The SEC consistently churns out some of the top pass rushers in the nation, particularly at the outside linebacker position. Just this past year, the conference sent Josh Allen and Montez Sweat to the NFL in the first round of the 2019 draft.
Guys like Christian Miller, D’Andre Walker, Jachai Polite and more are also off to the pro ranks, but that isn’t as big of a deal in the SEC as it would be in other conferences.
That’s because the SEC has plenty of talented players waiting in the wings, ready for their chance to shine in the spotlight. But only a select few have the elite skills necessary to make the cut for our perfect SEC outside linebacker for the 2019 season.
Here’s who we’d choose to make up the ideal player for this fall:
Speed: K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU
The Tigers put Chaisson in a lot of positions in 2017, but his speed always allowed him to get to the quarterback. He finished his freshman campaign with 2 sacks and 4.5 tackles for a loss, but he was still getting used to life in the SEC.
With big expectations in 2018, he tore his ACL in Week 1 against Miami. Before he injured his knee, he had 5 tackles and a sack, which looked like a sign of things to come.
For pass rushers, straight-line speed isn’t always the best measure of effectiveness, but Chaisson has straight-line burst and also the quickness to change directions in a hurry. How much his knee rehab affected his speed remains to be seen, but with the great medical care and strength training SEC players receive, it’s likely that he’ll be back to full strength by Week 1 this fall.
Strength/size: Terrell Lewis, Alabama
Lewis has been plagued by injuries, missing 10 games with an arm injury in 2017 and missing the entire 2018 season with a torn ACL. Still, he is a beast, as evidenced by him running on a zero-gravity treadmill two months after ACL surgery:
One of the best feelings in the world!😅 pic.twitter.com/ZZDMCP59iy
— Terrell Lewis (@_Real24_) September 17, 2018
If he’s able to stay on the field this fall, he can make a huge impact for the Tide. At 6-5 and 260 pounds, he’s an ideal size for an outside linebacker.
We’ll have to see how he looks after coming back from two major injuries, but he’s been in the weight room a lot, so he’s sure to be strong and ready to get on the field in Week 1.
Versatility: Anfernee Jennings, Alabama
If you want an OLB who can do it all, Jennings is your man. Need a pass knocked down? He had 11 pass breakups in 2018 (and 1 interception).
Need a guy who can get after the quarterback? Jennings had 5.5 sacks last year, including this impressive takedown of Heisman-winning Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray in the Sugar Bowl:
Kyler Murray steps into a Anfernee Jennings sack, followed by Christian Miller blowing right by Bobby Evans. Advantage: Bama DL – pic.twitter.com/C5404XAiAr
— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) December 30, 2018
He also had 50 tackles (13 for a loss) and 2 fumble recoveries. He should draw a lot of attention from opposing linemen this season, but with the skills he showcased last year, he should still have a huge 2019 campaign.
Pass-rushing: Darrell Taylor, Tennessee
Taylor needs to develop more consistency, but after recording 8 sacks last season, he is the SEC’s returning leader in the category. He only recorded sacks in three games, but they were against legitimate SEC competition.
Here’s one of his 4 sacks against Kentucky, showcasing his ability to beat linemen off the line of scrimmage:
4 sacks for Tennessee's Darrell Taylor this weekend – has 7 games this year without a sack, but had 3 against Georgia. Talk about streaky: pic.twitter.com/EHebWduCyK
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) November 12, 2018
He also recorded 3 sacks against Georgia (see below) and 1 against Vanderbilt:
Darrell Taylor's 3️⃣ sacks against Georgia were the most by a player against the Bulldogs in over two years and the most by a Vol since Derek Barnett in 2016. #PoweredByTheT pic.twitter.com/kAvccpKnxr
— Tennessee Football (@Vol_Football) October 2, 2018
So, it’s not like he was putting up those sack numbers against UTEP, East Tennessee State and Charlotte. That was SEC East competition, but the Vols would like to see him record sacks in more than three games this fall.
Pass defense: Willie Gay Jr., Mississippi State
Every now and then, an outside linebacker has to drop into coverage and make plays that way. No one does that better than Willie Gay Jr.
The talented Bulldogs linebacker had 5 sacks last season, but he also had 2 interceptions, including this one off of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa:
This is very common for young QBs (and a lot of old QBs) but failing to identify lurking LBs is one of Tua's weaknesses. He simply never saw Willie Gay. pic.twitter.com/DK4JRjpe9r
— Ryan McCrystal (@Ryan_McCrystal) May 16, 2019
That doesn’t necessarily showcase the full range of Gay’s pass-defending capabilities, but he knows how to get into throwing lanes and be where the ball is going to be.