We've looked at the quarterbacks. We've looked at the skill guys. We've even looked at the tight ends. Now, as we continue to debate the SEC's top players by position, it's time to look at the big guys up front who make it all possible, the offensive linemen.
Stats are no longer applicable, unless you're counting pancakes, so choosing the best player among the league's best tackles, guards and centers became quite the difficult task. Some are better run blockers. Others are better in pass protection. A select few (OK, one) even threw a touchdown pass last season.
So who is the best offensive lineman in the SEC?
David Ching: I considered several linemen here, including multiple guys at Arkansas and LSU. But I decided to make the safe pick and go with Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.
There's a reason why ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. listed Tunsil as his No. 2 overall prospect on his first “Big Board” of prospects for the 2016 NFL draft. And why Todd McShay had Tunsil going fourth overall to the Tennessee Titans in his first "Way-Too-Early 2016 mock draft." The rising junior possesses immense potential.
I don't think we've seen Tunsil's best yet, despite his having started almost immediately upon arrival in Oxford -- a rarity among SEC left tackles. He has been an All-SEC selection in each of his two seasons as a Rebel, but I believe he will establish himself as a legitimate superstar blocker this season.
That said, it will be important to watch Tunsil perform early in the season to see how he has recovered from serious leg and ankle injuries suffered in the Rebels' bowl loss to TCU. Much like the gruesome leg injuries suffered last season by Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell, Tunsil's incident knocked him out of spring practice.
But if he makes it back to his pre-injury form -- and he should -- there's no reason to think Tunsil won't rank among the top offensive linemen in the conference. In fact, he's probably the odds-on favorite to rank at the very top of the list.
Greg Ostendorf: You can't go wrong with Tunsil. He's a stud. I too considered Denver Kirkland and Sebastian Tretola at Arkansas but couldn't choose between the two. I looked at Cam Robinson, and though the Alabama sophomore will be special, he's probably a year away from the label “best in the conference.”
To me, the player who best stacks up to Tunsil in the SEC is LSU senior Vadal Alexander. His teammate La'el Collins got most of the buzz last year and rightfully so, but Alexander was named second-team All-SEC by the coaches. He and Collins worked side-by-side and dominated the left side of that line.
Now that Collins is gone, there's an opportunity to go from being a counterpart to being the star. For Alexander, that starts with moving back to right tackle, the same position that he played as a freshman at LSU, and the position that should help him earn more money at next year's NFL draft. But the move signifies more than that. The move makes him the anchor on one of the better offensive lines in the conference.
For those skeptical about the transition, Alexander said this spring that it's like riding a bike. He also said it's the best he's felt in a long time. That's not good news for opposing defenses, but it's probably music to the ears of running back Leonard Fournette. Alexander helped pave the way for Fournette, who rushed for over more than yards as a freshman, and I'd expect more of the same this coming season.
You can have Tunsil and his top-five talent. I'll take the more versatile and more durable player in Alexander.