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OAYP: 2019 SEC Safety Rankings

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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The new OAYP advanced metric ranks the SEC's returning safeties.

It’s time to wrap up our release of the SEC position rankings, according to the new OAYP metric, with the safeties.

Here are the rest of the groups:

-Quarterbacks

-Running Backs

-Receivers

-Tight Ends

-Offensive Linemen

-Edge Rushers

-Defensive Linemen

-Linebackers

-Cornerbacks

There are some bonafide studs returning to the league at this spot. In fact, because the top player’s score is so high, it hurts everyone else’s marginal numbers. When they’re adjusted relative to the entire nation, don’t be surprised if two or three of the “second tier” guys cross that “superstar” threshold.

Regardless, just as we’ve done with all the other position groups, let’s tier the SEC safeties into superstars (marginal OAYP >1.0), the second tier (marginal OAYP between 0.5-1.0), and potential breakout stars, relative to their conference peers.

*marginal OAYP scores in parentheses*

Superstars

-Grant Delpit, LSU (2.71)
-Xavier McKinney, Alabama (1.72)
-J.R. Reed, Georgia (1.27)

Grant Delpit is not of this world. He can play center field like Andruw Jones, strap up receivers like any number of NFL cornerbacks that LSU has put in the league over the years, come up in the box like a heat seeking missile, and even rush the passer when Dave Aranda’s feeling particularly cruel. He may also be able to fly, breathe underwater, and shoot laser beams out of his eyeballs. His power is limitless.

Delpit led the SEC in interceptions last year, and finished second in total pass defensed. Those nine breakups were the sixth most among FBS safeties in 2018, he had even more quarterback pressures than batted balls -- 13 to be exact, which was fifth. Factor in his 9.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks, both of which led all SEC defensive backs, and there’s no debate as to who the best safety in the entire country is.

It wasn’t necessarily a surprise to see Xavier McKinney ranked where he is, but I was taken aback by just far ahead of the next tier that he ended up. Alabama was very inexperienced in the secondary last season after losing its top six tacklers from the 2017 defensive backfield. Opposite McKinney, Deionte Thompson dominated out of the gates and continued to do so for the rest of the regular season. McKinney had a slower start, relatively speaking, but seemed to get better every week. Then, as Thompson floundered in the College Football Playoff and gave up some uncharacteristic big plays, McKinney was arguably the Tide’s second most consistent defender in the postseason, behind Quinnen Williams. Like Delpit, McKinney is supremely versatile, and was especially strong in coverage last year, allowing a mere 46.5 passer rating on throws into his coverage with no touchdowns and two interceptions, which is the best among returning SEC safeties, just ahead of the aforementioned LSU standout.

If I was doing the rankings based on gut reaction, I would probably flip McKinney and Reed. In some ways, particularly from a defensive back standpoint, the OAYP formula is as much a playmaker index as anything else. Reed doesn’t necessarily fill out a box score like McKinney or Delpit, but his impact is unmistakable, and certainly felt. According to Pro Football Focus, Reed graded out as the SEC’s best safety in coverage last year, and, thanks to that late season dropoff from Thompson, actually ended up as the top graded safety overall. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time and never gives up big plays, which helped allow Georgia to play as bend-don’t-break as they did, whilst still ranking second in yards per pass attempt allowed to teams that ended up with a winning record.

Second Tier

-Richard LeCounte, Georgia (0.76)
-JaCoby Stevens, LSU (0.76)
-Daniel Thomas, Auburn (0.52)

As mentioned above, the sheer dominance of Delpit hurts these guys’ marginal scores. When it’s all said and done, and the national averages are tallied, LeCounte and Stevens could both fall in the superstar category.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to see all of these safety duos in the top two tiers. Like Andre and Big Boi, what can be great on its own, is even better together. These complementary pieces are more than the sum of their parts. Reed’s coverage dominance pairs very nicely with LeCounte’s athleticism and rare instincts. His 22 stops, or tackles that constitute a win for the defense, last year are tied for first among returning SEC safeties with Delpit, even ahead of McKinney.

After playing, like, 100 different positions throughout the early part of his career at LSU, JaCoby Stevens finally broke out in their quarter safety spot last year, eventually realizing all that potential that made him a five-star recruit out of high school. With versatility to rival that of McKinney and his teammate Grant Delpit, the best is yet to come.

The Auburn pair of Thomas and Dinson are similar to Georgia’s Reed and LeCounte. Each highly productive in his own right, Thomas provides elite coverage skills -- he led the league in 2018 in coverage snaps per reception allowed -- to go along with Dinson’s superior versatility and natural playmaking ability.

Potential Breakout Star

-Jaquarius Landrews, Mississippi State (0.92)

Landrews stepped up in a big way last year when slot corner Brian Cole was forced to miss time with an injury, and one of the nation’s most dominant defenses didn’t miss a beat. In ten games, overcoming some injury issues of his own, and on a limited sample size at that, the JUCO product notched 4.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and 5 pass breakups. Now poised to fill the strong safety void left behind by first round draft pick Johnathan Abram, a full season at the level he played last year could see him follow in his predecessor’s footsteps.

Landrews’ teammate C.J. Morgan and Jared Mayden from Alabama are also a couple of names worth keeping an eye on.

Full Marginal OAYP Rankings for Qualifying SEC Safeties

1. Grant Delpit, LSU 2.71
2. Xavier McKinney, Alabama 1.72
3. J.R. Reed, Georgia 1.27
t4. Richard LeCounte, Georgia 0.76
t4. JaCoby Stevens, LSU 0.76
6. Daniel Thomas, Auburn 0.52
7. Jeremiah Dinson, Auburn 0.46
8. Brad Stewart, Florida 0.34
9. Donovan Stiner, Florida 0.28
10. Todd Harris, LSU 0.16
11. Nigel Warrior, Tennessee 0.1
12. Davonte Robinson, Kentucky -0.08
13. Jeawon Taylor, Florida -0.26
14. RJ Roderick, South Carolina -0.38
15. Myles Hartsfield, Ole Miss -0.71
16. Tae Daley, Vanderbilt -0.74
17. Larry Pryor, Texas A&M -0.89
18. Frank Coppet, Vanderbilt -0.95
19. Tyree Gillespie, Missouri -1.07
20. Khalil Oliver, Missouri -1.1
21. Kamren Curl, Arkansas -1.34
22. CJ Miller, Ole Miss -1.58

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP