Danger zone: SEC's most feared hitters next season
Despite the recent crackdown by the NCAA on contact to the helmet, there is still a place for big-time, tone-setting hits in college football — and that’s especially true in the SEC.
Here are a few players who, in addition to being key cogs to their respective defenses, cash in on opportunities to delivering punishing blows to opponents.
It’s by no means a complete list, but it’s a good place to start:
Reuben Foster, Alabama
Foster was at the top of our list of hitters list heading into last season, and nothing’s happened since then to make us change our minds.
In a recent poll of his teammates on AL.com, Foster was the choice for the team’s hardest hitter by eight of the 10 players asked.
He was the team’s second-leading tackler last season with 73, and more of a few of those stops were of the bone crushing variety. The Crimson Tide will need more of the same from him in 2016, and he’s a good bet to deliver.
Derek Barnett, Tennessee
Another holdover from our 2015 list, Barnett followed up his outstanding freshman season with a strong sophomore campaign, posting 69 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. One of those sacks came in the second quarter of the Outback Bowl win over Northwestern, where Barnett ran through quarterback Clayton Thorson.
He’s already projected in some circles as a top-1o pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and with tape like this, it’s not hard to see why.
Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
The rising junior led the conference in tackles for loss (19.5) and sacks (12.5) last season, and was a fixture on highlight shows for forcing fumbles (5) and creating havoc in opposing backfields. He even batted a pass to himself for an interception against Ole Miss.
But in addition to tremendous athleticism, Garrett also can lay a hit on a ball carrier, as he did to South Carolina quarterback Perry Orth on Halloween. It was one big play in a season chock full of them, and we can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.
Armani Watts, Texas A&M
Watts was second in the SEC in tackles last season with 126, and when he wasn’t busy hauling down opposing ball carriers, he made sure that receivers thought twice about stretching out to make catches. He may not have the size of a traditional big hitting safety, but as this Western Carolina receiver found out, he can still deliver a blow.
Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss
Haynes is another imposing pass rusher who had a big year in 2015, posting 16.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks for a talented Rebels defensive front. Like Garrett, he has a quick first step, which occasionally allows him to get a running start at a quarterback, like he did on this play against Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott:
Other big hitters: Charles Harris, Missouri; Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt; Kendell Beckwith, LSU and Jarrad Davis, Florida.