College Football's Top 25 Defensive Back Units for 2013

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Florida tops the rankings for 2013.

College Football's Top 25 Defensive Back Units for 2013

The SEC is known for its defense, so it should be no surprise that two of college football’s top four defensive backfields hail from that conference. Florida takes the top spot in Athlon’s 2013 secondary rankings, as the Gators have a stellar one-two punch at cornerback with Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. Alabama isn’t far behind, but the Crimson Tide will be without Geno Smith for the season opener and need to find a replacement for Dee Milliner. Ohio State will miss cornerback Bradley Roby for one game due to a suspension. However, the Buckeyes have improved their depth from 2012 to 2013 and should have one of the Big Ten’s top pass defenses this year.

How did we come up with these rankings? A couple of factors were considered. Depth, overall talent, production, level of competition and projected output in 2013 all factored into the rankings for the backfield. While some teams may have experienced a down year last season, having a different quarterback or a change of scheme can make a huge difference.

They’re the teams within the team — those cohesive little units bound together by their shared responsibilities within the larger team context. 

Whether it’s the offensive linemen firing off time after time into those familiar blocking sleds, or the defensive linemen drilling repeatedly on how to shed blockers, or the defensive backs breaking on ball after ball — these teams in miniature hone their tasks on the practice field until those tasks become second nature. 
 
Whether or not these units function as one can make the difference between winning and losing, and a single unit can carry a team to New Year’s Day — or beyond.
 
It’s entirely fitting, then, for us to honor the best of the best at each position with our 13th annual Athlon Awards. 

 

Ranking the Top 25 Defensive Back Units for 2013

1. Florida
Safeties Matt Elam and Josh Evans are gone, but Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, along with the arrival of top recruit Vernon Hargreaves III, could give Florida the nation’s top cornerback trio. Jaylen Watkins recorded 39 tackles and three picks at cornerback last year, but he will shift to safety in 2013. The Gators ranked second nationally in pass efficiency defense last year and allowed only seven passing touchdowns while grabbing 20 INTs.

2. Ohio State 
The Buckeyes ranked a disappointing 76th nationally against the pass last year. However, there was improvement late in the year, and three potential All-Big Ten selections are back for 2013. Bradley Roby could be the top cornerback in the nation after breaking up 17 passes and recording two picks last year. However, Roby is suspended for the opener due to an off-the-field incident. Sophomore Armani Reeves will start in Roby’s place against Buffalo. Doran Grant and Tyvis Powell will replace Travis Howard at the other cornerback spot. C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant are experienced and dependable safeties.

3. Oregon 
Considering the offenses in the Pac-12, it’s a testament to the strength of Oregon’s secondary to finish 15th nationally in pass efficiency defense. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was all over the field for the Ducks last season, recording 63 tackles and intercepting four passes. Despite not having an interception, Terrance Mitchell was just as effective on the other side. Brian Jackson, Erick Dargan and Avery Patterson are a steady trio at safety.

4. Alabama 
Even with Dee Milliner and Robert Lester departing, the Crimson Tide remain a top-five secondary for 2013. Deion Belue was solid in his first season from the junior college ranks, but sophomore Geno Smith might be Alabama’s top cornerback by season’s end. Smith will miss the season opener due to an off-the-field incident, which will force John Fulton, Bradley Sylvie and converted receiver Cyrus Jones into more action against Virginia Tech. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix impressed in his first year as a starter and has the talent to be the Crimson Tide’s next star in the secondary. Former top recruit Landon Collins will join Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri as key contributors at safety.

5. Stanford 
With one of the best front sevens in college football, Stanford’s secondary is often overlooked. However, that may change in 2013. Three starters return from a unit that ranked 25th nationally in pass efficiency defense. Ed Reynolds and Jordan Richards form one of the top safety combinations in the nation. Cornerback Alex Carter garnered honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors as a true freshman, and Usua Amanam thrives in the nickel role. Junior Wayne Lyons is expected to start opposite of Carter at cornerback, but seniors Barry Browning and Devon Carrington will see plenty of snaps.

6. Florida State
Despite the departure of Xavier Rhodes to the NFL, Florida State’s secondary is still one of the deepest in the nation. Lamarcus Joyner earned first-team All-ACC honors at safety last year but is expected to switch to cornerback for 2013. The other corner spot is currently held by sophomore P.J. Williams, but sophomore Ronald Darby will see a lot of action. Junior Nick Waisome and freshman Jalen Ramsey will provide depth. Senior Terrence Brooks and junior Tyler Hunter will start at safety, but junior Karlos Williams is a name to watch. The Noles finished first nationally in pass defense last year, and this unit should rank near the top once again.

7. TCU
With all five starters returning, TCU’s secondary will be among the nation’s best in 2013. The Horned Frogs finished 42nd nationally against the pass last year but ranked second in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense. Cornerback Jason Verrett had a standout 2012 season, recording 63 tackles, six interceptions and 16 passes broken up. He is an Athlon Sports second-team preseason All-American. Kevin White made 37 tackles in 13 games last season and is slated to start at the other cornerback spot. Sam Carter earned second-team All-Big 12 honors last season and leads a deep group of safeties that includes Elisha Olabode and Chris Hackett.

8. Virginia Tech
The Hokies’ secondary will be shorthanded to start the season, as cornerback Antone Exum is sidelined with a knee injury. Exum will play at some point this year (likely October), which means Virginia Tech will have to rely on true freshman Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson more in the early part of 2013. Senior Kyle Fuller (two interceptions in 2012) will start at the other cornerback spot. Juniors Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner are expected to start at the safety positions with Desmond Frye and Der’Woun Greene providing depth. Virginia Tech finished 14th nationally in pass efficiency defense last season.

9. Michigan State
Three starters return from a secondary that ranked ninth nationally against the pass and allowed only 10 scores through the air last year. There’s no question coordinator Pat Narduzzi will miss cornerback Johnny Adams, but senior Darqueze Dennard is a first-team All-Big Ten selection by Athlon Sports for 2013. Sophomore Trae Waynes has been impressive in limited action and should replace Adams at the other corner spot. Junior Kurtis Drummond and senior Isaiah Lewis are expected to start at safety. Sophomore RJ Williamson and freshman Demetrious Cox provide quality depth.

10. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish had to replace both starting cornerbacks last season, yet still finished 25th nationally against the pass. In addition to the turnover in the secondary, cornerback Lo Wood (an expected starter) was lost before the opener due to an Achilles tear, and safety Jamoris Slaughter (a starter) played in only three games due to injury. Senior Bennett Jackson and sophomore KeiVarae Russell held the starting cornerback jobs for all 13 games last year and will hold onto those roles for 2013. Russell was impressive as a freshman, recording 58 tackles and two interceptions. Zeke Motta must be replaced at safety, but Matthias Farley and Elijah Shumate should be a solid duo by season’s end. Highly touted true freshman Max Redfield may not start, but he will be a valuable member of the secondary.

11. Vanderbilt
Returning Starters: 3
Pass Defense Rank in 2012: 14th nationally
Pass Efficiency Defense Rank in 2012: 6th nationally

12. Texas
Returning Starters: 3
Pass Defense Rank in 2012: 36th nationally
Pass Efficiency Defense Rank in 2012: 64th nationally

13. Nebraska
Returning Starters: 3
Pass Defense Rank in 2012: 4th nationally
Pass Efficiency Defense Rank in 2012: 9th nationally

14. LSU
Returning Starters: 2
Pass Defense Rank in 2012: 28th nationally
Pass Efficiency Defense Rank in 2012: 11th nationally

15. Oklahoma
Returning Starters: 2
Pass Defense Rank in 2012: 29th nationally
Pass Efficiency Defense Rank in 2012: 12th nationally

16. Pittsburgh
Returning Starters: 3
Pass Defense Rank in 2012: 20th nationally
Pass Efficiency Defense Rank in 2012: 21st nationally

17. Oregon State
Returning Starters: 3
Pass Defense Rank in 2012: 49th nationally
Pass Efficiency Defense Rank in 2012: 20th nationally

18. Louisville
Returning Starters: 3
Pass Defense Rank in 2012: 16th nationally
Pass Efficiency Defense Rank in 2012: 47th nationally

19. South Carolina
Returning Starters: 3
Pass Defense Rank in 2012: 21st nationally
Pass Efficiency Defense Rank in 2012: 34th nationally

20. Texas A&M
Returning Starters: 2
Pass Defense Rank in 2012: 86th nationally
Pass Efficiency Defense Rank in 2012: 39th nationally

21. USC
Returning Starters: 2
Pass Defense Rank in 2012: 52nd nationally
Pass Efficiency Defense Rank in 2012: 41st nationally

22. Virginia
Returning Starters: 4
Pass Defense Rank in 2012: 33rd nationally
Pass Efficiency Defense Rank in 2012: 51st nationally

23. Arizona State
Returning Starters: 2
Pass Defense Rank in 2012: 3rd nationally
Pass Efficiency Defense Rank: 10th nationally

24. Ole Miss
Returning Starters: 3
Pass Defense Rank in 2012: 80th nationally
Pass Efficiency Defense Rank in 2012: 78th nationally

25. Oklahoma State
Returning Starters: 3
Pass Defense Rank in 2012: 110th nationally
Pass Efficiency Defense Rank in 2012: 44th nationally

 

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