Which states have proven to be the most fertile recruiting grounds for SEC schools at specific positions?
That was the question we hoped to answer this week by breaking down the conference’s 3,762 signees between 2006 and 2016 by home state and position and then tallying the numbers.
Today we will examine defensive positions after taking a look at the offense in a post on Thursday.
As with Thursday’s post, here are a few notes before we get started:
First, we tallied players not by the position they actually played in college, but by the position where ESPN listed them as recruits. For instance, Auburn’s Nick Fairley was listed as an offensive lineman although he eventually won the 2010 Lombardi Award as a defensive lineman.
Second, all Texas A&M and Missouri signees counted as SEC players even though the Aggies and Tigers only joined the conference in 2012.
Third, some players counted twice, such as when quarterback Zach Mettenberger initially signed with Georgia before completing his career at LSU.
Now let’s check out the defense:
Here is one of the most impressive finding at any of these positions: Nearly one in five of the SEC’s defensive line signees (133 out of 712) hailed from Georgia.
Twelve SEC schools -- everybody but conference newcomers Texas A&M and Missouri -- signed at least one defensive lineman from the Peach State. Home-state UGA understandably led the way with 42 of those signees (including Justin Houston, Jordan Jenkins, Leonard Floyd and eventual NFL offensive lineman Clint Boling), but Auburn (13), South Carolina (13) and Vanderbilt (11) each signed more than 10.
While it did not produce the sheer numbers that Georgia did, Florida also deserves a mention. The Sunshine State is responsible for 13 percent of the defensive line signees, including standouts such as Dante Fowler Jr. (Florida), Geno Atkins (Georgia), Pernell McPhee (Mississippi State), Corey Lemonier (Auburn) and ESPN’s No. 1 overall prospect in 2015, Byron Cowart (Auburn).
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Again, Georgia has a sizable lead over the field, producing 21 percent (86 of 412) of the conference’s linebacker signees. The next-closest states, Alabama and Florida, both produced roughly 14 percent.
Between 2006 and 2016, every SEC school signed at least one linebacker from the Peach State – a collection of talent that includes players such as Jarvis Jones and Rennie Curran (Georgia), Kevin Minter and Kelvin Sheppard (LSU) and Jasper and Casper Brinkley (South Carolina).
The defensive front seven seems to be where talent is concentrated in Alabama. The state ranked third among SEC states in defensive linemen produced (78) and is second with 57 linebackers, its best showing at any position.
That has mostly benefited Alabama and Nick Saban, with players such as C.J. Mosley, Rolando McClain, Reggie Ragland and Reuben Foster staying home to play for the Crimson Tide. However, a handful of Alabamians – including Kwon Alexander (LSU), D.T. Shackelford (Ole Miss) and Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt) – left the state to play elsewhere.
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Florida and Georgia are neck-and-neck at defensive back, both producing roughly 17 percent of the SEC’s 563 signees at the position. Texas is just behind with 16 percent.
Every SEC school except Texas A&M dipped into Florida for DB talent, while 12 SEC programs (excluding A&M and Florida, which have plenty of secondary talent within their home-state borders) signed at least one DB from Georgia.
If Florida is the DBU that it claims to be, it’s largely because of Sunshine State talent. Vernon Hargreaves III, Ahmad Black, Janoris Jenkins, Major Wright, Keanu Neal, Marcus Maye and eventual wide receiver Riley Cooper all signed with the Gators as DBs.
The Sunshine State is also responsible for several excellent DBs at other schools, including Patrick Peterson and Kevin Toliver II (LSU), Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Javier Arenas (Alabama) and budding Auburn standout Carlton Davis.
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Players in the athlete category frequently wind up at either wide receiver or defensive back, but arguably the two most notable members of this group – Alabama’s 2015 Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry (a Florida native) and Georgia superstar Todd Gurley (from North Carolina) – developed into outstanding running backs.
A host of All-America defensive backs were categorized as athletes as prospects including LSU’s Morris Claiborne and Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks – both Jim Thorpe Award winners – Alabama’s Mark Barron, Florida’s Matt Elam, Georgia’s Bacarri Rambo and Ole Miss’ Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt. All seven of those All-Americans played for colleges in their home states.
Among other impact athletes were Kentucky receiver Randall Cobb, Alabama quarterback Blake Sims, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, South Carolina receiver Pharoh Cooper, Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones, Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney, Tennessee linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Missouri running back Henry Josey.
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Although there is a small sample size here – SEC schools signed just 83 kickers in this time period – Florida and Georgia again sit near the top of the list.
Florida is responsible for much of the star power among kickers with players such as Michael Palardy and Daniel Lincoln (Tennessee), Wes Byrum and Cody Parkey (Auburn), Caleb Sturgis (Florida) and Blair Walsh and Marshall Morgan (Georgia) all hailing from the Sunshine State.
An interesting side note: Australia churned out more signees (four) than several SEC states. LSU has signed three Australian punters (Brad Wing, Jamie Keehn and Josh Growden) and Arkansas also had one in Sam Irwin-Hill.
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