Earlier this week, we asked the SDS staff to nominate a player to be the SEC’s breakout star this season on the offensive side of the ball.

The discussion that ensued was interesting enough that it inspired us to continue the debate on the other side of the ball. So without further ado, check out who in the SEC our staff members think is poised for a breakout season on defense this fall.


Jon Cooper (@JonSDS): Alex McCalister, DE/OLB, Florida

The heir apparent to Dante Fowler is hybrid defensive end Alex McCalister. When Will Muschamp signed McCalister, he was a raw 6-7, 212-pound athlete. Now, he’s grown into a 240-pound pass rusher who will be coveted by the NFL. With Geoff Collins taking over Florida’s defense, the Gators will only get more aggressive, and leading that charge will be McCalister. He finished with 23 tackles, nine tackles for loss and six sacks last year, and 2015 will be the year Alex McCalister becomes a first-round pick.

Ethan Levine (@EthanLevineSDS): Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss

The Rebels’ 28 sacks last year ranked seventh out of 14 SEC teams, and Haynes alone logged more than one-fourth of those sacks himself as a true freshman (7.5 sacks, the same number as first-round NFL draft choice Bud Dupree). Now that fellow defensive end C.J. Johnson has moved to inside linebacker, Haynes will be asked to take on a larger role off the edge as a sophomore this fall. He’s quick off the ball and elusive for a pass rusher with an ability to slip past tackles, and playing alongside the best defensive tackle tandem in the SEC in Robert Nkemdiche and Issac Gross won’t hurt either. Look for Haynes to be a disruptive force in opposing backfields all season long.

Brett Weisband (@WeisbandSDS): Jamal Adams, S, LSU

Adams rose meteorically from a reserve player who saw most of his action on special teams to a player the Tigers couldn’t get off the field last year. While his initial playing time was due to injury and suspension elsewhere in the secondary, Adams flew around like he had a jetpack strapped to his back once he began getting consistent snaps, delivering crushing hits on defense and massive blocks on special teams. The rising sophomore is already one of the best open-field tacklers in the SEC, capable of dragging down much bigger players. As he learns how to harness his aggression and make better reads in pass coverage, he’s going to emerge as one of the SEC’s most exciting defensive stars.

Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS): Lorenzo Carter, OLB, Georgia

If Jeremy Pruitt finds a way to get him enough snaps, outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter is in for a banner year at Georgia. In limited action last fall as a true freshman (just five starts), Carter recorded 41 tackles, 4.5 sacks and seven stops behind the line of scrimmage. He was a playmaker, one who earned praise from Mark Richt after his season concluded with a dominant bowl performance. He’s extra long and substantially faster than most players at his position. Carter will be a disruptive force throughout the fall.

Christopher Smith (@CSmithSDS): A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama

We sort of talk about Robinson as if he’s already arrived. But other than four or five games during the second half of the 2014 season, he’s yet to put it all together. At 6-foot-4 and 312 pounds, he should be, along with Robert Nkemdiche of Ole Miss, one of the most unblockable defensive tackles in the country, a certified run-stuffer with 2016 first-round potential. He may emerge as the best defensive lineman, or even the best player, on Alabama’s ’15 defense.