Here’s five players who will have stated their case in the SEC Defensive Player of the Year argument by season’s end based on team success and individual league-wide impact:

Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi St., LB: Running backs in the SEC West will need collision insurance this season. This guy’s coming to a backfield near you and not in a good way. Mel Kiper’s top underclassman at inside linebacker, McKinney’s made 23 consecutive starts at the heart of Mississippi St.’s defense and has averaged 7.5 tackles per game during that span. Engineered to disrupt offenses, the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder leads a spirited front seven for the Bulldogs.

Ramik Wilson, Georgia, LB: Hutson Mason and Todd Gurley may be vital to the Bulldogs’ overall success, but an argument could be made that Georgia’s top returning player from a statistical standpoint is Wilson, a nasty 240-pound senior linebacker who routinely wrecked the opposition’s best across the middle last fall. Naturally instinctive against the run, Wilson’s numbers jump off the page — 133 total tackles in his first season as a starter — and his willingness to get dirty at the bottom of nearly every pile is something Jeremy Pruitt must have on defense. The headliner for the SEC’s top linebacking unit, Wilson’s in for a monster season if the Bulldogs win an Eastern Division title.

Dante Fowler, Florida, DE: Violently aggressive as an every-down force, Fowler heads into his junior campaign with immense expectations as one of college football’s top returning freaks up front. His infamous chase down of Arkansas running back Alex Collins behind the line of scrimmage last season has been shown on continuous loop in every Florida preseason video. Players of Fowler’s size aren’t supposed to move that quick, much less trip up a speedster of Collins’ caliber when there’s no angle. Will Muschamp says Fowler, who has cut the calories and is in the best playing shape of his career, should have a standout season as one of his defensive captains.

Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss, DB: He’s never been an unknown in Oxford, but Prewitt made a name for himself nationally last fall after leading the SEC in interceptions as the face of the Ole Miss secondary. If his career slope’s any indication, the two-year starter should have spectacular numbers as senior from his post at safety. The Rebels are talented enough across the board defensively to have a Top 3 unit in the SEC and Prewitt’s the player to watch.

Trey Flowers, Arkansas, DE: There’s a darkhorse pick in every Top 5 and Flowers fits the bill. He hasn’t gotten the notoriety some of the others in the ‘almost there’ category have received, but Flowers is no doubt one of the league’s top players up front coming off a 13.5-tackle for loss and 5-sack junior season. Few SEC defensive linemen have a knack for going underneath against opposing tackles with tight end speed, but Flowers utilizes the skill. It’s a pick your poison scenario against No. 86 and the Razorbacks are lucky to have him for one more season.

Almost there: Danielle Hunter, LSU, DE; Landon Collins, DB, Alabama; A’Shawn Robinson, DL, Alabama; Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss; Markus Golden, DE, Mizzou

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