The SEC relies on an elite collection of defensive line talent, perhaps its biggest edge over the rest of college football.

Less than two months ago, the conference signed six of the seven highest-rated prep defensive linemen in the 2014 class, according to the 247Sports composite recruiting rankings, not to mention four of the five highest-rated junior-college defensive linemen.

But that’s a relatively recent phenomenon.

To date, NFL teams have selected 58 SEC defensive linemen in the first round, starting with Kentucky’s Bob Gain in 1951. Of those 58, 30 were drafted prior to 2000 and 28 were drafted since then (and 19 of those since 2007).

With defensive ends like Missouri’s Shane Ray, Kentucky’s Bud Dupree and perhaps even Mississippi State’s Preston Smith slated to come off the board in the first round April 30, we could reach a point where the last 16 drafts have produced more SEC first-round defensive linemen then the previous 64.

RELATED: Top 10 all-time SEC players ranked by career sacks

There are many options for the best SEC defensive line NFL draft class ever, but the 2001 group stands out as the best.

Gerard Warren was a full-time starter for nine of his 11 NFL seasons, a nice player who clogged the middle of the field. His NFL career was the least-impressive from this group. Marcus Stroud played for 10 seasons and made three Pro Bowls anchoring the Jacksonville Jaguars’ defensive line for then-coach Jack Del Rio. And Richard Seymour, a royal pain in the butt for NFL offensive linemen from 2001-12, could be a future Hall of Fame member as a six-time All-Pro.

And that’s excluding Missouri’s Justin Smith, as the Tigers weren’t in the SEC at the time. Smith, who may or may not return for a 15th NFL season in 2015, is a five-time Pro Bowler and a central figure on Jim Harbaugh’s strong San Francisco 49ers teams.

Here’s a complete list of the SEC’s first-round picks, followed by a few observations.

YearPlayerSchool
1951Bob GainKentucky
1953Doug AtkinsTennessee
1957Earl LeggettLSU
1958Charlie Krueger#Texas A&M
1961Ken RiceAuburn
1963Jim DunawayOle Miss
1964Dick EveyTennessee
1965Steve DeLongTennessee
1967Loyd Phillips#Arkansas
1969Bill StanfillGeorgia
1971Jack YoungbloodFlorida
1975Jimmy WebbMississippi State
1978Art StillKentucky
1979Marty LyonsAlabama
1980Jacob Green#Texas A&M
1982Glen CollinsMississippi State
1983Mike PittsAlabama
1984Ron Faurot#Arkansas
1984Reggie White^Tennessee
1985Ray Childress#Texas A&M
1986Jon HandAlabama
1986Gerald RobinsonAuburn
1989Trace ArmstrongFlorida
1989Wayne Martin#Arkansas
1991Huey RichardsonFlorida
1991Kelvin PritchettOle Miss
1992Chris MimsTennessee
1993John CopelandAlabama
1993Eric CurryAlabama
1993Todd KellyTennessee
1994Sam Adams#Texas A&M
1994Tim BowensMississippi State
1994Henry FordArkansas
1995Kevin CarterFlorida
1995Ellis JohnsonFlorida
1999Jevon KearseFlorida
1999Reggie McGrewFlorida
2000Shaun EllisTennessee
2000John AbrahamSouth Carolina
2001Gerard WarrenFlorida
2001Justin Smith#Missouri
2001Richard SeymourGeorgia
2001Marcus StroudGeorgia
2002John HendersonTennessee
2002Albert HaynesworthTennessee
2002Charles GrantGeorgia
2003Dewayne RobertsonKentucky
2003Ty Warren#Texas A&M
2005Marcus SpearsLSU
2007Jamaal AndersonArkansas
2007Justin HarrellTennessee
2007Jarvis MossFlorida
2008Glenn DorseyLSU
2008Derrick HarveyFlorida
2009Tyson JacksonLSU
2009Robert AyersTennessee
2009Peria JerryOle Miss
2009Ziggy Hood#Missouri
2010Dan WilliamsTennessee
2011Marcell DareusAlabama
2011Nick FairleyAuburn
2012Fletcher CoxMississippi State
2013Barkevious MingoLSU
2013Sheldon RichardsonMissouri
2013Sharrif FloydFlorida
2014Jadeveon ClowneySouth Carolina
2014Dee FordAuburn
2014Dominique EasleyFlorida

#School was not an SEC member at the time.
^Part of the supplemental draft.

SCHOOLS RANKED BY FIRST-ROUND PICKS

1. Florida 12
2. Tennessee 11
3. Alabama 6
T4. LSU 5
T4. Texas A&M 5*
T6. Arkansas 4*
T6. Auburn 4
T6. Georgia 4
T6. Mississippi State 4
T10. Ole Miss 3
T10. Missouri 3#
T12. Kentucky 2
T12. South Carolina 2
14. Vanderbilt 0

*Again, not an SEC member at the time of at least some of the listed first-round picks.

Since 2005, LSU has produced four of its five first-round picks at defensive line. And despite former defensive coordinator John Chavis’ glowing reputation, he only worked with two of them — Tyson Jackson for a single season.

Before you close the book on Chavis, now in College Station with Texas A&M, recognize that he also coached seven first-round defensive linemen while at the University of Tennessee. So he’s one player away from double-digit first-round NFL selections at defensive line alone.

This may surprise you, even though he did coach Jadeveon Clowney at South Carolina: Steve Spurrier sent five different defensive linemen to the first round of the NFL draft while his Fun ‘n’ Gun offense thrived at Florida.

Vanderbilt is the only current SEC member never to send a defensive linemen to the NFL in the first round, while Alabama, usually first or second on these lists, is a distant third. Two of the Tide’s six all-time first-rounders at defensive line played defensive end on the ’92 national championship team. Marcell Dareus is the only defensive lineman drafted in the first round of the Nick Saban era in Tuscaloosa.

SEC FIRST-ROUND DBS BY DECADE

1950s: 3*
1960s: 5*
1970s: 4
1980s: 6*
1990s: 12*
2000s: 18*
2010s: 10

*Numbers do not include Arkansas, Missouri, South Carolina or Texas A&M defensive linemen drafted in the first round prior to SEC membership for those schools.