Will the SEC’s top defense reside in the East this season?

The West has owned bragging rights on that side of the ball six consecutive years (thanks to Alabama and LSU), but with extreme talent returning up front along with the linebacker spot this fall for its rival division, the pendulum may swing in another direction.

Projecting sack producers at linebacker isn’t easy ahead of most spring practices, but we think these five players will get opportunities in a hybrid-edge rusher role which should reflect in their overall production in 2015:

Curt Maggitt, Tennessee — Maggitt led all SEC linebackers in sacks last season with 11 due in large part to plenty of snaps with his hand in the dirt at defensive end. He’ll likely surpass that number this fall splitting time between the two positions on a defense loaded with talent.

Leonard Floyd, Georgia — An early-round pick in the 2016 draft, Floyd’s set to have a monstrous junior season for Jeremy Pruitt and the Georgia Bulldogs, a team stacked at linebacker. Floyd’s length is a nightmare cover for the opposition, an athlete who could star as an every-down defensive end or at his more natural spot on the outside. Expectations are high, but Floyd has the talent to fulfill and perhaps achieve All-SEC first team status at year’s end.

Nigel Bowden, Vanderbilt — He only had one sack as a freshman last season, but Bowden is primed to maximize his total as the leader of the Commodores’ linebacker corps now that he understands Derek Mason’s approach defensively. He’s a tackle machine with great instincts, but will benefit from being asked to do more on the blitz. Is it far to let Caleb Azubike fall under the defensive lineman-linebacker category since he has played a ton of snaps at each position?

Jonathan Walton, South Carolina — Skai Moore is the Gamecocks’ most complete linebacker, but Walton packs a more serious punch off the edge, an untapped level of aggression he showed during the team’s bowl win over Miami. Spring ball for Walton is crucial toward his continued improvement, especially since Jon Hoke now has a handle on South Carolina’s front seven.