Player Rankings:

With SEC defense taking a back seat to offense in 2013, naturally, defensive end wasn’t one of the stronger positions. Don’t get me wrong, there were certainly some very quality players, and there were some superstars.

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Let’s get right to it…

Double trouble

1. Michael Sam, Missouri (SR)
2. Kony Ealy, Missouri (JR)

Missouri had the SEC’s best tandem at defensive end in Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. Michael Sam was a former two-star nobody exiting high school, and he morphed into the SEC’s top defensive end this season. Sam racked up 48 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks and nine QB hurries. That’s the season we all thought Jadeveon Clowney would have, but Sam was the SEC’s most explosive lineman. Although Sam had a bigger year, Kony Ealy’s ceiling is higher, and he made 43 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks and 14 QB hurries. Sam had a big first half, but Ealy was the SEC’s top defensive player down the stretch of the season. Both combined to make Mizzou’s defensive line a force.

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Defensive leader

3. Dee Ford, Auburn (SR)

Dee Ford missed two games to start the season with an injury, but he came on strong and was a premier player in the Tigers’ championship run. Ford made 29 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and 17 QB hurries. He was the most feared player on the Tigers’ defense, and he should have a future at the next level.

Not as big as expected

4. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (JR)

Jadeveon Clowney didn’t put up the type of numbers everyone expected, but he still had a huge impact on games. Teams schemed against Clowney to minimize his impact, and did you actually think he would have a ‘Clowney Hit’ every week? Clowney won’t drop out of the top five picks, and he may be taken first overall. He made 40 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and nine QB hurries. Still, everyone thought he’d have a bigger season, including myself, but he has the most upside of anyone on this list.

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SEC East beasts

5. Markus Golden, Missouri (JR)
6. Dante Fowler, Florida (SO)

Markus Golden was a reserve defensive end for Mizzou, but there’s nothing reserved about his game. In fact, he blew up this season, making 55 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Not bad for a backup on the depth chart, huh?…Florida’s team may have taken a step back, but DE/LB Dante Fowler took a step forward. Fowler is becoming the player we all thought he would be in Will Muschamp’s defense. Fowler was Mr. Consistent, making 50 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and seven QB hurries. Fowler also forced three fumbles this past season.

Bookend combo

7. Trey Flowers, Arkansas (JR)
8. Chris Smith, Arkansas (SR)

Arkansas struggled mightily this season, but their defensive line was SEC-worthy. Bookends Chris Smith and Trey Flowers formed a formidable duo. Flowers added 44 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, five sacks and three forced fumbles, while Smith made 36 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. Don’t overlook Flowers and Smith just because their team really struggled. These two are SEC-worthy.

SEC East solid contributors

9. Alvin Dupree, Kentucky (JR)
10. Ray Drew, Georgia (JR)

Alvin Dupree was again Kentucky’s best defensive player this season, racking up 91 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He played a hybrid role of defensive end/outside linebacker, and with Dupree and Za’Darius Smith returning in 2014, Kentucky’s defense should improve…Ray Drew started to finally show flashes of the player we all thought he’d become sooner. Drew made 43 tackles, eight tackles for loss, six sacks and 12 QB hurries, and he’ll be a key player for the Bulldogs in 2014. It’s taken Drew a little longer to get going, but he’s finally beginning to develop.

Photo Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports