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PFF: Wesley Walker is the highest graded returning safety in the SEC

A surprising name.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The best returning safety in the SEC? The name may surprise you. It’s Tennessee’s Wesley Walker, according to Pro Football Focus. The publication released their top ten highest graded returning safeties on Thursday, and Walker topped the list with a 77.5 mark.

The interesting part here is that Walker made just one start for the Volunteers in 2022. Walker transferred in from Georgia Tech after playing high school ball in the mid-state area. He was expected to battle for a starting job at Tennessee’s STAR position, but an early injury tripped up those efforts. Walker eventually grew into the secondary rotation, playing a few different roles.

Walker’s one start came at safety against Vanderbilt in the regular season finale, where he racked up eight tackles. Tennessee shuffled their secondary all season long, but they did seem to find something with Walker in the mix. The veteran defensive back returns for 2023 as a senior, and still potentially could return in 2024 thanks to his COVID year.

With Trevon Flowers exiting, Walker could slide into a starting role alongside of Jaylen McCollough. Jourdan Thomas, Andre Turrentine and Christian Charles are all also in the mix. Tamarion McDonald will return to his STAR role.

The Tennessee secondary was up and down in 2022, but they seem to have plenty more depth looking ahead to this fall. They’re all veterans now too, even looking to the cornerback room. Hopefully that means a big step forward for Tim Banks’ defense.