Spring position rankings:

The SEC is known for its athletic defensive ends who run more like linebackers, and although players like Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, Jadeveon Clowney and Dee Ford are gone, many more players are ready to bear the torch.

Here are the top ends returning in 2014:

10. CJ Johnson, Ole Miss (JR)
9. Za’Darius Smith, Kentucky (SR)
8. Danielle Hunter, LSU (JR)

CJ Johnson played only played four games and missed the rest of the season due to injury. However, he was All-SEC two years ago and was a sophomore All-American honorable mention. He’s made 7.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss in virtually two seasons…Za’Darius Smtih was very active in the front four for Kentucky, and he, along with fellow Kentucky bookend Alvin Dupree, made the most tackles of the defensive ends. Smith made 59 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and six QB hurries…Danielle Hunter could become LSU’s next great ene. He played well in 2013, but he could have a huge junior year. He made 57 tackles, eight tackles for loss, three sacks and five QB hurries last season.

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7. Shane Ray, Missouri (JR)
6. Ray Drew, Georgia (SR)
5. Carl Lawson, Auburn (SO)

Shane Ray isn’t a household name yet…but he’ll be one in 2014. As a backup to Michael Sam and Kony Ealy, Ray made 39 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 11 QB hurries and two forced fumbles. He’s very athletic and very active in the front four…Ray Drew finally had somewhat of a breakout season in 2013, making 43 tackles, eight tackles for loss, six sacks and 12 QB hurries. Drew will be counted on in 2014…Carl Lawson is going to be a monster for Auburn. He made 20 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, seven QB hurries and two forced fumbles as a freshman. He’s one of the fastest rising players in the conference.

4. Alvin Dupree, Kentucky (SR)
3. Markus Golden, Missouri (SR)
2. Dante Fowler, Florida (JR)

Alvin Dupree returns as Kentucky’s senior leader, and all he’s done while in Lexington is put up some serious numbers. Just last year, Dupree recorded 61 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. He can play either end or outside linebacker…Markus Golden didn’t even start for Missouri, and he put up some crazy numbers. He racked up 55 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, eight QB hurries and one forced fumble. He’ll be counted on to help replace Kony Ealy and Michael Sam…Dante Fowler was Florida’s only real threat as a pass rusher in 2013, and he’s a big-time prospect. Fowler made 50 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, seven QB hurries and three forced fumbles. He has a huge season ahead.

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1. Trey Flowers, Arkansas (SR)

Bret Bielema signed his best recruit when he convinced rising senior Trey Flowers to return. Flowers racked up 44 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and five sacks last season, along with forcing three fumbles. He’ll immediately be the best player on the Hogs’ defense.

Photo Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports