SEC’s 10 best defensive players heading into spring practice

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Spring position rankings:

Over the last week, SDS has broken down the top 10 returning players at every position. It’s been based on history, stats and ability, and it’s not been a projection of how players will finish the 2014 season.

The top 10 returners have been the most productive during their career, and it’s not a reflection of they will play this coming fall. They’ve proven it in the past.

We’ve already looked at the top defensive players at every position, and here are the top 10 returning defensive players for 2014:

10. Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State (JR)
9. Markus Golden, DE, Mizzou (SR)
8. AJ Johnson, LB, Tennessee (SR)

Benardrick McKinney is a future NFL star at linebacker for the Bulldogs, and he’s racked up 173 tackles in two seasons. He’ll lead a very potent and underrated Mississippi State defense in 2014…Markus Golden played behind the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a first-round draft pick last season, but he made 13 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and eight QB hurries. Specifically within conference play, Golden made the second most tackles for loss and third most sacks. That’s production and depth…AJ Johnson has recorded two straight 100-plus tackle seasons, and he’s ready to end his career on a high note. Some areas of his game need work, but he could be the conference’s most sure tackler at linebacker right now. Johnson’s a key defensive cog for Butch Jones, and he’ll play on Sundays with a nose for the football.

7. Dante Fowler, Buck, Florida (JR)
6. Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas (SR)
5. Trey DePriest, LB, Alabama (SR)

Dante Fowler could become the SEC’s top defensive player in 2014. He plays Florida’s hybrid linebacker/defensive end Buck position. He recorded 50 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and seven QB hurries during his sophomore season. He’ll play on Sundays and could become a coveted draft pick next year…Trey Flowers leads the SEC’s defensive ends, and he made a big decision to return for his senior year. Flowers made 13.5 tackles for loss and five sacks last season. He’s athletic, and he’s primed for a huge senior season…Trey DePriest will take over for the departed CJ Mosley, and he’s had a wonderful career. He’s racked up 146 tackles in three seasons for the Tide, and he could close in on the 100-tackle mark in 2014.

4. Landon Collins, S, Alabama (JR)
3. Ramik Wilson, LB, Georgia (SR)
2. Cody Prewitt, S, Ole Miss (SR)

Landon Collins could be college football’s best tackler, and he’s the one player on Alabama’s defense you know will have a huge NFL career. Collins earned a starting job after Vinnie Sunseri went down with a knee injury, and all he did was make tackles and make plays. He made 70 tackles and two INTs last year…Ramik Wilson said he returned to Georgia for his senior year because of unfinished business. Wilson led the SEC with 133 tackles last season, including 11 for loss, and he was arguably the SEC’s biggest breakout player…Cody Prewitt had an incredible season in 2013, leading the SEC with six INTs and racking up 71 tackles. Prewitt hits like a truck, and he has good ball skills.

1. Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida (SO)

Everyone wondered how Vernon Hargreaves would make an impact with two future NFL cornerbacks already established for the Gators, but he just didn’t make an impact; he was often times the best player on the field. That doesn’t happen to many freshmen cornerbacks. Hargreaves is the SEC’s top defensive player, and he’s a future first-round pick. He nabbed three INTs his freshman season.

Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

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