Creating the perfect SEC interior defensive lineman for 2021
Alabama’s Christian Barmore was the only SEC defensive tackle to come off the board in the first 3 rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft. He was expected to go in Round 1, but he fell to the New England Patriots in Round 2.
In Round 4, Texas A&M’s Bobby Brown III and LSU’s Tyler Shelvin were selected. But, with not much top-end talent leaving for the draft in April, the interior defensive line position will be stacked across the SEC this fall.
Many players who opted out are coming back in 2021, in addition to some of the league’s most intriguing draft prospects.
So, who are the best of the best? Here’s how we’d build the perfect SEC interior defensive lineman for the 2021 season:
Size: Jordan Davis, Georgia
This was the easiest call on the list. Davis is a massive man, standing at 6-6 and tipping the scales at 340 pounds. Yes, maintaining a weight that allows him to play more is an issue, but when he’s on the field, he’s nearly impossible to move, even with a double-team.
Davis had an up-and-down 2020 season, but he did his job of clogging the middle well. His 2019 season was arguably better. Here he is in 2019 pushing a lineman back and bringing down the quarterback:
— OO (@_OOLLIE_) November 2, 2019
And here he is getting a great push on a 4th-and-inches play to blow up a run in the backfield:
4th and inches…
— OO (@_OOLLIE_) November 23, 2019
If he can develop some more consistency in 2021, he could be a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Versatility: DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
Leal will play plenty of defensive end this fall, but at 6-4 and 290 pounds, he can also line up inside when asked. He’s a bowling ball when he’s in pursuit of the quarterback:
Texas A&M DE Demarvin Leal forces the fumble and the Aggies recover. Good play by Leal. pic.twitter.com/Ezre0BFknF
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) December 19, 2020
He can also beat offensive linemen to the middle of the field instead of relying on going around the edge every time:
Filthy Move 😷
— All-American Bowl (@AABonNBC) October 17, 2020
And he has quick enough hands to win 1-on-1 battles with those who are unfortunate enough to wind up in that situation against him:
DE DeMarvin Leal tossing big Evan Neal around
That wind-up (watch elbows flare back) from Neal is slow and exposes chest…. Then he’s off balance and it’s over
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) April 13, 2021
His versatility is obvious when you look at his stat line from 2020: 37 tackles (7 for a loss), 2.5 sacks, 1 interception (returned for 43 yards), 3 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery. He’s a special player, and 2021 should be his coming-out party.
Speed: LaBryan Ray, Alabama
It’s tough to get big interior linemen moving too quickly. After all, running isn’t what they’re supposed to be doing on the football field.
But, as far as interior linemen go, Ray is a guy who could probably clock a 40-yard dash time of under 5 seconds. He struggled with injuries in 2020, so returning for the 2021 campaign was a good idea for him.
Ray plays a defensive end spot in Pete Golding’s 3-4 scheme, but he will often have an edge rusher (Will Anderson Jr. or Christopher Allen, for example) line up outside of him.
He’s not the fastest guy, but he can chase down a running back when needed, like this play against Clemson a couple of years ago:
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) June 20, 2019
And when the quarterback gets outside the pocket, Ray can keep going and get his opponent to the ground:
✅ Wins w/ rate of force defeating block in 2.4 sec
✅ Closes to QB in 2.3 sec
✅ Total time to sack = 4.7 sec
— Cory Yates (@CoryRAanalytics) March 10, 2021
If he’s fully healthy (and can stay that way) in 2021, he is capable of putting up huge numbers.
Pass-rushing: Kobie Whiteside, Mizzou
Whiteside was hampered by injuries in 2020, but his junior year in 2019 was impressive. That year, he recorded 28 tackles and 7.5 sacks. He’s so strong and has such a quick release on the inside when he’s healthy that he’s a nightmare for linemen to stop.
Pressure up the middle is the toughest pressure for an offense to adjust to. Against West Virginia in 2019, Whiteside absolutely destroyed the pocket from the time the ball was snapped, walking the offensive lineman into his own quarterback:
— Joe (@JDec89) September 7, 2019
Here he is making the Florida offensive line look silly twice during the Tigers’ 2019 matchup against the Gators:
So damn strong! Wish he had little more length to him but he’s so tough to move off the spot or stop the bull rushes… Led team in sacks in 2019 and most among returning SEC players!
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) August 7, 2020
If he’s fully healthy in 2021, he’ll be a key part of a Mizzou defense that definitely needs a playmaker to step up. We’ll see if he can get back to his 2019 form. If so, watch out!
Run-stopping: Phidarian Mathis, Alabama
Mathis is a run-stuffing machine. He had 31 tackles in 2020 (5 for a loss), 1 sack, 3 pass breakups and a forced fumble. But his impact goes beyond the numbers on the stat sheet.
Sure, he makes his fair share of incredible plays. Here he is stopping an LSU back at the line of scrimmage:
— Brett Hudson (@Brett_Hudson) December 7, 2020
Here he is shedding a blocker and getting an Ole Miss runner to the ground in the backfield:
— Brian Johannes (@Draft_Brian) January 8, 2021
Even on plays where he doesn’t make the tackle, he disrupts things in a big way. Watch him prevent the Ohio State running back from getting upfield, allowing his teammate to make the tackle, on this play in the national title game:
Mathis became one of the most reliable players on Alabama’s defense this past season. If Alabama is going to improve on defense this fall, Mathis’ steady performance will be a big reason.