It’s often said that the Southeastern Conference is a league won or lost at the line of scrimmage. We take a look at the troops in the trenches with our look at the five best returning SEC offensive linemen. The defensive line usually gets all the publicity from the trenches. That’s because they have the statistics: sacks, tackles, hurries, and pressures. For the offensive linemen, there’s really not statistics to hang their hat on. Additionally, a defensive lineman getting beat doesn’t get replied nine consecutive times. If an offensive lineman gives up a sack, you better believe the announcer is going to point out the offending players name and number.
But there’s not shortage of talent on the offensive side of the line in the SEC. While they may not get the credit, those who know the game know their names. Here is the five best returning SEC offensive linemen for 2017.
Here’s a look at our other position rankings:
1. Five Best Returning SEC Safeties
2. Five Best Returning SEC Receivers
3. Five Best Returning SEC Cornerbacks
4. Five Best Returning SEC Running Backs
5. Five Best Returning SEC Linebackers
6. Five Best Returning SEC Quarterbacks
Five Best Returning SEC Offensive Linemen
Jonah Williams, Alabama: Williams is coming off a stellar freshman season. But with so much talent around him and so few games, it’s hard to crack the Top 5 of such a talented group.
Ross Pierschbacher, Alabama: Well, it’s Alabama, what did you expect. Pierschbacher will be the second of a formidable trio of returning Crimson Tide linemen. All are talented, but maybe a little underrated because of all of the attention around this team.
Bradley Bozeman, Alabama: They might be good this year. Maybe.
Coleman Thomas, Tennessee: An underappreciated and underrated player, Thomas has been through the roller-coaster at Tennessee over the last few years. He looks to lead and anchor what could be the best unit for the Vols.
Will Clapp, Junior, LSU
Pro Football Focus graded LSU as the best offensive line in the nation last season. They were led by All-World center Ethan Pocic. This season, Will Clapp returns to try and fill Pocic’s shoes. Clapp will even make the move from Guard to Center to anchor the Tiger line. Clapp garnered some of his own recognition in 2016, being named to the First-Team All-SEC team by the coaches. At 6’5″, 310, he’ll be taller and bigger than most centers. The Tigers think he’ll be able to move sufficiently for that position at his size. It’s hard to question a unit that had such success in 2016. And with Derrius Guice in the backfield, you have a little latitude in picking up that short-side pull blocking assignment.
Clapp is a legacy player at LSU, and he’s started the past two seasons. If his performance at Center is anything like his 2016 campaign, he’ll be in line for more post-season accolades. Here’s Clapp discussing the offensive line performance in his freshman season.
Martez Ivey, Junior, Florida
Martez Ivey was one of the biggest recruits in the nation during the 2015 recruiting cycle. While Ivey has played well over the last two seasons, he hasn’t quite reached the lofty expectations of Gators fans. Much of that could be attributed to poor quarterback play, however.
Much like Clapp, Ivey will be moving positions this season. After playing at Guard for the previous two campaigns, Ivey will line up at left tackle this season in Gainesville. David Waters, from Gators Breakdown podcast, says Ivey’s best asset is the combination of strength and speed. For a guy standing 6’5″, 305 and moving that quick, it’s going to be hard for SEC edge rushers to get past him. Will 2017 be a five-star season for Ivey?
Here’s Ivey discussing his move to left tackle for the upcoming season:
Martinas Rankin, Senior, Mississippi State
This is the one name that might surprise some people. Martinas Rankin doesn’t show up on a lot of awards lists, but he does show up on film and on NFL Draft Boards. Rankin had a very slow start to the 2016 season, but finished strong and emerged as one of the best linemen in the conference. He plays in Starkville, so that doesn’t do his brand much good. And he’s only been around one season after transferring from junior college.
And just like our previous two entrants, he’s also switching positions this season. Rankin is going from tackle to center, a move you don’t see very often. In a read option type offense like the one the Bulldogs utilize, the center’s ability to recognize and call the defense is critical to play development.
But Rankin has the size, at 6’5″, 305, to make NFL GMs take notice. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report has Rankin listed at 29th overall in his current big board for 2018. CBSSports.com has him ranked as the #3 overall tackle prospect. To shore up these rankings, Rankin will have to be more consistent in 2017. His upside is tremendous, though. Here’s Rankin talking about this year’s spring practice session:
Braden Smith, Senior, Auburn
There are two linemen that stand head and shoulders above the rest of the returning offensive line players in the SEC this season. And Braden Smith is one of them. Smith led the nation’s sixth leading rushing attacking last season and hopes to pave the way to an SEC West Championship this season.
Smith has almost all the hardware from last season. AP First-Team All-SEC, Coaches Second-Team All-SEC, and Pre-Season All-American honors from Lindy’s and Athlon Sports. To continue a trend, Smith is moving from Guard to Tackle for the 2017 season. Which, like the Rankin move, is a little interesting. Smith was a run-blocking machine last season. At tackle, he’ll be counted on more in the passing game.
With Jarrett Stidham‘s arrival on The Plains, Smith will get a chance to showcase his pass-blocking skills much more this season. He’s ranked as the #2 Guard NFL prospect by NFLDraftScout.com and a good season at tackle will certainly move him up the big boards.
Here’s Smith bench pressing 515 pounds for three repetitions. As. A. Senior. In. High. School.
Frank Ragnow, Senior, Arkansas
You can’t really talk offensive linemen in the SEC without talking about the Hogs. Frank Ragnow leads the charge among the best returning SEC offensive linemen. In fact, Pro Football Focus rated Ragnow the best offensive lineman in the nation in 2016 and the best run-blocking offensive lineman. That’s just the start of Ragnow’s accolades.
Ragnow was second team All-SEC last season (behind Pocic), and is Preseason First-Team All-American in both Lindy’s and Athlon Sports. He currently sits in the top four NFL Center prospects for NFLDraftScouts.com, CBSSports.com, and Bleacher Report.
And Ragnow is the only player in our top five that is staying in the same position for the 2017 season. Incredibly, Ragnow hasn’t yielded a single sack in two seasons. Reminder, he plays in the same division as Alabama and LSU.
Hungry? Here’s a Ragnow pancake for you: