant interior presence in 2013.
23. Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Missouri hasn't had a defender total double-digit sacks in a season since Aldon Smith accomplished the feat back in 2009. There's a good chance that drought will end in 2013, though, if Kony Ealy plays up to his full potential.
Like his highly productive predecessor Smith, Ealy is an extremely athletic edge-rusher, who possesses the speed to blow right by opposing tackles on the outside.
In his first season as a starter in 2012, the 6'5'', 265-pound junior was overshadowed by heralded teammate Sheldon Richardson. However, he still managed to show flashes of his enormous potential, as he totaled 3.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss and seven quarterback hurries.
If Ealy can add a few more moves to his arsenal over the offseason, he has a chance to be a powerful pass-rushing force in 2013.
24. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
Nick Saban takes special pride in developing outstanding defensive backs. During his tenure at Alabama, he's coached plenty of great ones, including recent first-round draft picks Dee Milliner, Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick.
Now, it appears that Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix is going to be Saban's next star pupil in the Tide secondary.
Clinton-Dix is your prototypical Alabama DB. He's tall, long, highly athletic, and he possesses great ball skills and natural instincts.
If his outstanding performance in the BCS championship game is any indication of what he's really capable of, then "Ha Ha" should become one of college football's most talked-about star safeties in 2013.
25. Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Standing at 6'6" and weighing in at over 330 pounds, Antonio Richardson is the type of massive and physically intimidating offensive tackle who has a clear size advantage over almost every defensive lineman he squares off with.
Last year, Richardson used his size, strength and surprising agility to manhandle pretty much any player who had the unfortunate task of lining up across from him.
The gigantic former 4-star recruit from Nashville will once again team with Ja'Wuan James to give the 'Vols one of the best tackle tandems in the country for the 2013 season.
If he continues to progress at his current pace, NFL scouts will surely take notice of the big, talented blindside protector.
26. Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Loucheiz Purifoy is the Florida cornerback who you're going to hear the most about this offseason—and deservedly so—however, his fellow corner counterpart, Marcus Roberson, also deserves plenty of attention as well.
Like Purifoy, Roberson was considered to be one of the top prospects of the Gators' 2011 recruiting class.
This past season, the 6'0'', 178-pound junior showed why he was so highly regarded coming out of high school. He displayed outstanding ball skills and coverage ability, ranking third in the SEC with 14 passes defended.
With Roberson and Purifoy guarding the edges of the field, Florida will have one of the top cornerback combos in the country in 2013.
27. Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
LSU's passing attack certainly couldn't be described as potent in 2012. The Tigers ranked 92nd nationally in passing offense, averaging just 200 yards through the air per game.
Those numbers should drastically improve this fall, however, now that QB Zach Mettenberger has a greater familiarity with his receivers.
The Tigers have two dangerous receiving weapons in juniors Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. However, it's likely that Beckham will be the one who emerges as Mettenberger's go-to target in 2013.
The 6'0'', 187-pound junior only caught 43 passes and scored four touchdowns last season, yet any time he did have the ball in his hands, he certainly made the most of the opportunity.
Beckham averaged 16.6 yards per catch, which ranked sixth in the SEC. He was also one of the most dangerous punt returners in the country. He averaged 9.1 yards on 35 returns and took two punts back to the house for touchdowns.
28. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
Missouri's first season in the SEC turned out to be a big disappointment. The Tigers went just 5-7 and managed to win just two games against conference foes.
The team, as a whole, certainly didn't look properly prepared for the step up in competition. However, there was one player in particular, CB E.J. Gaines, who showed that he was ready to battle against the best talent that college football had to offer.
Gaines tied for fourth in the conference with 11 pass breakups, and he tied for eighth in the league with 58 solo stops.
The 5'10'', 195-pound senior has proven that he can go toe-to-toe with any receiver in the SEC.
29. Anthony Steen, OG, Alabama
Last season, Alabama clearly had the best offensive line in college football. But now, after losing two top-15 NFL draft picks (Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker) and All-American center Barrett Jones, the Tide have some questions to answer in the trenches this offseason.
Luckily, the team has a solid veteran guard in Anthony Steen, who has the talent and experience it takes to develop into a reliable leader of the unproven unit.
Steen has been the Tide's starting right guard for the past two seasons. During that time, the 6'3'', 309-pound senior has helped open up huge holes for backs like Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.
Though left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio will be the player who NFL scouts will be paying the most attention to in 2013, Steen will play just as big of a role in the offensive line's success this season.
30. Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU
Jeremy Hill's future at LSU is still a bit hazy at this point, following an arrest that led to a suspension from the team. Remember, though, Les Miles is the type of lenient coach who likes to forgive and forget, so it wouldn't be surprising to see Hill suiting up for the Tigers in 2013—as long as he can stay out of jail.
Hopefully, Hill can clean up his act away from the field and learn his lesson because he truly has the chance to be one of the premier offensive players in the country if he can stay out of further trouble.
Last year, the 6'2'', 235-pound sophomore looked like a star rusher. He averaged 5.3 yards on 142 carries, ran for 12 touchdowns, and he displayed a rare combination of size, burst, power and vision.
Hill's been blessed with some remarkable physical gifts, and it would be a real shame if they went to waste.
31. Malcolm Mitchell, WR, Georgia
Malcolm Mitchell may never be the same caliber of superstar as former Georgia great A.J. Green, but he still has the talent to be one of the SEC's most productive pass-catchers in 2013.
Mitchell showed off his versatility this past season, as he lined up on both sides of the ball at both receiver and cornerback. He made the biggest impact, however, on the offensive side of the ball, catching 40 passes for 572 yards and four touchdowns.
With Tavarres King gone, Mitchell will now be asked to be QB Aaron Murray's new top receiving target. It's a role that he's equipped to thrive in.
With fellow receiver Michael Bennett keeping defensive backs occupied on the other side of the field, Mitchell will have plenty of opportunities to expose opposing secondaries in 2013.
32. Denzel Nkemdiche, LB, Ole Miss
Robert Nkemdiche may be the freshman sensation that has Ole Miss fans buzzing with anticipation, but Nkemdiche's older brother Denzel is the player who's already established himself as the true leader of the Rebels defense.
Last fall, while Robert was being lauded as the No. 1 prospect of the 2013 recruiting class, Denzel was proving himself against some of the top competition that college football had to offer.
The undersized 5'11'', 203-pound outside linebacker led the team with 82 tackles, including 37 solo stops, 13 tackles for loss and three sacks. He also forced three fumbles and picked off three passes.
Though he didn't receive nearly the same amount of recruiting attention as Robert, Denzel has already proven that he has what it takes to be a standout defender in the SEC.
33. Jalen Mills, CB, LSU
In the last three years, LSU has produced three All-American cornerbacks: Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Tyrann Mathieu.
It now appears that Jalen Mills could be destined to be the Tigers' next star corner.
Following Mathieu's suspension before the start of the 2012 season, Mills was thrust into a starting role as just a redshirt freshman. However, he proved to be a competent and capable replacement for the "Honey Badger."
The 6'0'', 185-pound cover man finished fourth on the team with 57 tackles, including 38 solo stops.
Mills helped LSU fans forget about Mathieu last season. Now, he'll be looking to forge his own legacy in 2013.
34. LaDarius Perkins, RB, Mississippi State
LaDarius Perkins is one of only four returning SEC running backs who topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark in 2012.
In his first year as the featured back in the Bulldogs backfield, Perkins proved to be a very capable replacement for Vick Ballard. He rushed for 1,024 yards, averaged over five yards per carry and scored 10 touchdowns.
The 5'10'', 190-pound senior won't receive anywhere near the same type of publicity this offseason as other SEC backs such as Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon. Nevertheless, Perkins will still definitely be a legitimate contender to win the SEC rushing title in 2013.
35. Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia
Keith Marshall was overshadowed by fellow freshman back Todd Gurley in 2012. However, the former blue-chip recruit still proved that he was worthy of his lofty high school hype.
Marshall averaged 6.5 yards on 117 carries and scored nine touchdowns in his first campaign.
The 5'11'', 216-pound sophomore possesses an impressive combination of speed, power and balance, and he appears to be a perfect fit for Georgia's offense.
The fact that Marshall and Gurley both have at least two more years of eligibility left has to be worrisome to the rest of the SEC. You can easily argue that they should already be considered the top running back duo in college football.
36. Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas
Last season, Arkansas ranked fourth in the SEC with an average of 2.6 sacks per game. The reason the Razorbacks had such a productive pass-rush largely centered around the emergence of DE Chris Smith.
Smith ranked fourth in the SEC with 9.5 sacks, and he tied for fifth in the conference with 13 tackles for loss.
After putting together a breakout junior campaign in 2012, the 6'3'', 251-pound senior will now team back up with fellow end Trey Flowers to give Arkansas one of the best pairs of pass-rushers in college football.
37. Deion Belue, CB, Alabama
Alabama may have lost star cornerback Dee Milliner, who was selected with the ninth overall pick by the New York Jets in this year's NFL draft. Luckily, though, the Tide have another budding star corner, Deion Belue, who has the chance to be just as good as his former teammate.
Last year, Belue arrived in Tuscaloosa after a stint at Northeast Mississippi Community College. It certainly didn't take him long to make an impact.
The 5'11'', 183-pound corner entered the starting lineup immediately and proved to be a capable complement to Milliner on the other side of the field. He totaled 40 tackles, picked off two passes and broke up another seven throws.
With Milliner gone, Belue will now be asked to step up and handle the role of being the Tide's No. 1 lock-down corner in 2013.
38. Travis Swanson, OC, Arkansas
Following the departure of QB Tyler Wilson, Arkansas is now going to have a new signal-caller under center for the 2013 season. Fortunately, that center, Travis Swanson, is one of the most talented and experienced offensive linemen in the country.
Swanson has been the leader of the Razorbacks offensive line since he stepped into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman back in 2010. Since then, he's started all 38 games that the team has played.
The 6'5'', 305-pound senior is a tough, fundamentally sound, dependable and intelligent veteran, who should be able to help new starting quarterback Brandon Allen ease into the starting role.
39. Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney casts a large shadow over the rest of the South Carolina defense, but that certainly doesn't mean that the Gamecocks don't have other impact defenders who deserve praise.
Though it was Clowney who soaked up all of the accolades in 2012, fellow defensive lineman Kelcy Quarles also put together an impressive performance as well.
The 6'4'', 298-pound junior totaled 23 solo stops, eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. He was one of the main reasons why South Carolina's defense allowed just 3.1 yards per carry, which ranked 10th in the nation.
Quarles is a big, strong and agile run-stuffer, who should cause plenty of disruption on the interior in 2013.
40. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
Dorial Green-Beckham was the most decorated and coveted wide receiver prospect of the 2012 recruiting class. Though he had dozens of scholarship offers from prominent power programs from around the country, the Missouri native chose to stay in his home-state and play for the Tigers.
Green-Beckham entered his freshman season with an enormous amount of hype and sky-high expectations to live up to. Unfortunately, his first campaign turned out to be a disappointment, as he caught just 28 passes for 395 yards.
Still, there were times when the 6'6'', 220-pound freakish physical specimen showed that he could overwhelm opposing defensive backs with his rare size-speed combination.
Now that Green-Beckham knows what it takes to compete in college football's toughest conference, he should be able to finally feel comfortable and let his natural playmaking ability take over in 2013.
41. Damian Swann, CB, Georgia
Georgia is going to have the tough task of replacing three defensive backs who were selected in this year's NFL draft—Bacarri Rambo, Shawn Williams and Sanders Commings.
Luckily, the lone returning starter in the secondary, CB Damian Swann, should flourish in his new role as the leader of the inexperienced unit.
Although Swann made a few noticeable mistakes in coverage this past season (this one being the most costly), he still showed that he has all the skills to develop into a reliable lock-down corner.
The 5'11'', 178-pound junior will have a much bigger responsibility in 2013, but he should have no trouble thriving under the increased pressure.
42. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
One of the few bright spots of Auburn's otherwise dismal 3-9 campaign last season was the emergence of RB Tre Mason.
While the rest of the Tigers offense was largely inept, Mason shined, rushing for over 1,000 yards on just 171 carries and scoring eight touchdowns.
The 5'10'', 198-pound junior may not possess the same level of pure physical ability as Michael Dyer—the back he replaced—but Mason is clearly a determined and reliable rusher who can always be counted on to produce, even when times are tough.
If new coach Gus Malzahn can surround the talented back with a better passing game in 2013, it will really help to take some of the burden off Mason's shoulders.
43. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
After getting booted from Georgia back in the spring of 2010, Zach Mettenberger could have been like many other former highly touted recruits who faded into obscurity after getting kicked off a team.
Instead, Mettenberger got his head on straight and worked his way back into the spotlight. After spending a year in the JUCO ranks, the former Bulldog arrived in Baton Rouge, looking to get his chance to start.
The former 4-star recruit finally got the opportunity to prove his worth as a starter in 2012. He ultimately had his ups and downs, as he completed just 58 percent of his passes and threw just 12 touchdowns. However, some of his struggles could be blamed on inconsistent pass-protection and questionable playcalling.
The strong-armed 6'5'', 230-pound senior signal-caller should have a much better campaign in 2013, since he's seemingly such a quality fit for new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's pro-style offensive attack.
44. Michael Bennett, WR, Georgia
Early in the 2012 season, it looked like Michael Bennett was on his way to becoming one of the SEC's biggest breakout stars. He caught 24 passes for 345 yards and four touchdowns in his first five games of action.
Unfortunately, though, a torn ACL that he suffered in early October forced him to the sideline for the rest of the season.
Now, after rehabbing his knee for months, Bennett will be looking to make up for lost time in 2013.
The 6'3'', 205-pound junior will team up with fellow receiver Malcolm Mitchell to give QB Aaron Murray one of the best pairs of pass-catchers in the country.
45. Denico Autry, DE, Mississippi State
In recent years, we've seen plenty of great defensive ends come out of the JUCO ranks, such as Tank Carradine, Bruce Irvin and Jason Pierre-Paul.
Now, it appears that Denico Autry could be ready to follow in their footsteps.
Last year, Autry arrived in Starkville as one of the most highly rated JUCO prospects in the country. He quickly earned himself a spot in the starting lineup and made an immediate impact, totaling 42 tackles—including 26 solo stops and 9.5 tackles for loss—four sacks and seven quarterback hurries.
Now that the highly athletic 6'5'', 255-pound edge-rusher knows what it takes to compete in the treacherous trenches of the SEC, Autry should be ready to have a true breakthrough campaign in 2013.
46. Jeff Driskel, QB, Florida
Say what you will about Tim Tebow, but you have to admit that the former Heisman-winner certainly left some big shoes to fill when he left Florida.
John Brantley wasn't able to properly replace the legendary signal-caller, but it looks like Jeff Driskel could be the one who finally helps the folks in Gainesville get over the loss of their beloved Tebow.
In his first season as a starter, Driskel led Florida to an 11-2 record and a BCS bowl berth. While he may not have put up eye-popping numbers in Florida's conservative offensive attack, the former All-American recruit from Florida's Hagerty High School proved that he could be a dangerous dual-threat weapon.
If offensive coordinator Brent Pease lets the leash off of Driskel, the big, athletic junior signal-caller has a great chance to really flourish in 2013.
47. Andre Hal, CB, Vanderbilt
Even though Vanderbilt lost CB Casey Hayward to the NFL after the 2011 season, the team still managed to have one of the top passing defenses in college football last year. The Commodores were one of just 12 teams in the country who allowed less than six yards per pass attempt.
The emergence of CB Andre Hal was one of the main reasons why the secondary was so successful.
Hal proved his worth against some of the top receivers in the SEC. He demonstrated outstanding coverage ability and top-notch ball skills, as he ranked second in the conference with 16 passes defended.
The 6'0'', 184-pound senior has the talent and potential to develop into the same caliber of NFL prospect as his former teammate Hayward.
48. Dee Ford, DE, Auburn
Auburn's defense was one of the worst units in the SEC last year, ranking 10th in the conference in scoring defense and 13th in total defense.
Inexperience was one of the main reasons why the defense struggled. With nine of the top 11 tacklers from last year returning for 2013, it wouldn't be surprising to see the unit make a big improvement next season.
Leading the way in the trenches will be DE Dee Ford. Last year, Ford was one of the team's most consistent defenders. He totaled six sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss and eight quarterback hurries.
If the 6'2'', 238-pound senior can stay healthy for a full season, he should be one of the most productive pass-rushers in the SEC.
49. Deshazor Everett, CB, Texas A&M
Deshazor Everett only picked off two passes this past season, but one of those interceptions was one of the most important and memorable plays of 2012.
When Everett intercepted AJ McCarron's pass at the goal line late in the game against Alabama, he sealed a huge upset victory for Texas A&M over the No. 1-ranked Tide.
Everett proved to be a clutch playmaker when it counted the most.
This fall, the junior corner will have plenty more opportunities to make critical game-changing plays.
50. Byron Moore, S, Tennessee
Byron Moore had a quiet first season in Knoxville in 2011, totaling just six tackles. However, Moore developed into a true difference-maker this past season when he finally took over as a full-time starter in the secondary.
After starting the year at strong safety, Moore slid over to the free safety spot after Brian Randolph's season-ending injury. It's there where he truly flourished. He finished the season with 86 tackles, including 48 solo stops, to go along with five interceptions, which tied for the most in the SEC.
The 6'0'', 193-pound senior is the best defensive back that the 'Vols have had since Eric Berry. If he continues to progress as expected, Moore should once again be one of the best safeties in the country in 2013.
50 Other Players to Watch out for
A.J. Cann, OG, South Carolina
Alvin Dupree, LB, Kentucky
Amarlo Herrera, LB, Georgia
Andrew Wilson, LB, Missouri
Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia
Ben Malena, RB, Texas A&M
Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
Brison Williams, S, South Carolina
Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
Byran Jones, DT, Arkansas
Charles Sawyer, S, Ole Miss
Chaz Green, OT, Florida
Chaz Sutton, DE, South Carolina
Chris Burnette, OG, Georgia
Chris Davis, CB, Auburn
C.J. Johnson, DE, Ole Miss
Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee
Dante Fowler, DE, Florida
Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama
Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU
Garrison Smith, DE, Georgia
Henry Josey, RB, Missouri
Isaac Gross, DT, Ole Miss
Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
Jaylen Watkins, S, Florida
Jeff Scott, RB, Ole Miss
Jeffrey Whitaker, DT, Auburn
Jeoffrey Pagan, DE, Alabama
Jimmy Legree, CB, South Carolina
John Theus, OT, Georgia
Jonotthan Harrison, OC, Florida
Josh Harvey-Clemons, S, Georgia
Kenny Hilliard, RB, LSU
Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt
Kyle Christy, P, Florida
La’El Collins, OG, LSU
Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU
Matt Jones, RB, Florida
Mekale McKay, WR, Arkansas
Mike Marry, LB, Ole Miss
Nickoe Whitley, S, Mississippi State
Reese Dismukes, OC, Auburn
Rohan Gaines, S, Arkansas
Steven Jenkins, LB, Texas A&M
Trai Turner, OG, LSU
Trey Burton, RB, Florida
Trey Depriest, LB, Alabama
Tyler Russell, QB, Mississippi State
Vinnie Sunseri, S, Alabama
15 Freshmen to Watch out for
Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
Alex Anzalone, LB, Florida
Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn
Chris Jones, DE, Mississippi State
Ethan Pocic, OL, LSU
Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
Marquez North, WR, Tennessee
O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
Ricky Seals-Jones, WR, Texas A&M
Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Ole Miss
Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
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