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.

39. Carl Lawson, Soph., DE, Auburn

Quick and agile at 6-foot-2, 260 pounds, Lawson made a splash as a true freshman as a situational speed rusher in 2013 despite sizable expectations on the Plains as the nation’s top-ranked rookie defensive end. The prep-to-college speed adjustment period was noticeable early before Lawson looked more comfortable in Ellis Johnson’s heavy-rush scheme following a six-tackle, two-sack outing against Ole Miss.

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Auburn was leaning on Lawson to step in for Dee Ford as far as production goes as the Tigers’ lead pass rusher, but offseason ACL surgery that Gus Malzahn revealed during SEC Media Days has put those plans on hold. Ford was a reliable asset for Auburn up front and showed Lawson how it’s done in the trenches during Auburn’s impressive run to the BCS Championship Game. Making up for Ford’s 10.5 sacks — one behind league defensive player of the year Michael Sam — will be a challenge now that Lawson’s status is uncertain, but a November return would still help the Tigers athletically.

2013 statistics: 20 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks
2014 projection: Likely redshirt following offseason knee surgery