SDS will be looking at superlatives for many different positions as we head into season. Next up is the defensive line.
In a league that is known for defensive lineman, we certainly have some studs coming back in 2012. Led by ends Sam Montgomery and Jadeveon Clowney and tackles Bennie Logan and John Jenkins, the defensive line is second to no other conference in the country.
‘Our ends can run down your running backs’. We all said that after LSU dominated Oregon last year, right after Barkevious Mingo ran down speedster LaMichael James in the backfield.
Even Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said ‘there’s a little bit of different player running around in the SEC’.
Let’s take a stab at the defensive line superlatives:
NFL Ready: Sam Montgomery, LSU (JR)
Sam Montgomery is NFL-ready entering his junior year in Baton Rouge. He’s an athletic end who will project well in the NFL because he’s good enough to play linebacker, end or a combination of the two. If Montgomery can stay healthy, he should be the highest lineman taken in the 2012 draft from the SEC. He led LSU with nine sacks and was second on LSU with 4.5 tackles-for-loss in ‘11, but his versatility and ability to play with his hand down or up gives him huge upside.
Highest Ceiling: Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (SO)
I thought about naming this superlative Biggest Freak, as Jadeveon Clowney is the biggest freak along the defensive line in the SEC. He has the most upside of anyone in the entire country at the position, and he has top three pick in two years written all over him. He got his feet wet last year with eight sacks, five forced fumbles and four tackles-for-loss. The lasting image of how he threw Aaron Murray around like a little girl won’t leave my head. Clowney will see time at end, tackle and perhaps middle linebacker.
Fastest: Barkevious Mingo, LSU (JR)
If not for that guy named Clowney, Mingo would have the most upside of any lineman in the SEC. However, the guy runs like a light outside linebacker. He totaled eight sacks, seven tackles-for-loss and 11 quarterback hurries. He’s a freak athlete who runs a 4.5 40, too, at 6-5, 240 pounds. Much like Montgomery, Mingo is very versatile, and that adds to his upside at the next level.
Best Senior: Devin Taylor, South Carolina (SR)
Coming off a monster 2010 season, Gamecocks’ senior Devin Taylor needs a bounce back year in 2012. It’s not that he underperformed in 2011, but the rise of Melvin Ingram and Clowney overshadowed Taylor’s production. He still managed to get six sacks and 2.5 tackles-for-loss, but he should surpass those numbers this season. He and Clowney could prove to be the top defensive end duo in the SEC.
Most to Prove: Corey Lemonier, Auburn (JR)
I think Corey Lemonier enters 2012 with a chip on his shoulder. He had a big year last year as a sophomore, and he is just not getting the love from much of the media. He’s largely not viewed as well as Montgomery, Clowney or Mingo, and he wants to change your way of thinking this season. Lemonier is the leading sack returner with 9.5, and he added 15 quarterback hurries. With a new defensive coordinator and more experience coming back around him, expect Lemonier to post very good back-to-back seasons.
Best Run Stuffer: John Jenkins, Georgia (SR)
John Jenkins (6-3, 350) is the Bulldogs’ centerpiece of the 3-4 defense. And while LB Jarvis Jones gets more pub, Jenkins is the big man on the interior who helps create Jones’ mismatches rushing the quarterback. Jenkins’ ability to take on two offensive linemen and clog the middle of the running lane is all Georgia wants from him. He’s never going to be big on the stat sheet, but this guy is a run stuffer who is looking to exert his will as a senior.
Strongest: Jesse Williams, Alabama (SR)
Aussie Jesse Williams (6-4, 319) moves inside to take the coveted nose tackle position for Nick Saban’s defense. Williams is fresh off of his 600 pound bench press that made Twitter shut down, and he says he’s ready for a big senior season. The former JUCO transfer will be asked to be a leader on a defense that lost seven starters.
Most Irreplaceable: Damontre Moore, Texas A&M (JR)
Damontre Moore has a big responsibility this season as an Aggie. He’ll be primarily responsible to help transition from a 3-4 into a 4-3, as well as make a name for himself in a league known for defensive lineman. Moore is worthy of being a top five defensive end in this league, as he had 17.5 tackles-for-loss last season, and he is of utmost importance to this team and defense. There is a lot of inexperience and unproven players behind Moore, and the line would take a huge hit if something happened to him.
Ready to Break Out: Shariff Floyd, Florida (JR)
Shariff Floyd (6-3, 305) largely played out of position the entire 2011 season for the Gators. Floyd is a true tackle by definition, yet, because of depth issues, he had to move outside to play end for much of the year. Moving back to tackle in his junior year should explode this kid’s potential. Floyd was a blue-chip recruit out of high school, and he was an every-down player last year, but he’s primed for a breakout season. Floyd’s numbers (1.5 sacks and five tackles-for-loss) should increase drastically. I think he’s ready for a big year.
Best New Comer: Denico Autry, Mississippi State (JR)
Mississippi State lost a massive defensive tackle in Fletcher Cox to the NFL, but they replaced an open slot on the line with a very good defensive end in top JUCO transfer Denico Autry. Autry (6-5, 255) will impact this club immediately. He’s a great pass rusher, but he’s looking to hone his run stopping skills, too. He’s the pass rusher the Bulldogs were missing last season.