2015 SEC position rankings: Defensive line
Team Position Rankings:
- Running backs
- Wide receivers/tight ends
- Offensive line
- Defensive line
- Defensive backs
- Special teams
For years, the SEC has been a breeding ground for NFL defensive lines.
That was obvious in the spring, when four SEC defensive linemen were taken in the first two rounds of the draft. The teams faced with replacing those players, as well as others who were taken later, have big holes to fill.
But this is the SEC, and teams are always reloading. Once again, the conference is stacked with many of college football’s best pass rushers and run stoppers.
In order, here are the rankings of the SEC’s best defensive lines:
THE NATION’S FINEST
1. Ole Miss
Predicting the starters: Issac Gross, Robert Nkemdiche, Fadol Brown, Marquis Haynes
Key contributors: D.J. Jones, Channing Ward, John Youngblood
Robert Nkemdiche and Issac Gross are not who you want to see if you’re an opposing offensive line. The interior defensive linemen can explode through gaps better than anyone in the conference, while DE Marquis Haynes sneakily led the Rebels with 7 1/2 sacks as a freshman.
Predicting the starters: Jarran Reed, A’Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen
Key contributors: Dalvin Tomlinson, Darren Lake, D.J. Pettway
It can be tough for a three-man front to put up eye-catching numbers, but that’s just what Alabama’s defensive line will do in 2015. Ends Jonathan Allen and Jarran Reed will look to top their 18 tackles for loss last season, while the depth at tackle should prevent opposing runners from reaching big holes.
BORDERING ON ELITE
Predicting the starters: Derek Barnett, Kahlil McKenzie, Owen Williams, Curt Maggitt
Key contributors: Kyle Phillips, Danny O’Brien, Corey Vereen
Tennessee’s defensive line has the perfect mix of veteran stalwarts and fresh blood. Derek Barnett and Curt Maggitt (combined 21 sacks last season) are the most exciting pass rushing duo in the SEC, while underclassmen like Kendal Vickers, Kyle Phillips and Dimayra Mixon should factor into this scary rotation.
4. Texas A&M
Predicting the starters: Myles Garrett, Alonzo Williams, Julien Obioha, Daeshon Hall
Key contributors: Daylon Mack, Zaycoven Henderson, Hardreck Walker,
The Aggies have the SEC’s best defensive lineman in Myles Garrett, and nice complementary players around him in Alonzo Williams, Daylon Mack and Julien Obioha. This will be the unit that prevents new defensive coordinator John Chavis from throwing a fit in his first year at College Station.
Predicting the starters: DaVonte Lambert, Montravius Adams, Carl Lawson
Key contributors: Byron Cowart, Maurice Swain, Raashed Kennion
It’ll be fun to watch Carl Lawson return to the Tigers after missing 2014 with an injury. He joins other promising pass rushers who look to take advantage of Will Muschamp’s defense in Dontavius Russell, Raashed Kennion and top recruit Byron Cowart. But it’s the interior linemen, returning starters DaVonte Lambert and Montravius Adams, who put this unit on the cusp of elite.
TALENT TO TRASNCEND EXPECTATIONS
Predicting the starters: Charles Harris, Rickey Hatley, A.J. Logan, Walter Brady
Key contributors: Josh Augusta, Terry Beckner Jr., Marcel Frazier
It’s tough for Tiger fans to hear this, but if not for the departure of Marcus Loud and Harold Brantley’s injury then this unit would easily be a Top 4 in the conference. Assuming DE Charles Harris meets expectations and DT Josh Augusta can stay in shape, Craig Kuligowski’s unit may avoid the major drop-off that many are expecting.
7. Mississippi State
Predicting the starters: Ryan Brown, Chris Jones, Nelson Adams, A.J. Jefferson
Key contributors: Will Coleman, Nick James,
The Bulldogs lost three of their four starters from this unit, but it’s a unit that shows decent depth when compared to the rest of the team. Senior Ryan Brown solidifies one end spot after posting seven tackles for loss in 2014, while the extremely talented Chris Jones was a de facto starter at defensive tackle. If nothing else, Mississippi State’s defensive line will be good enough to hang with the rest of the conference.
Predicting the starters: Alex McCalister, Jon Bullard, Taven Bryan, Joey Ivey, Jon Bullard
Key contributors: Bryan Cox Jr., Caleb Brantley, CeCe Jefferson
The Gators don’t have a lot of experience on the defensive line, but Jon Bullard’s decision to return will be among the most valuable in the SEC. Alex McCalister looks to become the next big Florida pass rusher, while Bryan Cox Jr. proved he can consistently disrupt backfields in 2014 (he had six tackles for loss).
WORKS IN PROGRESS
Predicting the starters: Tashawn Bower, Christian LaCouture, Davon Godchaux, Lewis Neal
Key contributors: Greg Gilmore, Ardon Key, Isiah Washington
New defensive coordinator Kevin Steele needs to clean up this unit quickly. LSU’s defensive line was a revolving door in 2014, and a returning interior of Christian LaCouture and Davon Godchaux, while promising, doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence when it comes to stopping the run. If Steele fully integrates a 3-4 base into the defense, don’t expect the Tigers to improve on their 19 sacks in 2014.
Predicting the starters: Josh Dawson, Trent Thompson, Sterling Bailey
Key contributors: Chris Mayes, Jonathan Ledbetter
Freshman and top recruit Trent Thompson looks to win a spot at tackle alongside senior ends Sterling Bailey and Josh Dawson. Depending on how quickly Thompson can adjust to the SEC, Georgia’s defensive line may rise from its mediocre status in recent years.
Predicting the starters: JaMichael Winston, Bijhon Jackson, Taiwan Johnson, Deatrich Wise
Key contributors: Jeremiah Ledbetter, Tevin Beanum, DeMarcus Hodge, Hjalte Froholdt
It’s odd saying a so-so defensive line is deep, but that’s probably the best way to describe the Razorbacks’. Look for JaMichael Winston (26 tackles in 2014) to try and fill Trey Flowers’ big shoes as guys like Deatrich Wise, Jamario Bell and Bijhon Jackson also try to fulfill their potential. Facing the Arkansas offensive line is probably a nice “practice donut” too.
Predicting the starters: Farrington Hugenin, Melvin Lewis, Cory Johnson
Key contributors: Regie Meant, Matt Elam, Adrian Middleton
The Wildcats won’t be able to replace Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith, but the ends’ departure signals the arrival of Melvin Lewis at nose tackle in a 3-4. If the Wildcats can build around Lewis with its less-experienced but tenured ends while adjusting to the base, Kentucky fans may be forgetting about its former stars sooner than they thought.
MAYBE NEXT YEAR
Predicting the starters: Adam Butler, Jay Woods, Caleb Azubike
Key contributors: Nifae Lealao, Jonathan Wynn
Returning starters Adam Butler and Caleb Azubike are leaders in the locker room in addition to being some of the more talented players on Vanderbilt’s roster, but this unit still needs some work. Sophomore nose guard Nifae Lealao is a bright spot who should help the Commodores improve on their 11th ranked rushing defense.
14. South Carolina
Predicting the starters: Gerald Dixon, Gerald Dixon Jr., Dexter Wideman, Marquavius Lewis
Key contributors: David Johnson, Taylor Stallworth, Phillip Dukes
One would think the Gamecocks can only go up after only getting 14 sacks last season, but other than the Dixon brothers, this unit doesn’t inspire much confidence. South Carolina brought in seven new linemen in its 2015 recruiting class, but until they mature this unit will continue to be one of the SEC’s weakest.