What makes for an all-time secondary in SEC circles?
**Can this subjective pursuit be measured by only single-year production?
**What about career numbers of a particular cluster of defensive backs?
**Should we care more about physical upside?
**Are we obligated to factor in how the SEC is evolving into a passing-friendly league?
**And don’t forget about the eventualities of NFL draft status and production at the pro level. These components should matter as well, right?
If the above factors all warrant consideration, we might have to wait 10 years to compare LSU’s 2016 secondary (cornerbacks Tre’Davious White, Kevin Toliver, Donte Jackson; safeties Jamal Adams, Corey Thompson, John Battle) to other storied defensive backfields at the college level.
We’ll need time to evaluate the Tigers’ current crop against the recent likes of 2011 LSU (Tyrann Mathieu, Morris Claiborne, Eric Reid, Tharold Simon), 2011 Alabama (Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner, Mark Barron, DeQuan Menzie, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Robert Lester) or 2008 Florida (Joe Haden, Ahmad Black, Major Wright, Will Hill, Janoris Jenkins).
Now, the pessimist (or even numbers-based realist) might argue that LSU, while teeming with NFL-caliber athletes, doesn’t deserve the preseason moniker of “SEC’s Best Secondary.”
What about Alabama, Tennessee, UGA, Ole Miss?
Last year, the Tigers collectively allowed 24.3 points per game (41st nationally). Plus, they didn’t crack the top 30 in the categories of passing yards allowed, third-down conversion percentage defense, interceptions or scoring defense.
And yet, we’re still projecting LSU to capture the SEC West title in 2016; and for that to happen, the defensive backfield must take a substantial leap forward this fall.
White could be the second cornerback off the draft board next spring, trailing only Florida’s Jalen Tabor.
The speedy White might not have the size of Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson or uncanny ball skills of Tyrann Mathieu (former LSU greats), but he is a terrific one-on-one defender and potential dual-force threat at the next level (returning kicks).
In 2015, Adams led all Tigers defenders in pass deflections (six — tied with defensive end Lewis Neal) and interceptions (four). He also was third on the team with 67 tackles and sixth on the team with five tackles for loss.
WalterFootball.com lists Adams as the top-ranked draft-eligible safety for 2017 (and projects Adams to go No. 8 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars). In fact, Adams was among the five LSU stars (along with Leonard Fournette, Tre’Davious White, Lewis Neal, Ethan Pocic) hailed as top-15 picks in next year’s draft.
Sky-high expecations, indeed.
KEVIN TOLIVER II
Toliver (five pass deflections, one INT, 24 tackles) enjoyed a rock-solid freshman campaign with the Tigers; and given his athletic skill set and impressive size (6-foot-2, 196 pounds), the sophomore-to-be could have a tremendous season with perhaps the nation’s most improved defense.
CBS Sports and NFL Draft Scout currently have Jefferson as the eighth-ranked free safety for next year’s draft-eligible class (Auburn’s Johnathan Ford holds the top ranking).
Jefferson has been a consistent performer with the LSU defense, in the vital categories of interceptions, pass deflections and tackles. As such, he could be primed for a big-time senior campaign.
Head coach Les Miles boasts an impressive class of decorated defensive backs, featuring cornerbacks Kristian Fulton (5-star recruit — source 247Sports.com), Saivion Smith (4-star recruit), Andraez Williams (4-star recruit) and 4-star safeties Eric Monroe and Cameron Lewis.
PROJECTION: SEC’S FIVE BEST SECONDARIES FOR 2016
DBs: Tre’Davious White, Kevin Toliver, Donte Jackson, Ed Paris
Safeties: Jamal Adams, Corey Thompson, John Battle
DBs: Marlon Humphrey, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Tony Brown, Maurice Smith
Safeties: Eddie Jackson, Ronnie Harrison, Laurence Hootie Jones, Shawn Burgess-Becker
DBs: Cameron Sutton, Rashaan Gaulden, Emmanuel Moseley, Malik Foreman, Justin Martin
Safeties: Evan Berry, Todd Kelly, Micah Abernathy, Stephen Griffin
DBs: Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson, Duke Dawson
Safeties: Marcus Maye, Marcell Harris, Nick Washington
DBs: Malkom Parrish, Aaron Davis, Rico McGraw, Juwuan Briscoe
Safeties: Dominick Sanders, Jarvis Wilson, Rashad Roundtree
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.