5 best pass-rushing defenses in the SEC in 2016
SEC teams will rely on some inexperienced starting quarterbacks in 2016.
All the more reason why getting pressure with your pass rush will be that much more important this fall.
Here are the teams we think will lead the SEC in sacks, pressures and general backfield disruption.
T5. Missouri — There’s been a lot of transition here both in terms of personnel and coaching. But Charles Harris and Walter Brady have an opportunity to be the top sack duo in the SEC this fall. Terry Beckner Jr. and Donavin Newsom are intriguing pass rushers as well. If Harold Brantley can overcome the extensive injuries he suffered in a car crash last year as well as academic hurdles, Mizzou has a chance to finish the season well inside the top 5 in the conference.
T5. Auburn — Carl Lawson, Carl Lawson and Carl Lawson. That’s the key to Auburn’s pass rush, and maybe it’s an entire defense. The Tigers need to get a healthy season out of him. If so, he’s a candidate for double-digit sacks. And he makes things easier for players like Montravius Adams and Marlon Davidson. The Tigers also hope to get more production from Byron Cowart, a five-star signee as part of the 2015 class. If Lawson is healthy, Auburn’s pass rush could leapfrog from 13th in ’15 to among the best in the SEC.
4. Tennessee — Outside of the early part of last season, Derek Barnett has been one of the conference’s better bull rushers for two years. He’s a good bet to reach double-digit sacks yet again. Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Darrin Kirkland Jr. combined for 9 sacks at linebacker last season. Team 120 also is equipped with a wealth of rotational players at defensive line, any number of whom should contribute to the team’s sack total — perhaps Corey Vereen most notably. Of note, new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop helped Penn State compile 3.54 sacks per game in 2015, tied with Arizona State for most in the country, an even better mark than Alabama.
3. Texas A&M — Myles Garrett is every bit a candidate to follow Jadeveon Clowney as a three-and-done player who gets selected at No. 1 overall in the NFL draft. Most consider him the best pass rusher in the nation entering the season. But he’s not alone along a good Aggies defensive line. Daeshon Hall, who made 7 sacks in ’15, has generated positive publicity in College Station this spring and could be even better. Those two alone should combine for at least 20 sacks. And with Daylon Mack and Kingsley Keke set to clog the middle, there should be more pass-rush opportunities to go around for backup ends Qualen Cunningham, James Lockhart and Jarrett Johnson.
2. LSU — Lewis Neal and Arden Key look like one of the best pass-rush tandems in the SEC for 2016. And the flexible, aggressive 3-4 scheme installed by Dave Aranda could make them that much more effective. Davon Godchaux also led all SEC defensive tackles last year with 6 sacks. Linebacker Kendell Beckwith is a threat to rush the passer as well. LSU tied for third in the SEC last year with 34 sacks, and will have every opportunity to better that number this year.
1. Alabama — Jonathan Allen finished just a half-sack shy of Myles Garrett last season for the SEC lead. He returns trying to cement himself as a first-round pick. Tim Williams is a linebacker, but has spent most of his on-field downs along the line of scrimmage rushing the passer. He made 10.5 sacks last year despite limited playing time, and could be the best pure pass rusher in the conference outside of Garrett. His counterpart is Ryan Anderson (a combined 9 sacks the last two years). And Da’Shawn Hand is the team’s X factor in terms of pass rush. He could miss Saturday’s A-Day game due to back spasms, but the ’14 class five-star signee offers more upside as a rusher than did Jarran Reed. Alabama led the nation in sacks last season, and should be considered the favorite to at least top the SEC this fall.