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.
90. Za’Darius Smith, Sr., DE, Kentucky
The first of two Wildcat bookends in the Top 100, Smith anchors the SEC’s most underrated defensive line, a unit that compiled 23 sacks last fall — one more than Alabama. The JUCO transfer started all 12 games and was a third-team All-SEC selection as a junior in his first year at Kentucky after registering 53 total tackles and six sacks.
Smith comes from an NFL bloodline and went through the draft evaluation process after the season before deciding to return to school. Smith’s older brother, Bob Meeks, played center at Auburn (1988-91) while a cousin, Davern Williams, starred at Troy. Each played in the NFL.
For a guy who didn’t play football until his senior year of high school, Smith’s a well-built athlete and a late-round prospect in need of a standout season if Kentucky wants to avoid another winless SEC campaign.
2013 statistics: 53 tackles, 6 sacks
2014 projection: 49 tackles, 6.5 sacks
Photo Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports