SDS’ top 25 players of 2012: No. 21 Chris Smith

SDS is continually counting down the top 25 players in the SEC for 2012, and we’re not stopping until we get to that sexy No. 1. We don’t just rank stats or project players at the next level based on athletic superiority, but we rank players based on the season they had in 2012. I know you’ll agree with every single one…

No. 21 – Chris Smith, DE, Arkansas

2012 Stats: 52 total tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, four pass break ups, 12 quarterback hurries and one forced fumble

Why he’s worthy: The best defensive linemen not named Jadeveon Clowney or Damontre Moore to turn in a season was Arkansas’ 6-2, 250-pound defensive end Chris Smith. And while Arkansas had an otherwise forgettable season, Smith was the brightest star amidst a very weak and underachieving defense.

It’s true – you may have forgotten about Smith’s play because it’s been nine weeks since the Hogs last suited up, but the rising senior was the one player you could point to who progressively improved throughout 2012. And after Tenarius Wright made the switch to linebacker from defensive end, Smith had big shoes to fill. And he didn’t disappoint.

Smith totaled team-highs with 13 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks during his junior campaign. He was named the SEC’s Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week twice against Jacksonville State and Tulsa.

Smith was one of a handful of Arkansas juniors to get evaluated for the NFL Draft, but he’s returning and has no doubt been the biggest recruit Bret Bielema has hauled in during his short tenure. And while he doesn’t have the draft projections of Sam Montgomery or Barkevious Mingo, Smith had better seasons that either player.

Now with Smith returning, he combines with Trey Flowers to give Arkansas legitimate bookends at the position.

Smith is the one player who could blow up as a senior for the Hogs.

The Countdown

Photo Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports