Ranking the No. 1 DL in each class who entered the SEC this decade
The SEC prides itself on recruiting and developing outstanding defensive players. It recently added another to the long and illustrious list of top talent. South Carolina signed homegrown 5-star DT Jordan Burch, ranked by 247Sports as the No. 8 overall recruit in the nation, as well as the No. 2-rated player nationally at his position.
From the decade 2010-2019 we took the top DL from each recruiting class who picked an SEC school and ranked them on how they played out for their respective schools. Five of them were the top-rated overall recruit in the nation and another was the No. 2-rated recruit nationally.
Here’s how these 5-star recruits ranked 1-10 in descending order.
10. Eyabi Anoma (Alabama, WDE, 2018, No. 2 DL, No. 4 player overall)
The No. 1-ranked recruit out of Maryland, Anoma is an enigma.
After suspended and expelled from Alabama, he transferred to Houston where he was dismissed from the team for a violation of team rules. He still has hopes of catching on with another program.
This class obviously has time to make amends, but the only other top 10 DL who picked the SEC also had issues and transferred. No. 6 Brenton Cox signed with Georgia, was dismissed after violating team rules and transferred to Florida.
9. LaBryan Ray (Alabama, SDE, 2017, No. 7 DL, No. 28 overall)
Ray was ranked No. 2 in the country at his SDE position and the top-rated recruit out of Alabama.
Injuries have slowed Ray from reaching his potential. Foot injuries hampered his freshman and sophomore seasons, and after earning a starting spot he ended up redshirting after his junior year in 2019 because a lower leg injury kept him out for most of the season.
Auburn’s Big Kat Bryant was the No. 28 DL recruit in this class.
8. Nolan Smith (Georgia, WDE, 2019, No. 1 DL, No. 1 overall)
From IMG Academy in Florida, Smith was the top-rated overall recruit in the nation. Co-winner of the Bulldogs’ Defensive Newcomer of the Year recognition, Smith is sure to climb the ladder before his career ends. Played in all 14 games in 2019, recording 18 tackles, including 2.5 sacks.
The SEC flexed its muscle in this class, signing 6 of the top 10 DL in the country, and 11 of the top 17.
7. Ronald Powell (Florida, WDE, 2010, No. 1 DL, No. 1 overall)
The No. 1 overall recruit in the country out of Moreno Valley, Calif., Powell led the Gators in sacks in 2011 (6.0) and in 2013 (4.0). An ACL injury sidelined him for the 2012 season. He totaled 83 tackles over 3 seasons at Florida.
The Gators also signed the No. 2, No. 6 and No. 9 DL in this class (Dominique Easley, Sharrif Floyd and Chris Martin, respectively).
Most overlooked? Has to be No. 42 DL recruit Kony Ealy. He signed with Mizzou before the Tigers were in the SEC, but he had 9 sacks in 2013 for the SEC East champs and became a 2nd-round NFL Draft pick.
6. Trenton Thompson (Georgia, DT, 2015, No. 1 DL, No. 1 overall)
From Albany, Ga., Thompson was the top recruit nationally, but injuries took their toll on his college career. Still, he managed to lead the team with 9.5 tackles for loss and finish 3rd on the team in tackles (56) in his sophomore season. Over 3 years at Georgia, Thompson collected 119 tackles, including 15.5 for loss.
The SEC dominated this cycle, signing the top 4 DL recruits in the country and 6 of the top 7. Even better: All 6 went to different schools.
This DL class was so loaded (or misevaluated) that Anfernee Jennings ranked No. 38 and Arden Key was just No. 21. And they weren’t even close to the most-overlooked.
Josh Allen arrived to Kentucky as the No. 2,121 player in the country.
5. Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss, SDE, 2013, No. 1 DL, No. 1 overall)
From Loganville, Ga., he was the top-rated overall recruit nationally and the key piece in Ole Miss’ breakthrough but troubled class. In his 3 seasons at Ole Miss, he recorded 98 tackles, including 18 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. In addition, the versatile athlete also rushed 5 times for 32 yards as a true freshman, and in his junior year caught a 32-yard touchdown pass.
Tim Williams, who recorded 10.5 sacks for Alabama in 2015, was the No. 13 DL in this class. Daeshon Hall, a 3rd-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, was the No. 31 DL recruit.
4. Jonathan Bullard (Florida, SDE, 2012, No. 5 DL, No. 12 overall)
Bullard was the No. 1 SDE in his class and No. 2 recruit out of North Carolina. He picked the Gators over nearby Clemson. It would be interesting to see how that might play out now, given the Tigers’ rise, notably in DL recruiting, and Bullard growing up in western North Carolina.
In 2015, he was third in the SEC with 17.5 tackles for loss and tied teammate Alex McCalister for 11th in the conference with 6.5 sacks.
Dante Fowler, the No. 12 DL, also was part of this Gators’ recruiting class.
3. Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina, WDE, 2011, No. 1 DL, No. 1 overall)
Too low? Clowney certainly dominated headlines during his time in Columbia and provided plenty of viral moments.
In 2012, Clowney had his breakout season. He was 2nd in the SEC with 13 sacks. Georgia’s Jarvis Jones led the way with 13.5. Clowney tied Jones that season for the conference lead with 23.5 tackles for loss.
His junior year was up-and-down, better remembered for the NFL Draft distractions than production. He recorded just 3.0 sacks but still was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
2. Derrick Brown (Auburn, DT, 2016, No. 5 DL, No. 9 overall)
Brown was rated the top recruit out of Georgia. With 159 tackles over his final 3 seasons, 32 for loss, including 12 sacks, it’s hard to beat what Brown was able to accomplish at Auburn. He was a unanimous All-American as a senior and a finalist for several top national awards.
This 2016 class was loaded. All 4 DL listed above Brown were taken in the 1st round of the 2019 NFL Draft. No. 1-ranked Rashan Gary (Michigan) went No. 12 overall. No. 2 Dexter Lawrence helped Clemson win 2 national titles and was taken No. 17 overall. No. 3 Ed Oliver chose Houston but still was became the No. 9 overall pick. No. 4 Nick Bosa starred at Ohio State and was the No. 2 overall pick.
The overachiever? Quinnen Williams, who came to Alabama as the No. 34 DL recruit and left as the No. 3 overall pick.
Brown is expected to become the next 1st-rounder this April.
1. Myles Garrett (Texas A&M, WDE, 2014, No. 1 DL, No. 2 overall)
Garrett was the top-rated recruit out of Texas and drew Clowney comparisons almost immediately.
He finished 2nd in the SEC with 11.5 sacks as a true freshman, and only got better after that. He led the conference the following season with 12.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. Over 3 seasons at Texas A&M, he accumulated a total of 31.5 sacks and 48.5 tackles for loss before becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Garrett was joined in that 1st round by classmate Derek Barnett, who arrived at Tennessee as the overlooked No. 40 DL recruit in the country.