2024 SEC S Rankings: Malaki Starks, Keon Sabb Secure the Third Level

    While transfers and NFL Draft declarations robbed the conference of talent elsewhere, the 2024 SEC S Rankings remained relatively unscathed.

    Michigan’s Keon Sabb (Alabama) and Clemson’s Andrew Mukuba (Texas) highlight transfers bolstering the 2024 SEC S Rankings. Where do they fall, and which returning secondary members lead the conference?

    SEC 2024 S Rankings

    10) Jerrin Thompson, Auburn Tigers

    One of the most experienced DBs in the country, Jerrin Thompson transfers to Auburn with 49 games (31 starts) across four seasons at Texas under his belt. He has largely lined up at deep safety, though he has significant snaps in the box and slot as well, posting five interceptions and 23 pass breakups along the way.

    Thompson’s addition was necessary with last year’s leading safety trio (Zion Puckett, Jaylin Simpson, and Donovan Kaufman) out of the program.

    9) Billy Bowman Jr., Oklahoma Sooners

    Fresh off a first-team All-Big 12 selection, Billy Bowman Jr. hopes to be an All-SEC member in 2024. He led all returning players in the conference with six interceptions last season, showcasing his ball skills in coverage. The 5’10”, 191-pound DB is best deployed near the line of scrimmage but actually operated as Brent Venables’ free safety last year and proved his versatility.

    8) De’Rickey Wright, Texas A&M Aggies

    While De’Rickey Wright won’t join the Aggies until after the spring, giving the competition a leg up, he should still be the favorite to win the starting strong safety role. He fits Mike Elko’s defense as a tone-setting tackler who has posted five INTs and 15 PBUs since 2022.

    7) Malachi Moore, Alabama Crimson Tide

    Malachi Moore was a part of many way-too-early 2022 NFL Mock Drafts. And while we are now two cycles since then, he is still a strong collegiate defender.

    MORE: 2024 SEC Power Rankings

    Kane Wommack will call the defense in 2024 with Nick Saban retiring, but he runs a similar system. Moore is a veteran leader who is as reliable as they come from the slot. Perhaps a year under Wommack’s change of scenery thrusts Moore back up draft boards.

    6) Nick Emmanwori, South Carolina Gamecocks

    Nick Emmanwori established himself as a Freshman All-American in 2022 and arguably played better in 2023, recording his first two INTs and breaking up eight other passes. His 6’3″ and nearly 220-pound frame is imposing as a run defender triggering downhill and when wrapping up, but he also moves well enough to keep up in coverage from the slot.

    5) Trey Washington, Ole Miss Rebels

    After serving as a reserve DB to begin his career, Trey Washington earned a starting role in 2023, coming away with 83 tackles and three picks.

    His range and tackling ability at free safety pairs well with John Saunders Jr., who we’ll get into shortly. The unit could see immense growth under new secondary coach Byron Brown Jr. and his emphasis on communication, which was an issue for Ole Miss last year.

    4) Andrew Mukuba, Texas Longhorns

    It appeared Andrew Mukuba would leave Clemson for the NFL Draft, but he ultimately decided to end his collegiate career in his hometown of Austin, Texas. He racked up 149 tackles, 20 PBUs, and one INT in 35 games (31 starts) for the Tigers and is built for SEC play.

    Mukuba is the physical specimen at the position, owning all the tools to fly around the field and man up in coverage. If he improves his play strength and positioning with the ball in the air, he could explode statistically with Texas.

    3) John Saunders Jr., Ole Miss Rebels

    Not only did John Saunders Jr. make a huge leap in competition from Miami (OH) to Ole Miss, but he also switched positions from corner to safety. But the craziest part? He actually got better. 

    His 6’2″ and 200-pound frame was built to levy blows over the middle and close throwing windows downfield. Entering his second season in the SEC and at safety, Saunders is primed for his best campaign yet.

    2) Keon Sabb, Alabama Crimson Tide

    Checking “win a national championship” off his goals at Michigan in 2023, Keon Sabb decided to transfer to Alabama. The departures of head coach John Harbaugh, co-defensive coordinator and DBs coach Steve Clinkscale, and Sabb’s positional coach, Jay Harbaugh, likely put the move in motion.

    Rod Moore and Makari Paige led the Wolverines’ safety unit, but Sabb still snatched two INTs and was suffocating in coverage. As the full-time starter in Wommack’s system, the sky is the limit for Sabb in Tuscaloosa.

    1) Malaki Starks, Georgia Bulldogs

    There is no doubt about it: Malaki Starks is the best safety in the SEC and one of the best in the country.

    KEEP READING: 2024 SEC LB Rankings

    He checks all the boxes (tackling, run defense, coverage) and is versatile enough to line up wherever Georgia needs him to on any given play.

    2024 SEC S Rankings | 11-20

    11) Jahdae Barron, Texas
    12) Daylan Carnell, Missouri
    13) Asa Turner, Florida
    14) Corey Ellington, Mississippi State
    15) Key Lawrence, Yam Banks, and Louis Moore, Ole Miss
    16) Marcus Ratcliffe and Trey Jones, Texas A&M
    17) Jardin Gilbert, LSU
    18) Gerald Kilgore, South Carolina
    19) Randon Fontenette, Vanderbilt
    20) Miguel Mitchell, Arkansas

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