SEC Best Returning Defensive Backs

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In a world of high-flying offenses, having the best returning defensive backs is critical. Want to stop Bryce Young? Will Rogers or K.J. Jefferson? What about Jaxson Dart and Spencer Rattler? With elite receivers and dynamic offenses, bringing game-changing safeties and lockdown quarterbacks to the field is increasingly important. Who in the SEC boasts the best returning defensive backs to help them in that effort? Here’s a look at some players to watch.

SEC Best Returning Defensive Backs

4th Best: Malachi Moore, CB, Alabama

Malachi Moore was a starter for Alabama in his first year on campus, starting 11 games before getting injured. Moore notched three interceptions that year and picked off one more pass his sophomore season. Add that to career totals of six tackles for loss, seven pass breakups, and a forced fumble, and Moore is a dynamic defender. He’s a legitimate 2023 first-round NFL draft prospect. There are concerns about a lack of sophomore year production. That may be less of a concern as Moore is now fully healthy after that freshman year injury slowed him last year. He may still split some time with Brian Branch, who had an exceptional season and could very well be on this list, but Moore is a force in the Alabama secondary. The raw talent is there, and when healthy, he’s a top-three cornerback in the conference.

3rd Best: Trey Dean III, Safety, Florida

The best safety in the conference earns a spot on the list. Trey Dean III is using his fifth year of eligibility, entering the year with 50 games and 28 career starts. His experience will be critical in the Florida secondary. He’s a versatile player with four career interceptions as well as four career sacks. He adds nine tackles for loss and 14 pass breakups to punctuate his resume. Last season, Dean provided some stability in a frequently porous Florida defense. He averaged nearly seven tackles a game, notching seven or more on eight occasions. He also recorded a sack against Georgia. He’ll need to be every bit the quarterback of the Gators’ defense in 2022 if Florida is to compete in the SEC East.


2nd Best: Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina

As a redshirt freshman in 2020, Smith started just three games and appeared in eight. Despite the limited appearances, he tied for the team lead with two interceptions. In 2021, Smith truly broke out. He notched three picks, broke up 11 passes, recorded 2.5 tackles for loss, and forced a fumble. Smith truly became a game-changer for the Gamecock defense, ultimately being named All-SEC Second Team. He ranked second in the SEC with 1.3 passes defended per game. His three interceptions ranked in the top five. He delivered picks in big games, picking up his first in South Carolina‘s upset win over Florida. He also notched an interception against Clemson. Smith is considered one of the top returning cornerbacks in the country, and he’s certainly a key player to watch in the SEC.

Best Returning Defensive Back: Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State

Forbes has been a force in the SEC for two seasons, and quarterbacks are still figuring out not to throw to him. And also, most offenses are figuring out how to tackle him when he notches another pick. Forbes leads the FBS with three career pick-sixes out of his eight career interceptions. Beyond that, he ranks in the top ten in career interception return yards, returning those eight picks for 216 yards. That’s a 27-yard average, as Forbes has terrorized SEC offenses for two seasons. And he’s ready for a third season roaming the Mississippi State secondary.

Forbes also added versatility to his disruptive playstyle, forcing a fumble and adding five tackles for loss last year. He boasts ten career pass breakups to go with the eight interceptions. So for SEC quarterbacks, they’re better off looking away from whoever matches up against Forbes. And they may need to practice their tackling form if they go after the Bulldogs’ corner.