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.

40. Darius Philon, RS-Soph., DT, Arkansas

Can the Razorbacks avoid a second consecutive face-plant in the SEC? You can bank on this massive run-stopper doing his part up front, one of Arkansas’ top defenders as a redshirt-freshman last fall. Philon locked down a starting spot by mid-October and finished with 46 tackles, two forced fumbles and three sacks. His coming out party came against top-ranked Alabama in his first career start when the Mobile, Ala., native recorded eight stops. The performance received little buzz however since the Crimson Tide won the game, 52-0.

A prep defensive end, Philon’s bulked up over his last 2.5 years on campus and is now better-suited — with two-gap power — as an inside player in the SEC. Paired with expert pass-rusher Trey Flowers, the Razorbacks will flex an ideal 1-2 punch at the line of scrimmage this season to try and thwart what’s expected to be strong rushing attacks at LSU, Alabama and Auburn.

Crawling out of the Western Division cellar is an uphill journey with as many as eight games against ranked teams on the slate, but coach Bret Bielema’s counting on a resilient group to continue the process and follow the familiar smashmouth model he used at Wisconsin. Philon’s emergence as a leader provides a defense which was dreadful on third down last season with much-needed accountability. Forcing turnovers is another chief concern after the Razorbacks were the SEC’s worst in that department a season ago.

Takeaways and getting off the field on third down should improve under first-year defensive coordinator Robb Smith along with the addition of former Philadelphia Eagles assistant Rory Segrest.

2013 statistics: 46 tackles, 3 sacks
2014 projection: 57 tackles, 5.5 sacks