Turning the Tide? Ranking the SEC’s defensive line depth charts in 2017

Dec 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; (Editors note: caption correction) Alabama Crimson Tide defensive tackle Da'Ron Payne (94) reacts during the fourth quarter of the 2016 CFP semifinal against the Washington Huskies at the Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome. Alabama won 24-7. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Our ongoing series of ranking the league’s depth charts now moves to defense. First up, the big fellows up front. As with the offensive line, there are too many names, and the players shift positions too much to go spot-by-spot. Instead, we list a few contributing players who won’t be back, and one big contributor who will be. Let’s get to it!

RELATED: Returning starters for every SEC team in 2017

14. Mississippi State: Loses — A.J. Jefferson, Johnathan Calvin, Nick James. Nelson Adams, Will Coleman. Returns — Soph DL Jeffery Simmons

State loses a ton of players overall, including five defensive starters. The good news is that the D-Line losses weren’t that great to start with, although Jefferson (30 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss) and Calvin (55 tackles, seven sacks) will definitely be missed. Simmons, a 6-4, 310-pound giant, can play inside or outside, and had 40 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss as a true freshman. After him, the team will be as green as the grass at Davis Wade Stadium.

13. Arkansas: Loses — Deatrich Wise, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Taiwan Johnson. Returns — Soph. DE McTelvin Agim

Arkansas loses a solid group of veteran linemen, including Ledbetter (49 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and Wise (49 tackles, 3.5 sacks). Agim was a highly regarded recruit who showed signs of greatness, finishing with 27 tackles and 2.5 sacks. It’ll be Agim and whichever young players step up, which isn’t a great look for the SEC.

12. Kentucky: Loses — Courtney Miggins. Returns — Jr. Adrian Middleton

Kentucky officially plays a 3-4 front, so pass rushers Denzil Ware and Josh Allen are both classified as linebackers, or this group would fare better. Kentucky lost some personnel up front, like Jason Hatcher and intended starter Regie Meant, and has slogged through three years with gigantic but terrible tackle Matt Elam (6-7, 360, nine tackles). Miggins (28 tackles, four tackles for loss) was solid, and the best returning player is Middleton (6-3, 303), who had 35 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss. Naquez Pringle also had 39 stops, and will help, but Kentucky will be hoping for some young talent to show itself.

11. Missouri: Loses — Charles Harris, Josh Augusta, Rickey Hatley. Returns — Sr. DE Marcell Frazier

Mizzou was expected to have one of the best lines in the league last year, but lost possible starters Harold Brantley and Walter Brady before the season. Harris, a consensus second team All-SEC pick was a star (61 tackles, nine sacks), but he left for the NFL. The best guy left is Frazier, a JUCO pickup who had 33 tackles and 7.5 sacks from an end position. Unfortunately, there’s not a ton of experienced depth aside from Frazier.

10. Vanderbilt: Loses — Adam Butler. Returns — Sr. NG Nifae Lealao

Butler was a plugger who became a good player after being recruited as an offensive lineman. Vandy has some decent players in its 3-4 alignment, including Lealao, a 6-5, 312-pounder, who had 22 tackles including four tackles for loss. He and returning starter Jonathan Wynn will have to up their production in 2017 to keep Vandy in the bowl picture.

9. Tennessee: Loses — Derek Barnett, Corey Vereen. Returns — Sr. DT Kendal Vickers

Barnett (56 tackles, 13 sacks), a consensus first-team All-SEC pick, went to the NFL and Vereen, who steadily improved (36 tackles, seven sacks), is out of eligibility, so most of UT’s defensive line talent is now inexperienced. One big (6-3, 295) exception is Vickers, who had 38 tackles and six tackles for loss in 2016, and will have to play a bigger role this year. Tennessee has some talented players, like tackle Kahlil McKenzie, but there have been injury issues and a general lack of productivity.

8. Ole Miss: Loses — Fadol Brown, Issac Gross, D.J. Jones. Returns — Sr. DE Marquis Haynes

The Rebels lost some solid, but hardly irreplaceable seniors. Haynes (below), who finished third on the team with 53 tackles and had seven sacks, will be one of the best linemen in the league. There are some young stars in the mix, like sophomore tackle Benito Jones or junior Breeland Speaks. In any other league, this unit could be one of the best.

Nov 5, 2016; Oxford, MS, USA; Georgia Southern Eagles quarterback Kevin Ellison (4) carries the ball against Mississippi Rebels defensive end Marquis Haynes (10) during the first half at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

7. South Carolina: Loses — Marquavius Lewis, Darius English. Returns — Sr. DT Taylor Stallworth

Will Muschamp loses a fine pair of defensive ends in English, a second team All-SEC pick by the AP (60 tackles, nine sacks) and Lewis (48 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss). He does return a fine pair of middle-cloggers in Stallworth (41 tackles, three tackles for loss) and Ulric Jones (42 tackles). Outside players like D.J. Wonnum and Keir Thomas will only improve, and this unit has enough upside to possibly end up as one of the league’s top groups.

6. Texas A&M: Loses — Myles Garrett, Daeshon Hall. Returns — Jr. DT Kingsley Keke

Garrett was somewhat underwhelming but still All-SEC and might go No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft. Hall was an impressive surprise as a senior, but there are plenty of great players left. Keke, a 6-3, 319-pound lane clogger, had 37 tackles and four sacks last year. Senior Jarrett Johnson will get first dibs to replace Garrett, and he had 4.5 sacks in 2016 in a part-time role. A&M won’t replace Garrett, but all is not lost.

5. Florida: Loses — Bryan Cox, Joey Ivie, Caleb Brantley. Returns — Jr. DE Cece Jefferson

Florida’s line was expected to be a team strength in 2016, and some disappointing individual games aside, it was a solid group. Brantley was an all-SEC pick who went to the NFL. Jefferson had a somewhat underwhelming season (30 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss), but it’s just a matter of time until he stars. Jabari Zuniga (below), on the other hand, was lightly recruited, but managed five sacks and 11 QB hurries as a freshman. UF had some losses here, but there’s still a ton of talent.

Dec 3, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Florida Gators defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga (92) is called for a facemark against Alabama Crimson Tide running back Damien Harris (34) during the second quarter of the SEC Championship college football game at Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

4. Auburn: Loses — Montravius Adams, Carl Lawson. Returns — Soph. DE Marlon Davidson

Auburn loses two All-SEC players in tackle Adams and end Lawson. The Tigers have stockpiled some talented young players, including future star end Davidson, a 6-3, 284-pound star who can take on linemen or bury quarterbacks. Davidson had 38 tackles, including six tackles for loss, as a true freshman. Other potential stars include junior tackle Dontavius Russell, who is strong enough to play inside, but athletic enough to go outside if need be. He had 29 tackles and six QB hurries in 2016. If the young guns come along well, Auburn could have one of the best lines in America.

3. Georgia: Loses — None. Returns — Jr. DT Trenton Thompson (?)

UGA uses a 3-4, and played a young squad in 2016 that showed plenty of potential. Thompson (6-4, 309), who has left school this semester while dealing with some medical issues, is expected to return in the fall. He is a star in the making, with 56 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss from an inside spot. Julian Rochester played well inside as well (36 tackles) as a true freshman. This unit has size, strength, and now more experience. They could be a subtle key to UGA faring well in the East in 2017.

2. LSU: Loses — Lewis Neal, Davon Godchaux. Returns — Jr DE Arden Key (?)

Neal was a solid starter, who amassed 60 tackles in 2016, and Godchaux went pro early after totaling 62 stops and 6.5 sacks. The cupboard is hardly bare. Redshirt senior DE Christian LaCouture missed the season with an ACL injury, but will be back. Key. A 6-6, 238-pound athlete, was perhaps the best pass rusher in the entire league, piling up 56 tackles, 12 sacks, and 11 QB hurries on his way to All-SEC honors. But he’s on leave from the team, and while he’s expected back, LSU fans will be holding their breath until his situation is resolved.

1. Alabama: Loses — Jonathan Allen, Dalvin Tomlinson. Returns — Jr. DE Da’Ron Payne

Alabama loses one of the top players in the nation in Allen, a first team All-SEC end, and Tomlinson was a solid starter on the nose. Payne (6-2, 319) is a beast off the edge who had 36 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in 2016. Senior end Da’Shawn Hand will also likely star. Bama does lose one star, but will likely replace him relatively well.

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COMMENTS

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  • The only reason A&M deserves to be that high is defensive tackle depth. Kingsley Keke, Hardreck Walker, Justin Madubuike, TD Moton, Daylon Mack, Jayden Peevy and Josh Rogers make one great depth chart.

    • People keep sleeping on Qualen Cunnigham way too much. He was the number 8 WDE in the country and can rush the passer. I bet he comes out with a chip on his shoulder.

  • I can’t wait to see what Nick Coe can do. 6’5″ and 285lb state wrestling champ. Him and Davidson could make an awesome duo at end.

    • How does his wrestling experience equate to being a good lineman? Wrestling is 100% holding whereas holding is 100% illegal in football.

      • Wrestlers normally have good footwork and are pretty solid when it comes to body weight leverage, so it’s definitely not going to hurt him any.

      • unless they are going against an eligible receiver, which is rarely the case, defensive linemen can hold all that they want without violating rules. However, it wouldn’t be smart for them to hold because it would slow them down. What they really want is to get the offensive lineman out of the way as quickly as possible, not hold onto them.

      • Wrestlers are typically fast and flexible…something very important to DEs.

      • You clearly didn’t think that post through very well Buster.

        • On the football field I will always pick the experienced football player over a wrestler. Just as I would pick the experienced wrestler over the football player on the mat. Apples and oranges.

        • They are not mutually exclusive. Being such an accomplished wrestler just means he’s physically far ahead of most kids his age.

  • Defensive line is definitely the most concerning position for Kentucky. I feel pretty good about every other position group, though.

  • We signed a Dline from the juco ranks, including the top two DTS, the top end and another in the top ten, but whatever.

  • LSU is ranked #2 but I think this year they’re even better than Alabama. DE’s Christian LaCouture 6’5″ 301, Deondre Clark 6’5″ 272, Glen Logan 6’4″ 315, and Rashard Lawrence 6’3″301 who can flip outside to inside. And then there’s the DE newbies Coaches son Aaron Moffit 6’4″ 255 and very underrated recruits Neil Farrell 6’4″ 295, and early enrollee Justin Thomas 6’5″ 255 possess size and speed on the outside. And now the big uglies DT’s Ex DE Frank Herron 6’4″ 305, Greg Gilmore 6’5″ 308, Edwin Alexander 6’2″ 333 and the new monster mountain in the middle Tyler Shelvin 6’3″ 376 who by the way was unblockable in the UUA Game. The Tigers are blessed with experience, size and speed on the front three not to mention DC Dave Aranda scheme they’re going to finish 2017 as the top unit if not than top three because those O-Lines have to figure out where the pressure is going to be coming from taking their attention from the D-Line and making it that much easier for the big boys upfront. GEAUX TIGERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!PURPLEREIGN☔☔☔☔☔☔☔☔☔☔☔☔☔