2021 NFL Draft: The 5 best SEC players at every defensive position
The 2021 NFL Draft kicks off a week from today. Offensive players are the talk of the town, particularly in the SEC, where QB Mac Jones and pass catchers Kyle Pitts, Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle are all getting legitimate top-10 buzz.
But what about the defensive guys? The SEC has historically been known for great defenses, after all.
This is a fairly weak (by SEC standards) defensive class, but that doesn’t mean there’s not some elite talent. Here are the top 5 SEC players at each defensive position in this draft:
- Christian Barmore, Alabama
- Bobby Brown III, Texas A&M
- Tyler Shelvin, LSU
- Tedarrell Slaton, Florida
- Malik Herring, Georgia
Barmore is far and away the best prospect in this group. He’s probably going to be a first-round pick after his big 2020 season. He had 37 tackles and 8 sacks while anchoring the Tide’s defense. Getting that kind of interior pass rush is a big benefit in the NFL, with offenses relying on quick passes. That might neutralize some edge rushers, but getting pressure up the middle will always be disruptive for offenses.
I think Brown is one of the more underrated linemen in the country. He has the potential to be even better in the right scheme in the NFL. Shelvin needs to manage his weight to be successful. We’ll see which team signs up for him, but he has the talent to anchor a defensive line for the next decade.
Slaton and Herring have potential as late-round picks. They’re both solid against the run but don’t offer much in the way of pass rush.
- Azeez Ojulari, Georgia
- Jabril Cox, LSU
- Dayo Odeyingbo, Vanderbilt
- Anthony Hines III, Texas A&M
This is not a very strong edge rusher class from the SEC. Ojulari is elite, having led the SEC with 8.5 sacks last season. But he’s a bit on the smaller side, so he’ll need to rely on his speed rather than his strength.
Cox is very versatile, more capable as a pass defender than anyone else on this list. He’ll be an intriguing prospect. I could see him going on Day 2. He can line up as a 3-4 outside linebacker and wreak havoc in a number of ways.
Odeyingbo had a career-high 5.5 sacks last season. He’ll hear his name called at some point in the draft. Hines opted out of the 2020 season. That might hurt his chances of getting drafted, but he should sign on as an undrafted free agent somewhere.
- Nick Bolton, Mizzou
- Jamin Davis, Kentucky
- Monty Rice, Georgia
- Dylan Moses, Alabama
- KJ Britt, Auburn
Davis has been getting rave reviews lately, and for good reason. He’s a stud. In 10 games last year, he had 102 tackles (4 for a loss), 1.5 sacks, 3 interceptions (1 returned for a touchdown), a forced fumble and 2 pass breakups. He should be an early Day 2 pick if he doesn’t slip into Round 1.
Bolton should be a Round 1 pick. I know some teams are concerned about his lack of size, but he makes plays and hits hard. He has the speed and coverage ability to be a talented middle linebacker. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in traffic and get after ball carriers.
I have Rice ahead of Moses because I am a bit concerned about Moses’s repeated knee injuries. He played on a torn meniscus in 2020, and while he was still a good college linebacker, he was a step slow. I hope he fully recovers and gets back to 2018 form, but we’ll see.
- Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
- Jaycee Horn, South Carolina
- Kelvin Joseph, Kentucky
- Eric Stokes, Georgia
- Tyson Campbell, Georgia
This is easily the SEC’s deepest position on the defensive side. Surtain and Horn are Round 1 locks. The other 3 on this list should be off the board by the end of Day 2.
There is a lot of buzz about Surtain potentially going to Dallas with the No. 10 pick. Horn likely won’t be on the board much longer after that. I don’t see him slipping past the Arizona Cardinals at pick No. 16.
Campbell was getting Round 1 buzz at certain points during the draft process, but I’m not seeing that much anymore. I’d prefer Stokes if I were an NFL GM (fingers crossed). And Joseph is a guy I haven’t heard a ton of buzz about, but I do think he’ll be off the board in Rounds 2 or 3. All 5 of these guys should be contributors for their teams right away.
- Richard LeCounte III, Georgia
- Tyree Gillespie, Mizzou
- JaCoby Stevens, LSU
- Joshuah Bledsoe, Mizzou
- Marcus Murphy, Mississippi State
This might be the weakest position group in the SEC this year. I don’t know if any of these guys will be taken before Day 3 of the draft. I had high hopes for Stevens entering 2020. He had a good year, but he didn’t break out as a star.
Gillespie has all the measurables NFL teams will love to see, but the Mizzou secondary wasn’t all that great in 2020. Bledsoe, his secondary mate, will potentially be a late-Day 3 pick. I’m not sure Murphy will hear his name called at all.
LeCounte could have been a Round 3 pick, but we’ll see how much his injuries from the motorcycle accident he suffered last season will impact where he gets drafted. If he’s fully healthy, he could end up being a steal.