SDS talent evaluators Jon Cooper and Brad Crawford spent several months breaking down last year’s highlights, incoming talent and projected 2014 impact following spring practice to compile a list of the SEC’s Top 100 players heading into fall. Athletes were selected by position then ranked overall counting down to No. 1.
Stick with SDS throughout summer and get in on the action using the hashtag #SDSTop100 as we unveil a new player daily leading up to opening night on Aug. 28.
66. Denzel Nkemdiche, Jr., LB, Ole Miss
An instinctive linebacker with fantastic closing speed, Nkemdiche’s production took a dive last season after a knee injury sidelined him for two games in September but he still managed All-SEC laurels with 35 tackles in 10 games — six starts at the stinger spot — for the Rebels. Coaches are hoping an offseason brush with law enforcement won’t derail an otherwise impressive start to his career in Oxford.
Nkemdiche was suspended in February and missed all of spring practice after being arrested for disorderly conduct and failure to comply with a police officer. Coach Hugh Freeze has made it clear the elder Nkemdiche is on a short leash with the program but thus far, has done everything asked of him since rejoining the team in April.
If Nkemdiche continues to show he’s learned from his mistakes, he’ll reacquire his spot as one of the Rebels’ best players on defense after serving a mandatory suspension in the opener. A freshman All-American in 2012 and all-league player last season, Nkemdiche has the tools to be one of the nation’s best linebackers, but questions linger on whether or not he can handle the temptations that come with being a standout football player off the field.
At full strength, Nkemdiche’s ability to shoot gaps and slide beneath oversized tackles off the edge is as good as any of the league’s top returning linebackers.
2013 statistics: 35 tackles, FF, FR in 10 games
2014 projection: 52 tackles, 8 TFL, 2 INT, 3 sacks
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