The SEC annually produces some of the best defenses in college football, and that should continue in the 2017 season.
Because there’s so much defensive talent, there aren’t many true freshmen who have a chance to compete for playing time. However, here are 10 who could beat the odds and make a big impact:
Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
Most freshmen don’t come close to sniffing the field for the vaunted Alabama defense, but Dylan Moses (pictured) isn’t like most freshmen.
The 5-star freshman linebacker has already impressed Alabama coaches this spring, running a 4.46 40-yard dash, squatting 500 pounds and benching 405 pounds.
He’s a freakish athlete and could manage to avoid a redshirt this fall. In fact, he could make himself a part of the Crimson Tide defense by the end of the 2017 season.
JaCoby Stevens, S, LSU
The Tigers have a huge hole to fill at the safety position after losing Jamal Adams to the NFL (where he was the No. 6 overall pick of this year’s draft).
Fortunately for coach Ed Orgeron and defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, they have a talented group of freshman safeties coming to Baton Rouge, led by Stevens — a 5-star prospect and the No. 1 safety in the 2017 class.
“It’s a great opportunity. I know there are guys out here competing for my same spot,” Stevens told The Advocate. “I’m pretty sure we’re all going to make the decision hard on coach (Corey) Raymond to make.”
Grant Delpit, S, LSU
Much like Stevens above, Delpit can help fill an area of need, as Adams wasn’t the only safety to leave LSU after last season. The Tigers also lost Rickey Jefferson, who signed with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent.
There are still some veterans ahead of the talented freshmen on the depth chart, but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see one or both earn significant playing time this fall.
Jamyest Williams, DB, South Carolina
The prize recruit in Will Muschamp’s 2017 class, Jamyest Williams will have a chance to contribute to the South Carolina defense right away.
South Carolina fans hope so. Williams has already said he only plans on being in Columbia for three seasons before chasing his NFL dreams.
“Honestly, I try not to think about it, but I do think about it at the same time because I know that I’m gifted,” Williams told The State. “I feel like there is a reason that all this is happening. I wouldn’t have this big-time ESPN name for no reason.”
At 5-9, he’ll be a bit undersized against some of the top receivers in the SEC East, but his speed should make him a threat. Even if he only plays in nickel or dime situations, getting him on the field will only help the Gamecocks in the long run.
Richard LeCounte III, DB, Georgia
LeCounte is the No. 2 overall safety in the 2017 class and made his talents known during Georgia’s spring game, recording nine tackles and a pass breakup.
His leaping ability is off the charts and he’s shown great ball skills and a fearlessness when it comes to making tackles. It’s possible he could play a prominent role on the back end of the Bulldogs’ defense this fall and over the next few seasons.
Christopher Henderson, DB, Florida
The Gators will likely once again have a strong defense despite losing several key players to the NFL. The cornerback position, however, was hit the hardest, as both Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson went pro after the 2016 season.
Enter Henderson, a 4-star corner and the No. 15 player at his position in the 2017 class out of Miami. Duke Dawson and redshirt freshman Chauncey Gardner are the early favorites to land the starting jobs, but Henderson could work his way into the mix with a strong summer.
Aubrey Miller, LB, Mizzou
The Tigers didn’t land the best 2017 recruiting class — in fact, they ranked 13th in the SEC.
However, Miller, a 3-star linebacker from Tennessee, could step in and contribute immediately at the linebacker position. The competition is crowded, but nobody has separated from the pack.
After losing Michael Scherer and Donavin Newsom, Miller could fill a position of need when the 2017 season kicks off.
Markaviest Bryant, DE, Auburn
As the Tigers look to replace Carl Lawson, who is now a member of the Cincinnati Bengals, they could turn to 4-star freshman Markaviest Bryant.
Though Bryant suffered a severe hand injury this offseason, it’s not expected to slow him down at all as he competes for a job along the Auburn defensive line this fall.
Bryant, a pass-rushing specialist at 6-4, 225 pounds, will compete for playing time at the Buck end.
Maleik Gray, S, Tennessee
The Vols have Todd Kelly Jr., Micah Abernathy and Evan Berry returning as safeties this fall, but Berry and Kelly both missed some time with injuries last season.
The Tennessee defense as a whole was bitten by the injury bug in 2016, so having a 4-star freshman like Gray ready to go will be a huge boost.
Gray, listed at 6-2, 190, was the No. 10 safety in the 2017 class.
Tyler Shelvin, DT, LSU
The Tigers have to replace Davon Godchaux and Shelvin certainly has the size to be the next great LSU defensive tackle.
At 6-3 and a slimmed up 325 pounds, Shelvin will be tough for offensive linemen to move around. The only problem is that Shelvin is in summer school, so he’ll have a steep learning curve when he’s finally able to start practicing with the Tigers.
“He is a very explosive young man. I expect him to help us this year,” Orgeron told The Advocate. “He’s at nose (guard), but he can play tackle. He has similar qualities to (Glenn) Dorsey.”