Debate: Who is the SEC Defensive Player of the Decade
Monday morning, we debated who should be named the SEC’s Offensive Player of the Decade.
It was spirited, but I made the case that Johnny Manziel stood out above the rest.
Picking the Defensive Player of the Decade?
Good luck. NFL teams drafted 52 SEC defenders in the 1st round this decade. Several more will be taken in April, to complete the decade’s haul. That doesn’t even include Texas A&M’s Von Miller (No. 2 in 2011) or Missouri’s Aldon Smith (No. 7 in 2011), who left school before their team joined the SEC.
The breakdown: 19 defensive linemen, 17 defensive backs and 16 linebackers.
In the 1st round.
So who was the best of the best this decade? That’s something we’ve been debating all week.
Connor O’Gara: Jonathan Allen
He wasn’t quite as flashy as some of the other All-Decade selections, but my pick is Jonathan Allen. It’s not “Bama bias” to point out just out good Allen was in a remarkable 4-year career. He was a 4-year starter who earned 1st-team All-SEC nods in 3 seasons. He was a massive part of that 2015 national title team, and he would have been the best player on another national title team in 2016 if not for Deshaun Watson’s last-minute heroics. But still, Allen was unbelievable as a senior in 2016. He was the best defensive player in college football that year — he was 1 of 5 SEC players to win the Bednarik Award in the 2010s — and he got progressively better throughout his storied career, unlike some of the other candidates for this spot. To me, Allen is absolutely worthy of being called the SEC’s best defensive player of the 2010s.
Connor O’Gara is a senior national columnist for SDS. Follow him on Twitter @cjogara.com
Joe Cox: Kentucky LB Josh Allen
No, Kentucky didn’t win any national titles, or even any divisional titles. But Allen represents a hidden truth about the 2010s — it ain’t just the good old boy league anymore. Yes, Alabama still produced a ton of Player of the Decade types — maybe Jonathan Allen was the best of them. But guys like Jadeveon Clowney or Shane Ray also won Defensive Player of the Year awards with South Carolina or Missouri. The SEC has historically dominated college football by getting the best players, but with guys like Ray and Allen, the SEC dominated by developing the best players.
Yes, Early Signing Day reminded us all that the SEC still cleans up the ranking of 5-stars. But let Allen remind us that even the programs that aren’t Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, or Florida can produce all-world players, and that sometimes they do it by honing a diamond in the rough like Allen. A 2-star recruit who UK snagged at the 11th hour from Monmouth might have been the Defensive Player of the Decade. That back story seals my vote.
Joe Cox covers Kentucky and the SEC for SDS. Follow him on Twitter @KyJoeCox.
David Wasson: Alabama DE Jonathan Allen
Returning to Alabama for his senior season in 2016 trying to win back-to-back national titles, Allen finished his career ranked 2nd in Alabama history for career sacks with 28.5 (-205 yards) behind only College and Pro Football Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas.
Allen won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award and Ted Hendricks Award, was a finalist for the Lombardi Award, the Walter Camp Player of the Year and Lott IMPACT Trophy, and finished 7th in the Heisman Trophy voting.
What more could a defensive player accomplish?
David Wasson covers Alabama for SDS. Follow him on Twitter @TheSharpDW.
Adam Spencer: LSU DB Tyrann Mathieu
For this one, I’m going with the Honey Badger — LSU DB Tyrann Mathieu. He only played in 2010 and 2011, but it’s tough to argue with the way he dominated when he was on the field. His stats speak for themselves — 133 tackles, 6 sacks, 4 interceptions, 16 pass breakups, 11 forced fumbles, 8 fumble recoveries (2 that went for touchdowns) and 16 tackles for a loss.
Oh, and he was also dynamic on special teams, averaging 15.6 yards per return in 2011 and returning 2 punts for touchdowns. He could make plays all over the field, and because of that versatility, he’s my SEC defensive player of the decade.
Adam Spencer covers Mizzou and news for SDS. Follow him @AdamSpencer4.
Chris Wright: Alabama DB Minkah Fitzpatrick
All you need to know about Fitzpatrick’s impact is what happened to the Tide secondary after he left. Not good, Nick. Not good.
Alabama has had so many game-changing defensive linemen and linebackers that it’s nearly impossible to differentiate them. Quinnen Williams was as dominant as Jonathan Allen, just for a shorter span. Marcell Darius still hasn’t been moved an inch off the line of scrimmage. Pick a linebacker. It doesn’t matter. They’re all great, and they’re all aided by the fact they’re playing behind pro prospects on the d-line. Alabama invented and perfected plug-n-play in the front 7.
Alabama’s secondary has been a different story. It’s still Bama, but there was a noticeable drop after Ha-Ha Clinton Dix left in 2013.
Fitzpatrick didn’t just start as a true freshman in 2015, he starred. He was a Freshman All-American and quickly became the versatile chess piece Nick Saban (and Kirby Smart) could move around. He blossomed into a 2-time All-American and became just the 3rd defender in FBS history to win the Bednarik and Thorpe awards. The other 2? Charles Woodson and Patrick Peterson.
Two national titles, the ability to blitz, turn interceptions into points, to play anywhere, from corner to safety to Star.
Fitzpatrick was Alabama’s defensive MVP, most valuable and most versatile. And if you own that title for the most dominant defense of the decade, you own it for the league, too.