10 SEC defensive players we didn't appreciate nearly enough
With the depth of talent across the SEC, there are only so many spots for talented players to make postseason award lists. Plenty of defenders are excellent at their craft but happen to play at a time of a once-in-a-generation player — or 3.
Looking back, there are a lot of SEC defensive players we didn’t appreciate nearly enough. They may have gone on to NFL stardom, or simply been too difficult to replace, but they weren’t named a first-team All-SEC selection.
With spring camp well underway and the next wave of talent trying to make their name known, here are 10 SEC defensive players we didn’t appreciate nearly enough in their day:
LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Floyd left Georgia in 2015 after his junior season and became a first-round pick of the Chicago Bears. At Georgia, Floyd, a 6-6, 244-pounder, in his last season led the Bulldogs in sacks for the third straight year with 4.5, and tied for the team lead with 10.5 tackles for loss last season. But after all that, he was not even named to either of the first or second All-SEC teams by the Associated Press. Floyd put up those numbers despite being moved to multiple positions, inside and outside, before he ultimately settled on a natural pass-rushing role. Although there was some initial debate about Floyd’s decision to leave early for the NFL being some sort of protest for Georgia firing Mark Richt, it has worked out for him. Floyd was taken with the No. 9 overall pick in 2016 by the Bears, and recently re-signed with the Los Angeles Rams.
LB Cale Garrett, Missouri
What might have been? Garrett’s story is one that armchair and barstool analysts may debate for years as he was on his way to an All-America-type season in 2019 when he suffered a torn pectoral tendon 5 games into the season. He was the SEC’s leading tackler at the time of his injury, and arguably the best linebacker in the league, as teammate Nick Bolton was a first-team all-SEC pick that season, perhaps benefitting individually from Garrett’s absence. Garrett was named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Week twice in the first 5 weeks of the season, including when he scored a defensive touchdown on a fumble recovery in the end zone against South Carolina. He recently signed a reserve/futures contract with the New York Giants. He previously was with the Tennessee Titans and Minnesota Vikings last year.
LB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia
Bulldogs fans will forever remember Carter’s highlight-reel plays in wins over Notre Dame and Oklahoma in 2017. Carter had a pair of forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries against Notre Dame. Carter in the Rose Bowl blocked an Oklahoma field goal in the second overtime, which helped Georgia grab the victory on its next possession. The second-team All-SEC linebacker pick after his performance against the Irish was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week. Overall, Carter was 3rd on the team with 61 tackles and tackles for loss (7.5), 2nd in QB hurries (16) and 4th in sacks (4.5). He was a 3rd-round pick of the New York Giants in the 2018 NFL Draft.
DL Benito Jones, Ole Miss
Jones appeared in all 12 games with 10 starts at nose tackle, and in 2019 led the SEC and ranked No. 4 nationally with 30 tackles at the nose tackle position. While plenty of broadcasts during his career mentioned his cattle ranch, Jones actually delivered a lot of production. Jones finished his career No. 9 all-time in career tackles for loss (31.0) in the modern era of Ole Miss history. He was also incredibly durable as he was one of 3 Rebels to start every game on defense during the 2018 season. He went undrafted in 2020, and is currently on the Miami Dolphins roster.
LB Daniel Bituli, Tennessee
Bituli received a pair of SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors during the 2019 season. Despite missing the first 2 games, he returned to lead Tennessee’s defense from the middle linebacker position as the Vols finished No. 23 in the nation in total defense. Bituli was the second Vol to lead Tennessee in tackles for 3 straight seasons, and he had double-digit tackles in 3 games as a senior. Bituli turned in a host of highlight games throughout his career, including 19 tackles versus Kentucky and helped spark the Vols’ 6-game winning streak in 2019 with a blocked punt and touchdown against South Carolina. He also had a 23-tackle game against Georgia Tech as a sophomore in 2017. Bituli went undrafted but was on the practice squads in 2020 of the Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans. He’s with the Carolina Panthers’ practice squad.
LB Ernest Jones, South Carolina
Jones had the unfortunate timing of being a part of the program during some losing years, but he still led the Gamecocks in tackles for 2 straight years and was 5th in the SEC in tackles in 2019. The dreadful 2020 season saw him record 2 of the top 17 single-game tackles total recorded at the FBS level in 2020 when he had 18 against Ole Miss and 19 against LSU, which was the most tackles by a Gamecock since Roy Hart had 19 at Nebraska in 1987. During the 2019 season, Jones’ 97 tackles were 20 more than anyone else on the team as he also ranked 4th in the SEC with 8.1 tackles per game.
CB Joejuan Williams, Vanderbilt
Williams tied for 2ndrrr in the SEC with 4 interceptions in 2018, his third year with the Commodores. It was also that season when he led the league with 14 pass breakups and 18 passes defended. His best game may have been 5 solo tackles, an interception and 4 pass breakups in 36-29 victory over Ole Miss. He became a second round draft pick of the New England Patriots in 2019.
DB D.J. Swearinger, South Carolina
He was 2nd on the team with 79 tackles with 2 interceptions in 2012, including this memorable pick-6 against Arkansas that covered 69 yards. He also had 13 tackles, including 10 solo in that game. As a junior, he had a career-best 12 tackles and picked off a pass in the waning minutes of the game to preserve the 14-12 win over Mississippi State. He was drafted by the Houston Texans in the 2nd round and has since played for 5 other NFL teams.
DT Terry Beckner, Jr., Missouri
Beckner bounced back from multiple knee injuries as a freshman to become a 7th-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Healthy in 2017 as a junior, he started all 13 games for Mizzou, and posted 38 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 7 sacks and an interception, which entered him into Piesman talk. He returned for his senior year and again started all 13 games. In 2018, He led a defensive unit that was No. 22 nationally in stopping the run. He was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2019.
CB Quincy Wilson, Florida
Wilson started 22 games over his final 2 seasons, including 13 as a junior in 2016. He entered the draft after 3 seasons at Florida. He finished with 81 career tackles, 6 interceptions, including a 78-yard pick-6, with 14 passes defended. He was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts No. 46 overall in 2017. He’s since been traded to the New York Jets. Wilson was often overshadowed at what Gator faithful call “DBU” by Teez Tabor, but there were several metrics that suggested in 2016 that he was the better corner, including opposing offenses not throwing his direction, and QB ratings against him.
Florida’s Quincy Wilson boasts elite size for a CB and displays great playmaking, making him a 1st round talent in a loaded 2017 draft class pic.twitter.com/iDpyYSZ66H
— Bleacher Report CFB (@BR_CFB) October 21, 2016