20 most intimidating SEC players since turn of century
The SEC’s success is synonymous to its intimidation.
The conference is home to the most freakish talent that exists in the country, and it’s been streaming in long before the SEC officially took the crown as the best league in the land back in 2006, the beginning of its long reign.
On Wednesday, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was asked on ESPN Radio what separated the SEC from other conferences he’s coached in since he’s had experience in the Big Ten and Big 12. Here’s what he had to say:
“I think overall, on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game, there’s usually a freak or two on every team you play that you have to account for them. They can change the game literally in one play. I just think that’s something that’s so unique.”
Well, here are some of those players. Certainly there are a lot, but here’s our top 20 since the turn of the century.
Alabama: RB Derrick Henry
In the rare instance that an opposing defense was up for the challenge of tackling the 6-foot-3, 242-pounder in the first three quarters, it certainly wasn’t up for the task in the fourth quarter. No one, not a single team, prevented the Heisman winner from reaching the end zone in 2015 as he racked up 28 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Henry had 10 100-yard rushing games and four 200-yard efforts on the way to an SEC record 2,219 yards.
Alabama: DT Terrence Cody
He was called “Mount Cody” for a reason. The 6-foot-5, 365-pounder was the immovable rock in the middle of Nick Saban’s first national title team in Tuscaloosa in 2009. He was a consensus All-American that season just like he was the year before in 2008. During Cody’s time at Alabama, not a single opposing running back managed to rush for 100 yards, a span of 28 games.
Auburn: QB Cam Newton
Before Superman was dabbing with the Carolina Panthers, he was taking the college football world by storm in the single season he got a chance to do it at Auburn. During his Heisman campaign in 2010, Newton passed for 30 TDs and rushed for at least 20 TDs, joining Tim Tebow (2007) as the only FBS players to hit those marks in a season. Meanwhile, he was the first FBS player to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season. If his cannon for an arm didn’t intimidate you, his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame certainly did when it left the pocket.
Auburn: DT Nick Fairley
If you want to know how intimidating Nick Fairley was, you can ask Oregon. The same season Newton struck fear into opponents during Auburn’s national championship season, Fairley did the same on the other side of the ball. His whopping 24 tackles for loss was 3rd-most in the entire FBS, and he had 11.5 sacks, both of those totals set school single-season records. In the SEC, only Georgia’s Jarvis Jones has posted more tackles for loss in a season since then (24.5 in 2012). He was named Defensive MVP of the 2010 BCS National Championship Game with 5 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble in the win over Oregon.
Arkansas: OT Shawn Andrews
Getting around the 6-foot-4, 366-pound frame of Shawn Andrews was nearly impossible. Andrews was a consensus All-American in 2002 and 2003, winning the Jim Parker Award for best offensive lineman in 2003. With the Razorbacks, he only surrendered 2 sacks in 35 games. Andrews was the 16th overall pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004, playing six seasons and earning first-team All-Pro honors in 2006.
Arkansas: OG Dan Skipper
Everyone knows Arkansas has had some intimidating offensive linemen throughout the years. At 6-foot-10, 326 pounds, the towering Skipper is certainly one of them. After starting every game at left tackle as a sophomore, Skipper started every game at right tackle last season, earning second-team All-SEC honors. He’s sure to be one of the best offensive linemen in the conference this coming season.
Florida: QB Tim Tebow
Sure, Tim Tebow is a nice guy. He practically lives to put smiles on peoples’ faces. That wasn’t the case on the football field, though. Tebow was one of the most fiery competitors anyone has ever seen, getting delight out of trucking would-be tacklers. His accolades speak for themselves as he’s one of the greatest players in college history, and it was because defending him in the Urban Meyer’s spread was almost impossible. His 145 career TDs — 88 passing, 57 rushing — are an SEC record. Of course, that was with a little help from a couple other intimidating players in the Pouncey twins.
Florida: S Reggie Nelson
Like safety Major Wright, Reggie Nelson was known for his big hits. However, “The Eraser” set the precedent with some bone-jarring tackles during his time at Florida, and it was never safe going over the middle with Nelson on the field. Nelson was a consensus All-American in 2006 as Florida won its second national title. Aside from laying the lumber, Nelson was opportunistic, recording 6 INTs in that championship season.
Florida: DE Alex Brown
Going back a little further back in Florida history, defensive end Alex Brown was a physical freak. Brown was not only adept at getting to the quarterback, he was able to track running backs down sideline-to-sideline, bat down passes and block kicks. He had 31 sacks over his last three seasons in Gainesville, recording 13 as a senior, when he was named a consensus All-American. The year prior to that, Brown blocked three kicks in that season alone. He was a menace all over the field.
Georgia: DE Charles Johnson
Similar to Alex Brown, Charles Johnson was able to affect a game in more than one way. In his junior year, Johnson posted 19 tackles for loss (second in the SEC) and 9.5 sacks. However, he amazingly led the SEC in passes defended from the defensive end spot (10), and he also forced 3 fumbles. The Carolina Panthers took him in the third round, and he became one of the greatest players in franchise history over the next nine seasons.
Georgia: LB/DE David Pollack
When David Pollack’s days in Athens were over, he was in the same breath as Herschel Walker. That’s because those were the only two Bulldogs in history to earn first-team All-America honors three times. Pollack did so in 2002, 2003 and 2004, and there’s a reason why. He recorded a total of 36 career sacks, 58 tackles for loss, 4 interceptions and 7 forced fumbles. In his sophomore season in 2002 after switching to defensive end, Pollack played like a man possessed with 102 tackles, 14 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles and 7 pass breakups.
Kentucky: LB Danny Trevathan
No matter where the ball was, Trevathan was going to be there. The Wildcats linebacker was the SEC’s leading tackler in back-to-back seasons in 2010 (144) and 2011 (143), and no one came close. That doesn’t happen without a crazy motor. In 2010, he also posted 16 tackles for loss, which was third-best in the SEC behind only Auburn’s aforementioned Nick Fairley and Georgia’s Justin Houston. As a senior, he padded those 143 tackles with 11.5 tackles for loss, 4 INTs and 5 forced fumbles.
LSU: DT Glenn Dorsey
Dorsey was a dominant force in the middle for the Tigers in 2007. The 6-foot-2, 303-pounder won the Outland Trophy for best interior lineman that season by terrorizing offenses. He anchored the middle by recording 7 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss, which led to him being taken with the fifth overall pick of the 2008 NFL draft by the Kansas City Chiefs.
LSU: FS LaRon Landry
You always had to account for LaRon Landry on the field. Landry led the Tigers in total tackles in three of his four seasons in Baton Rouge (2003, 2004, 2006) and was a consensus All-American in 2006. The hard-hitting free safety finished his career at LSU with 315 career tackles, 12 INTs, 40 passes defended and 8 sacks. At the time, he was the highest-drafted defensive player in LSU history when he went sixth overall to the Washington Redskins in 2007.
LSU: CB Patrick Peterson
Patrick Peterson wasn’t intimidating in the way that some of these other athletes were. He did it with sheer talent. In 2010, Peterson was not just the best defensive back in college football, he was the best defensive player, period, winning the Bednarik Award for top defensive player. Peterson found the end zone in three different ways during his college career: 2 punt return TDs, interception return for TD and blocked field goal returned for a TD. Aside from the 2 punt return TDs, he also set an LSU single-season record with 932 kick return yards.
Ole Miss: LT Michael Oher
Oher could’ve left one year early for the NFL draft and still been one of the top picks, but he elected to return for his senior season, and it paid off as Oher was a unanimous First-Team All-American in 2008 and earned a degree. The 6-foot-4, 309-pounder was taken with the 23rd overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft by the Baltimore Ravens.
Ole Miss: LB Patrick Willis
Like Danny Trevathan, Willis led the SEC in tackles in back-to-back seasons in 2005 (128) and 2006 (137). He was a consensus First-Team All-American in 2006, the same year he won the Dick Butkus Award for nation’s most outstanding linebacker, as he added 7 pass defenses and 2 forced fumbles. Over those last two seasons, he had a combined 21 tackles for loss and 6 sacks to add to his total tackles.
South Carolina: DE Jadeveon Clowney
We’ve all seen Jadeveon Clowney’s hit of Michigan RB Vincent Smith probably more than any single play in sports history other than maybe Michael Jordan’s game-winner in the NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz. Clowney was a force in all three of his seasons in South Carolina, but that was especially true in his sophomore year in 2012. That year, Clowney posted 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks along with 3 forced fumbles. Clowney was a monster who was always the focus of the opposing offense’s game plan.
Tennessee: S Eric Berry
Eric Berry’s 2008 season was among the best I’ve seen from an SEC defender in my whole life. Like Patrick Peterson, Berry intimidated with skill, but like Reggie Nelson, he also intimidated with his desire to mix it up. Berry was a consensus All-American in 2008 and 2009. In 2008, he recorded 72 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 7 interceptions (2 returned for TDs) and 13 pass defenses. Those 7 picks led the NCAA that season. In his first year in 2007, he had 5 interceptions with one taken back to the house. He was simply phenomenal in terms of athleticism and physicality, and he was the reason no one wanted to test the Vols deep during his time in Knoxville.
Texas A&M: LT Luke Joeckel
Rounding out our top 25 is Texas A&M left tackle Luke Joeckel. The 6-foot-6, 315-pounder won the Outland Trophy in 2012 while protecting the blind side of one of the most prolific quarterbacks in SEC history, Johnny Manziel, who won the Heisman that season. Joeckel wasn’t just imposing, he was an iron man. He started every single game in his time at College Station, including all 13 games at left tackle as a freshman. Manziel bought a lot of time to pull off his magic with the Aggies because of Joeckel and an overall outstanding Aggies offensive line during his time there.