Saturday Down South's Midseason All-SEC Team for 2017: Defense
Every team in the SEC has played at least six games, so it’s fair to call this the halfway point of the 2017 regular season.
From a team perspective, Alabama and Georgia have clearly established themselves as the ones to beat in the West and East, respectively. The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs are eerily similar, too. They’re efficient on offense and punishing on defense.
However, when it comes to the Saturday Down South Midseason All-SEC Team, it’s all about individual achievement. Unlike last season, when there were future first-round draft picks everywhere along the defensive line, production is down a bit among the front four. However, the back seven has been loaded with difference makers.
So without further ado, here are the best players that I’ve seen in the conference on the defensive side of the football thus far.
Raekwon Davis, Alabama
Former 5-star recruits like Da’Shawn Hand and Da’Ron Payne were the next great pass rushers for the Crimson Tide, but it’s Davis who leads coach Nick Saban’s defense with 4.5 sacks in seven games. He appears to be getting better, too. In each of his last three outings against Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Arkansas, he has at least one sack.
Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi State
Speaking of one-time 5-star recruits, Simmons arrived in Starkville last year as a villain after video surfaced of him punching a girl repeatedly in the face. Make no mistake about it, though. The 6-foot-4, 301-pounder can play. He’s tied for the team lead with 4.0 tackles for loss and scored not once but twice in a blowout of Louisiana Tech.
Honorable mention: Derrick Brown, Auburn
There must be something to these recruiting rankings. A 5-star signee himself once upon a time, Brown has 5.0 tackles behind the enemy line of scrimmage.
Marlon Davidson, Auburn
The Tigers are deep and dangerous along the front seven, so defensive coordinator Kevin Steele can shuttle fresh bodies on and off the field at will. But Davidson is one of the most natural pass rushers in the SEC at this point and makes a habit of setting up shop in the backfield. He’s also forced a fumble and recovered another.
D.J. Wonnum, South Carolina
Second-year coach Will Muschamp inherited a truly awful defense in Columbia, but now he’s put his own personal stamp on it. Wonnum has been at his best when the Gamecocks need him most. In the season-opening upset of N.C. State, he had 3.0 tackles for loss. In wins over Arkansas and Tennessee the last two weeks, he had 3.0 more.
Honorable mention: Cece Jefferson, Florida
After a somewhat disappointing sophomore campaign, Jefferson has come back strong in 2017 and leads the Gators with 7.0 TFLs.
David Reese, Florida
A classic sideline-to-sideline force, Reese (below) is the leading tackler in Gainesville and tied for sixth in the conference with 53 total stops in six games. He’s had as many as 12 tackles in a contest this season and never fewer than 6.
Roquan Smith, Georgia
Like Reese, Smith has been credited with 53 tackles thus far. Most of them have been of the ferocious variety, as he tends to greet ball carriers with bad intentions. He’s gone from good to great upon the arrival of coach Kirby Smart.
Devin White, LSU
With 77 total tackles, White is the league leader by a wide margin. He’s cracked double digits in each of his last five outings, including a season-high 15 this past Saturday in that incredible come-from-behind victory over Auburn.
Honorable mention: Skai Moore, South Carolina
After missing all of 2016 due to a herniated disc in his neck, Moore has returned to form and fills up the box score everywhere.
Duke Dawson, Florida
The Gators have produced a plethora of top cover men in recent years, from Vernon Hargreaves to Teez Tabor to Quincy Wilson. Dawson looks to be following in their footsteps with 9 passes defended in six games. Defensive touchdowns have been a common occurrence for this unit, and he added to that legend with a pick six in the Michigan game.
Levi Wallace, Alabama
Before the start of the season, we were pretty sure the Crimson Tide would be just fine at safety. As for cornerback, there was a question or two. Wallace has provided an answer with 3 interceptions, including 2 against Ole Miss. One of them he returned all the way to the house in spectacular fashion, which is a Tuscaloosa tradition.
Honorable mention: Andraez Williams, LSU
The Tigers are proving to be “DBU” once again. A redshirt freshman short on experience, Williams has 3 INTs and 6 pass breakups.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Most likely the premier defender in the SEC regardless of position, Fitzpatrick is a safety in name only. He can play corner. He can play nickel. He can even creep down into the box and serve as a linebacker. He’s picked off a pass. He’s forced a fumble. He’s registered 4.5 tackles for loss. What a weapon he is in the secondary for Saban.
Armani Watts, Texas A&M
Another jack-of-all-trades on the defensive side of the ball, Watts leads the conference and is tied for fifth nationally with 4 interceptions. He’s forced a fumble and recovered one himself. He’s also second on the club in tackles, with 34 of his 50 total stops being solos. There’s just nothing he can’t do.
Honorable mention: Mike Edwards, Kentucky
As part of an improving defense for the underrated Wildcats, Edwards leads the way with 3 INTs and is second with 42 tackles.