Offensive line is one of the most difficult position groups from which to name the five best SEC players over the last decade.
With 19 first-round NFL draft picks, four Outland Trophy winners (presented annually to the best lineman in college football) and five Rimington Trophy winners (best center) from the conference in that 10-year period, the SEC had no shortage of dominant players.
Here’s our best shot at a top five, although we’ll certainly leave out some deserving candidates:
1. Barrett Jones, Alabama (2008-12): There are many more talented options -- Jones is the only player in this top five who was not a first-round NFL pick -- but the former Alabama star clearly had the most distinguished college career. First of all, he was a starter on three championship teams, and he played a different position (guard in 2009, tackle in 2011, center in 2012) in all three of those years. That alone is remarkable, but check out the list of prizes in Jones’ trophy case: the Outland and the SEC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy in 2011, a Rimington from 2012, plus All-SEC and All-America honors for both of those seasons. And he was just as valuable away from the field, earning the Wuerffel Trophy and the William V. Campbell Trophy -- awards that recognize players for their combination of academic, athletic and community service success -- in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Guys who win Academic All-America honors and graduate with a 4.0 grade point average in a legitimate major (accounting in Jones’ case) and also dominate on the field don’t come along often. He hasn’t become an NFL star like other guys on this list, but it would be nearly impossible for a player to enjoy a more successful college career than Jones did in his time at Alabama.
2. Michael Oher, Ole Miss (2005-08): On one hand are the numerous awards that Oher claimed in his time at Ole Miss: Freshman All-America and Freshman All-SEC in 2005, All-SEC honors in 2007 and 2008, All-America honors and the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as a senior. Then he became a first-round NFL pick and later a Super Bowl champion with the Baltimore Ravens. On the other hand is what makes Oher’s career especially unique: his inclusion in “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game,” a 2006 book by Michael Lewis, which later became an Oscar-winning movie starring Sandra Bullock. The book and movie detailed the story of Oher’s rise from foster care and occasional homelessness to a major college prospect following his being adopted by a well-to-do family. Oher has had an up-and-down NFL career, but enjoyed one of his best seasons last year with the NFC champion Carolina Panthers, when he started every game at tackle.
3. Chance Warmack, Alabama (2009-12): Like Jones, Warmack was on three of Nick Saban’s championship teams, and he was a starter on the Crimson Tide teams that claimed back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012. Warmack made the All-SEC team in both his junior and senior seasons and was an All-American in 2012 because of his dominant play at guard. Picked 10th overall in the 2013 NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans, Warmack was the SEC’s highest-drafted guard in the decade, and he has since proven why he deserved that honor. He has started all 46 games in which he’s played over three seasons with the Titans.
4. Andre Smith, Alabama (2006-08): For a true freshman left tackle to jump straight into Alabama’s starting lineup, as Smith did when he arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2006, is an incredibly rare achievement (although Cam Robinson has since repeated the feat). Smith earned Freshman All-America honors in the process, and went on to become an All-SEC performer as a sophomore and junior, won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as a sophomore and claimed All-America honors and the Outland Trophy as a junior. Smith jumped to the NFL after that exceptional junior season and went to the Cincinnati Bengals as the sixth overall pick in the 2009 draft.
5. The Pouncey twins, Florida (2007-10): Perhaps this is unfair, but cut us some slack by splitting the final spot between two players. If it helps, Mike and Maurkice Pouncey are identical twin brothers, so at one point very early on, they were sort of the same guy. At any rate, they were individually successful linemen at Florida, both starting on the Gators’ 2008 BCS championship club. Maurkice started at guard as a freshman and shifted to center for 2008 and 2009, winning the Rimington Trophy at the end of an All-America junior season. He entered the draft after that season and went 18th overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers, for whom he has become an All-Pro center. Mike also was an All-SEC honoree at guard in 2009 and shifted to his brother’s center position for his senior year. The Miami Dolphins selected Mike with the No. 15 overall pick in the 2011 draft and he has since made the Pro Bowl as both a guard and a center.
Just missed the cut: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M (2010-12); Jake Matthews, Texas A&M (2010-13); Ja’Wuan James, Tennessee (2010-13); Jonathan Luigs, Arkansas (2004-07); Ryan Kelly, Alabama (2011-15); Reese Dismukes, Auburn (2011-14); Greg Robinson, Auburn (2011-13), Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss (2013-15); D.J. Fluker, Alabama (2009-12); Cordy Glenn, Georgia (2008-11)