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Ranking the SEC cornerbacks

SEC defenses don’t make it easy for quarterbacks to get their jobs done. But when you’re throwing against the talent the conference throws out at the cornerback positions you have to feel for them at times.

Or you don’t really have to, I guess.

Here’s the list of top corners that we came up with:

1. Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina, Jr.: Gilmore knows that 2010 could have been better for him. Still, he was first on the team with 79 tackles and three interceptions. He also played well in the box, grabbing three sacks. Gilmore enters the season as one of the most dynamic corners in the league and should be the top cover-corner around.

2. Morris Claiborne, LSU, Jr.: It would surprise few if he were at the top of this list by the end of the year. He lined up opposite Patrick Peterson in 2010 and led the Tigers with five interceptions. Claiborne should fill into Peterson’s role nicely this fall and expect quarterbacks to limit their passes toward his side of the field.

3. Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama, Jr.: Coming out of high school, he was one of the top defensive back prospects and after a year of growing, he should move to the top of the SEC chain. He’s got great length at 6-3, 193 pounds and had a way of finding the ball last season; defending 10 passes, including having three interceptions.

4. Casey Hayward, Vanderbilt, Sr.: After linebacker Chris Marve, Hayward is Vanderbilt’s top weapon. He’d start on a lot of teams in the SEC and led the SEC with 17 passes defended and had six interceptions. Hayward was a second-team All-SEC member a year ago and could creep into the first team in his last go-round.

5. Tyrann Mathieu, LSU, So.: Another athletic corner on the Bayou. Real shocker. Mathieu got solid playing time last year and made sure he was always around the ball when he was on the field, ranking fourth on the team with 57 tackles and he was third defending nine passes. He’ll start opposite Claiborne this fall.

6. Prentiss Waggner, Tennessee, Jr.: He moved from safety to corner last year and was an All-SEC performer with his five picks. Then, he moved back to safety this spring when Janzen Jackson left, but could end up back at corner again this fall. He’s got great lockdown ability and should be fine this fall after injuring his left hand this spring.

7. Brandon Boykin, Georgia, Sr.: Boykin is Georgia’s best weapon in the secondary and is the emotional leader of the entire defense. He had three interceptions last year and would have had more if teams threw his way more often. Boykin is also an exceptional player in the Bulldogs’ return game as well.

8. Corey Broomfield, Mississippi State, Jr.: He’s improved each year he’s been in Starkville and is the best all-around player in Mississippi State’s defensive backfield. He had 52 tackles and three interceptions last year, but people around the program think he’ll be even better and should make even more big plays this fall.

9. DeQuan Menzie, Alabama, Sr.: The former junior college standout overcame a lot of injuries last year and started six games. He might not have the popularity of some of Alabama’s other defensive backs, but coach Nick Saban has complete trust in him and thinks he has the skill to be Alabama’s most talented player in the secondary.

10. Jeremy Brown, Florida, Jr.: During freshman workouts a couple years ago, Brown was actually ahead of eventual All-SEC corner Janoris Jenkins. Now, he’s really ahead of the departed star and while he had some rough moments last year, he’s locked up one of Florida’s corner spots. His back is healed, he’s learned some things and should be even better in 2011.