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SEC preseason position rankings: Defensive backs

We continue our position rankings in the SEC by checking out those nifty ball hawks.

1. LSU: Let the "DBU" debate rage. The Tigers return the best batch with potential All-SEC performers Jamal Adams (safety), who led the team with four interceptions and 10 passes defended last season, and Tre'Davious White (cornerback) returning. Kevin Tolliver was outstanding as a freshman, and should be a key boundary cornerback, and veteran Rickey Jefferson and Dwayne Thomas will help Adams at safety. There is a ton of playmaking depth with guys like Ed Paris, Donte Jackson, and freshmen Saivion Smith and Eric Monroe.

2. Alabama: All-SEC freshmen Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick return at cornerback (five INTs/24 passes defended total). Alabama also returns the electric Eddie Jackson (six interceptions) at safety. Sophomore Ronnie Harrison (two INTs) should help out at safety. New defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley has 13 interceptions returning from that group, and Tony Brown will eventually return to the field from his NCAA suspension. Depth took a hit with Maurice Smith's transfer to Georgia, and head coach Nick Saban is still waiting on redshirt freshman Kendall Sheffield to return.

3. Florida: Cornerback Jalen "Teez" Tabor might be the SEC's best cover cornerback and an All-American talent, but he's been suspended for the opener for fighting a teammate. Still, Florida's secondary shouldn't miss a beat against UMass. Quincy Wilson (two INTs/seven passes defended) returns opposite Tabor, and the Gators can slide over senior safety Marcus Maye, who spurned the NFL draft this year, nickel Duke Dawson and junior college transfer Joseph Putu if needed. Vets Nick Washington and Marcell Harris are back, and freshman Chauncey Gardner can play multiple positions.

4. Georgia: An already solid unit should benefit at nickel with the arrival of Maurice Smith from Alabama. Four starters -- Dominick Sanders, Quincy Mauger, Aaron Davis and Malkom Parrish -- are back after allowing a nation-best 156.5 passing yards per game. Sanders is the main attraction, recording six interceptions, but Smart could reshuffle this unit from time to time. Sophomores Rico McGraw, Juwuan Briscoe, and freshmen Mecole Hardman and Tyrique McGhee are guys to keep an eye on.

5. Texas A&M: John Chavis was a welcomed addition to this defense, especially the secondary. In Year 2, he could see even more improvement, especially with one of the league's best safety trios in the league -- Armani Watts, Justin Evans and Donovan Wilson. Watts led the team with 126 tackles, and Wilson snatched five interceptions. There is some concern with both starting cornerbacks gone, but coaches were impressed with Nick Harvey and UCLA transfer Priest Willis. DeShawn Capers-Smith and Alex Sezer are also options at cornerback.

6. Tennessee: Though safety is missing two starters from last season, there might be more speed and athleticism at the position in years. Bob Shoop has raved about the play of Todd Kelly Jr., who picked off three passes last year. Safety Evan Berry has missed some time with an undisclosed injury, but Micah Abernathy has come on strong in camp. Cam Sutton bypassed the NFL draft to come back, and he's the leader. Justin Martin is back at cornerback, as are veterans Malik Foreman and Emmanuel Moseley. Stephen Griffin is also in the mix at safety, and Rashaan Gaulden is pushing for the nickel spot. Freshman Nigel Warrior is making noise, too.

7. Vanderbilt: Derek Mason is excited about this group. Oren Burks, who led the team with three interceptions last season, will play linebacker and safety this fall. Starting cornerbacks Torren McGaster and Tre Herndon are back (they combined for 17 passes defended), and Arnold Tarpley is a solid nickel option. Freshman Joejuan Williams should be valuable snaps this fall, too. Four of Vanderbilt's top five cornerbacks and six of its top eight safeties are back from a unit that tied for a league-low 10 passing touchdowns allowed.

8. Kentucky: The Wildcats have a fine sophomore duo at cornerback in Chris Westry, Freshman All-SEC, and Derrick Baity. Three of Mark Stoops' cornerbacks are 6-foot-2 or taller, and he signed three more cornerbacks in his 2017 class. Blake McClain should man the nickel spot, and senior Marcus McWilson and sophomore Mike Edwards, who had a strong end to last season, will play the safety spots. Safety depth took a bit of a blow when Darius West was lost for the season with a knee injury.

9. Auburn: This could be a sneaky good unit. For as bad as Auburn's pass defense was in 2015, the Tigers return three more experienced starters, including Freshman All-SEC cornerback Carlton Davis, who led the team with three interceptions. Tray Matthews, Stephen Roberts and Nick Ruffin are competing for the safety spots, and Johnathan Ford has moved to nickel. The coaches are still trying to find out who will play opposite Davis, and are hoping that Miami (Ohio) transfer Marshall Taylor returns to the team after he was involved in an incident in Columbus, Georgia, this summer.

10. Ole Miss: The Rebels are pretty thin here after ranking second to last in the SEC in pass defense. Tony Conner and C.J. Hampton both have a ton of athleticism and upside, but Ole Miss just lost C.J. Moore to a torn pectoral and moved running back Jarrion Street to safety. Moore's twin brother A.J. has been limited in practice after two knee surgeries last year. Myles Hartsfield is working as the starting rover. Starting cornerbacks Tony Bridges and Kendarius Webster are back (24 passes defended/four INTs). Zedrick Woods can play all over and will compete with Hampton for the free safety spot.

11. Mississippi State: Cornerback Tolando Cleveland is back as a full-time starter, as are safeties Kivon Coman and Brandon Bryant. Cleveland is still somewhat green, and coaches are excited about the safeties, including former ESPN 300 member Jamal Peters and Mark McLaurin. Cedric Jiles has done surprisingly well in camp at cornerback, and Maurice Smitherman will work as a hybrid cornerback/safety. There is talent, but not a lot of proven players.

12. Missouri: The secondary is the ultimate wild card for what is an overall solid defense. What we know is that cornerback Aarion Penton and safety Anthony Sherrils are steady at their spots, but there are questions about how this group will react to a scheme that features more man-to-man coverage. Safety Thomas Wilson has gained praise for his consistency in preseason, and junior cornerback John Gibson, who has had on-field focus issues in the past, finally gets his shot as a starter.

13. Arkansas: Well, three starters return, but this unit finished dead last in the SEC, allowing 275 passing yards per game in 2015. Former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads is now the defensive backs coach, and hopes to have a solid foundation with upperclassmen Jared Collins, Henre Toliver and Josh Liddell. Sophomore Santos Ramirez should start opposite Liddell at safety, and junior college transfer Britto Tutt will vie for a cornerback spot, especially with senior D.J. Dean out with a hamstring injury.

14. South Carolina: The Gamecocks gave up an SEC-high 7.3 yards per attempt last season, and really struggled with man coverage this spring. Will Muschamp has seen improvements from cornerbacks Chris Lammons, the most talented of the group, and Rashad Fenton. Cornerback Rico McWilliams started 10 of 12 games last season, and junior college transfer Jamarcus King has the length and speed to make a big impact. Chaz Elder and D.J. Smith are at safety, and Jordan Diggs is at nickel.