Predicting the defensive MVP for every SEC East team in 2019
High powered offenses are all the rage these days, but the old saying that defenses win championships still ring true.
If you don’t believe me, look at the recent National Championship Game, where both Clemson (13.1 points per game) and Alabama (18.1) were top 12 in scoring defense.
Scoring is great, but preventing the other team from scoring is even better, and the SEC is still very much known today for its defense. In fact, 5 of the top 15 scoring defenses nationally last year came courtesy of the boys from down south.
Expect more of the same this year, especially considering the presence of studs like these guys, who I think will be their team’s defensive MVP in 2019.
Florida: CB C.J. Henderson
As a sophomore in 2018, Henderson was a big reason the Gators were 2nd in the conference against the pass, allowing just 178.9 yards per game. Sure, his INTs were down from 4 to 2 from his stellar freshman campaign, but he also wasn’t seeing nearly as many passes thrown his way as quarterbacks decided to try the other half of the field. He’s also made strides improving his run defense, doing a better job of getting off blocks and improving tackling form.
You can once again expect Henderson to lock down opposing team’s No. 1 receiver, which puts enormous pressure on the offense and opens up more playmaking opportunities for everyone else on defense.
Truth be told, he might be the best pure cover corner in the country. For real. And for a program that has churned out highly touted DBs as well as anyone over the past decade, Henderson displays the most complete skill set with the highest upside of any his predecessors.
Georgia: S Richard LeCounte
Georgia has a couple of strong candidates who could make me second-guess my choice, notably Tae Crowder and J.R. Reed. With that said, I think the supremely athletic LeCounte makes huge strides this year and really becomes the impact playmaker the Dawgs thought he’d become when they signed the former 5-star.
He started 13 of 14 games last year and led the team in tackles with 74, but ironically his tackling is what he needs to improve upon the most. He’s a special talent in coverage, though, with tremendous speed, burst and lateral quickness. He does a nice job reading the QB and closing on the ball, consistently clamping down on intended targets. Assuming he improves his tackling and continues mastering the nuances of the scheme, he’ll blossom into a star this fall.
Kentucky: LB Kash Daniel
He’s not the biggest, fastest, strongest or most athletic player for Kentucky, but there’s no one more valuable than Daniel, who is unequivocally the heart and soul of the defense. They desperately need his leadership and production this year, too, while having to replace All-American and top 10 pick Josh Allen at OLB.
He makes up for his lack of elite physical tools with instincts, terrific on-field awareness and savvy play, constantly putting himself in the right place at the right time to disrupt plays against the run and the pass. He’s also the tone-setter with his fiery brand of leadership and play, and does a nice job shutting the down the run game between the tackles. For a defense that’s replacing an awful lot of experience and production, the Wildcats need Daniel now more than ever.
Mizzou: CB Christian Holmes
Oh so quietly, the Tigers possess one of the better cornerback tandems in the SEC with Holmes and DeMarkus Acy. Quite frankly, you can make the case that either is the best player on defense, though I’ll go with Holmes because he’s more consistent in coverage.
Holmes has good size and length at 6-1, 200, and though he’ll never be an elite burner who can go step-for-step with the league’s track stars, he’s very quick laterally and is physical in press. He disrupts timing with his jams at the line and has the fluid hips and feet to play bump and run effectively. He also shows natural instincts and the ability to process quickly, allowing him to click and close when playing off.
South Carolina: DT Javon Kinlaw
I know, I know – everyone thinks this should be T.J. Brunson, who racked up 106 tackles (10.5 for loss) and 4 sacks last year. Or D.J. Wonnum, the star pass rusher who is coming back from an ankle injury. Valid and viable candidates, but the big fella inside is the one who is really the key to the defense running on all cylinders.
At 6-6, 302 pounds and blessed with light feet and natural power, Kinlaw is brutal to block 1-on-1 along the interior. He naturally forces doubles and the strength and leverage he plays with allows him to often split his double-team to make a play in the backfield. The amount of attention he forces and the ability he has to disrupt plays at or behind the line of scrimmage allows guys like Brunson to run free and Wonnum to see single blocks.
Tennessee: Edge Darrell Taylor
The Volunteers’ defense should again be a work in progress under second-year HC Jeremy Pruitt, but one thing he should be able to count on is pressure from Taylor. As a junior in 2018, Taylor enjoyed a breakout season, piling up 11 TFLs, 8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries, and Vol Nation would love to see those numbers either replicated or improved upon.
Taylor plays with good leverage and flexibility, with good change of direction skills and the ability to set the edge and drop back into coverage. He also provides the Vols some flexibility on defense with the ability to rush from both a 2-point and 3-point stances, allowing for different looks to keep the game plan diverse.
Vanderbilt: LB Dimitri Moore
As a redshirt freshman last year, Moore was second on the team with 84 tackles, 3.5 TFLs and a sack, en route to being named to the All-SEC Freshman team. Much and more will be expected from the 6-3, 225-pounder this year if the ‘Dores hope to improve upon a run defense that was 12th in the SEC in 2018.
He does a nice job sifting through traffic on the strong-side to get to ball carriers in the lane, and is powerful at the point of attack against interior blockers. As he continues to gain experience, he’ll continue to sharpen his post-snap reads and we’ll see him play even quicker than he did last year, his first as a starter. He’s a good athlete, something the ‘Dores desperately need in their front seven.