Photo courtesy of Texas A&M athletics
It’s no secret.
Everywhere you look, people say that winning in the SEC starts up front. Past history supports that claim.
As we move on to arguably the most important position on the field, it’s important to know that is also the hardest to predict. Our “Buying Stock” series shifts to the big uglies up front.
As we conclude the offensive side of this series, we take a look at the SEC West offensive line rooms. Last season, this group featured arguably the two best offensive lines in the country in Alabama and Texas A&M. Here is a closer look as we wrap up this position group:
Alabama loses three starters from one of the nation’s best offensive lines, but there is no reason to expect this group to face a significant drop-off. Evan Neal and Emil Ekiyor are the two returnees. Neal is widely considered as the top offensive line prospect in this upcoming NFL Draft. Ekiyor is also receiving first-round buzz.
How will the other three spots look? Well, Alabama has a mixture of experience and talented youth. Center Chris Owens started after Landon Dickerson went down to injury, and will be ready to be the guy in 2021. Tommy Brown also was a key part of the rotation in 2020, and will transition into a starting role again.
Younger guys like Javion Cohen, Tommy Brockermeyer, and Terrance Ferguson all have high ceilings. We may see that sooner rather than later.
Are there big shoes to fill? Yes, but the Crimson Tide are flooded with talent.
This one was close — very close. Arkansas returns everyone from a year ago and brings in some help from the portal. Don’t forget that head coach Sam Pittman is widely considered as the best offensive line coach in the country. Still, this group may be a year away.
Arkansas gave up the most sacks in the SEC last season, and was in the lower half of the league in rushing yards per game. You could argue that this was the worst offensive line in the entire SEC a year ago.
Still, have no doubt that this group can make a turnaround. We’re not buying this group, but expect massive improvement up front for Arkansas.
Again, this one was close. Auburn struggled in pass protection at times last year, but still finished sixth in the SEC in fewest sacks allowed. On top of that, the Tigers finished fifth in the SEC in rushing yards per game.
This was a group that was playing at a pretty high level when healthy, but lost Brandon Council to a knee injury and dealt with other nagging injuries as the season went on.
So, why sell a contingent that ranked in the upper half of the conference in multiple categories last season and returns five starters? Well, depth is a concern and this group hasn’t shown the ability to stay healthy. There are questions at tackle and about physicality as a whole.
If this group can stay healthy, it could drastically improve from last season. If not, things might get weird again up front for Auburn.
Fortunately, LSU returns all but one member of its two-deep depth chart from 2020. Chemistry is a huge part of offensive line play, and LSU has loads of returning experience.
Still, LSU just lacks talent outside of Ed Ingram. LSU’s struggles on defense seemed to have taken the focus off how bad this group was in 2020. LSU ranked 10th in the SEC in both sacks allowed and rushing yards per game.
Expect offensive coordinator Jake Peetz to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quickly and have more creative run schemes, which should dramatically help the offensive line. Every returning starter is an upperclassmen. Although we’re not buying, expect this group to improve.
Mississippi State: Selling
People always say that head coach Mike Leach’s teams improve most from year one to year two, but we’ll believe it when we see it. Mississippi State was average at best at times last year up front, and ranked last in the nation in rush yards per game. Granted, this is the air raid, so don’t hold that against them.
This was a complete rebuild up front. While there is experience, the Bulldogs still have a long way to go before one could consider this group a strength.
Expect some improvement, but this group is still a big work in progress.
Ole Miss: Buying
Ole Miss is loaded just about everywhere offensively, and the offensive line is no different. Nick Broeker leads a group of four returning starters who were a key part of a super explosive offense. Last season, Ole Miss ranked fourth in the conference in sacks allowed and led the conference in rushing yards per game.
There’s no need to do a lot of explaining here. This is a group that is ranked in the top five in the SEC in just about every metric. Oh, and the Rebels return tons of experience. As good as it was in 2020, this group should take a huge step forward in head coach Lane Kiffin’s second year.
Texas A&M: Buying
Texas A&M might’ve had the best offensive front in all of college football in 2020. While the Aggies do lose four starters, it’s hard to see this group turning into a weakness.
Kenyon Green is the lone returning starter; he will slide over to right tackle after playing right guard as a freshman. Tennessee transfer Jahmir Johnson also gives Texas A&M another body with starting experience.
Does the talent take a significant step down in this room? Yes. Are there questions? Yes.
However, this group should still be one of the best in the conference in 2021.