Following the current trend, the SEC’s sack leader at season’s end in 2015 will win the league’s defensive player of the year award.

We’ve become obsessed with production up front, specifically getting after the quarterback in the era of spread offenses.

The last time the SEC’s top defensive end wasn’t voted the league’s player of the year came in 2011 when LSU’s Morris Claiborne cashed in during an All-American season which featured a team-best six interceptions and a kickoff return for a touchdown.

That statistic bodes well for four players I consider overwhelming frontrunners in the race going into August — defensive ends Derek Barnett and Myles Garrett, defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd.

Making the case for Robinson and Floyd, both players will be focal points on Top 10 teams which matters a great deal to voters. Part of the reason Mizzou has swept the award in consecutive years thanks to the pass-rushing efforts of Shane Ray and Michael Sam is due to the Tigers’ reign at the top of the division.

Both years, they were the single-most important starters on the defensive side of the ball for Gary Pinkel and helped Mizzou go unbeaten in November en route to Atlanta.

Production’s the primary factor for Barnett and Garrett, two sophomores who finished near the top of the SEC in tackles behind the line of scrimmage last season. Both are the defensive stars on teams considered darkhorses in their respective divisions and each will have their shot in the spotlight against nationally-ranked competition.

Barnett has the edge based on what he accomplished against SEC competition as a freshman. Garrett’s best efforts came during the non-conference portion, but he assumed the role of a reliable three-down threat during the second half of the season.

His numbers should increase with less responsibility in John Chavis’ 4-3 scheme.

Chances are slim for Florida junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, widely-considered college football’s top coverman heading into the season with six career interceptions. Since 2003, only three defensive backs have won the award — Morris Claiborne (LSU, 2011), Patrick Peterson (LSU, 2010) and Eric Berry (Tennessee, 2008).

Not only would the Gators have to win at least nine games and make noise in the East race, but Hargreaves would need a sizable production increase and that’s going to be a serious challenge considering most teams throw away from the two-time All-SEC performer.

Auburn defensive end Carl Lawson who is back after missing last season with a knee injury, could be the league’s breakout player as the centerpiece on what’s expected to be a much-improved defense on the Plains under Will Muschamp.

The favorites

  • Derek Barnett, Soph., DL, Tennessee (20 percent)
  • Leonard Floyd, Jr., OLB, Georgia (12 percent)
  • A’Shawn Robinson, Jr., DL, Alabama (12 percent)
  • Myles Garrett, Soph., DL, Texas A&M (12 percent)


  • Robert Nkemdiche, Jr., DL, Ole Miss (8 percent)
  • Reggie Ragland, Sr., LB, Alabama (8 percent)
  • Curt Maggitt, Sr., DL/LB, Tennessee (8 percent)

Darkhorse candidates

  • Carl Lawson, Jr., DL, Auburn (5 percent)
  • Lorenzo Carter, Soph, LB, Georgia (5 percent)
  • Vernon Hargreaves, Jr., DB, Florida (5 percent)
  • Harold Brantley, Jr., DL, Mizzou (5 percent)