Ranking the SEC's top 5 passing defenses in 2016
There are two components in a good pass defense — guys who can pressure the quarterback and guys who can cover receivers downfield.
Some SEC teams have good secondaries. Others can pressure the passer.
A few can do both, and with that in mind, here are the 5 best passing defenses, on paper, at least, in the SEC:
2015 pass defense stats: 169.3 yards per game, third in the SEC.
2015 sacks: 27, eighth in the SEC.
The Tigers feature a strong pair of rush ends in Walter Brady and Charles Harris, who combined for 14 sacks and 31 tackles for loss in 2015. Assuming Harold Brantley and Terry Beckner Jr. return to the fold on the interior, the Tigers will boast a formidable front four.
On the back end, Aarion Penton and Anthony Sherrills are back to bolster the secondary after combining to break up 14 passes last season.
2015 pass defense stats: 156.5 yards per game, first in the SEC.
2015 sacks: 21, 10th in the SEC.
Statistically speaking, the Bulldogs had the nation’s best pass defense in 2015. And all four starters in the secondary return, highlighted by safety Dominick Sanders.
So why isn’t Georgia ranked higher on this list? There are two reasons.
First, last year’s numbers were skewed by the Bulldogs’ schedule. Five opponents (Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech, Auburn, Missouri and Vanderbilt) ranked worse than 100th nationally in passing offense. In fact, Georgia didn’t face a team that finished in the top 60 (Alabama finished 62nd).
Second, the pass rush wasn’t spectacular, and the two leaders in sacks, Leonard Floyd (4.5) and Jordan Jenkins (4), were selected in the NFL Draft. The talent is there to make up that lost production, but there is work to do on that front.
2015 pass defense stats: 210.4 yards per game, eighth in the SEC.
2015 sacks: 30, tied for fifth in the SEC.
The Volunteers weren’t particularly special in the pass defense stats in 2015, but several indicators point to a jump in 2016.
The Volunteers return a wealth of talent in the front seven (like Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Derek Barnett) and in the secondary (Cameron Sutton). That kind of talent and experience in the hands of new coordinator Bob Shoop, whose Penn State unit finished in the top three in the Big Ten in pass defense and sacks last fall, should spell big-time improvement.
The pass rush should see the biggest boost under Shoop. His Nittany Lions were tied for first nationally with 3.54 sacks per game.
3. TEXAS A&M
2015 pass defense stats: 166.3 yards per game, second in the SEC.
2015 sacks: 34, tied for third in the SEC.
The Aggies boast a pair of dangerous defensive ends in Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. The duo tormented offenses, combining for 19.5 sacks and 34 tackles for loss last season.
Free safety Armani Watts will be the key player in a rebuilt secondary. However, that unit will feature four juniors and a senior in the rotation, so inexperience isn’t a concern for a team that finished fourth nationally in pass defense last season.
Coordinator John Chavis is entering his second season. Between his first and second seasons at LSU in 2009-2010, his unit jumped from eighth to first in pass defense and from eighth to fourth in sacks.
2015 pass defense stats: 224.3 yards per game, 12th in the SEC.
2015 sacks: 34, tied for third in the SEC.
Much like Tennessee, this ranking is based more on potential than on last season’s numbers.
Lewis Neal and Arden Key headline a strong pass rush, one that should be made more so by new coordinator Dave Aranda’s shifting formations. Davon Godchaux also led all SEC defensive tackles with six sacks last fall.
In the secondary, safety Jamal Adams and cornerback Tre’Davious White are both first-round NFL prospects while another corner, Kevin Toliver II, is coming off an outstanding freshman season. Four-star cornerback Saivion Smith showed in the spring he’s ready to contribute.
With Aranda’s track record of building defenses and this much NFL-level talent, it’s hard to imagine this group not making a big jump.
2015 pass defense stats: 200.6 yards per game, sixth in the SEC.
2015 sacks: 52, first in the SEC.
No team in college football recorded more sacks than the Crimson Tide in 2015, and with the top four finishers in that category returning (Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, Ryan Anderson and Rashaan Evans), they’re a good bet to top the league charts again.
Don’t let the passing yards fool you, either. Alabama played four teams that finished in the top 40 nationally in passing yards in 2015, and aside from the Ole Miss game, played with a lead most of the time.
Safety Eddie Jackson tied for the league lead in interceptions last season with six, and he’s joined by Minkah Fitzpatrick, Marlon Humphrey and a host of other talented options in the secondary.