The SEC's 10 best defensive ends in 2014
Pass rushers and run stoppers are always at a premium in the SEC, the land of diverse offenses. As always, the SEC had a dominant crop of defensive ends this year.
With so much talent, likely all of it bound for professional careers chasing down passers, it seems almost unfair to the offensive linemen and quarterbacks around the conference.
SEC’s top players of 2014
10. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
Garrett burst onto the scene at Texas A&M early in the year, setting a sack pace few in the country could touch. The freshman had 5.5 sacks in his first three games, moving him from a reserve role into the starting lineup in a flash. There are two big knocks against Garrett, who set the SEC’s freshman sack record. He picked up most of his sacks against lackluster competition, with 8.0 of his 11.0 quarterback takedowns coming in four non-conference games, and he doesn’t defend the run very well. He’ll get bigger and stronger as he matures, which should terrify offensive coordinators everywhere.
9. Dante Fowler, Florida
8. Danielle Hunter, LSU
7. Preston Smith, Mississippi State
Fowler has already announced that he’ll be leaving Gainesville a year early for the NFL draft, and he should make for an excellent pro. In his junior year, Fowler was a terror against both the run and the pass. He had 12.0 tackles for loss, with many of them coming in the Gators’ biggest games, as well as 5.5 sacks and 15 quarterback hurries while forcing two fumbles and recovering another. … Hunter doesn’t have huge numbers to match his impact, but he was one of the most disruptive defensive ends in the SEC this year. He only recorded 1.5 sacks while dealing with lots of blocking attention, but used his unfairly long arms to knock down six passes while picking up 12.0 tackles for loss. With his immense physical gifts, Hunter could well be heading to the NFL a year early as well. … A former two-star recruit, Smith truly blossomed in his senior year. He won SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week three consecutive weeks early in the season, the first time that’s ever been done, and he kept his production up all season. He finished with 14.5 tackles for loss and 9.0 sacks, good for fourth and fifth, respectively, in the SEC. Smith also picked off two passes and blocked two kicks, truly doing it all along Mississippi State’s defensive line.
6. Curt Maggitt, Tennessee
5. Derek Barnett, Tennessee
Maggitt is listed as a defensive end/linebacker hybrid, but since he’s a pass-rushing terror we’re including him here. The redshirt junior exploded back onto the scene after missing all of last year with an ACL injury, piling up 11.0 sacks and 14.0 tackles for loss. Maggitt seems to have an endless motor, helping to power a Tennessee defense that lost its leader to suspension toward the end of the season. … Garrett may have drawn the headlines, but Barnett established himself as the best freshman defensive lineman in the conference this year. He finished just behind Garrett and Maggitt with 10.0 sacks, also breaking Jadeveon Clowney’s freshman sacks record. He was a two-way beast as well, playing the run as well as the pass. He finished second in the conference with 20.5 tackles for loss and second among defensive linemen with 69 total tackles. If Maggitt returns next year along with an improved Barnett, Tennessee should have one of the best defenses in the East.
4. Bud Dupree, Kentucky
3. Markus Golden, Missouri
2. Trey Flowers, Arkansas
Kentucky’s defense fell apart toward the end of the season, but the fault for that doesn’t fall on Dupree. The senior earned All-SEC honors after the best season of his career, leading the SEC’s defensive linemen with 74 tackles. He added on 7.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss, along with taking his only interception of the season back for a touchdown to cap off a major comeback against South Carolina. It’s hard to imagine where the Wildcats would have been without Dupree. … Golden doesn’t get nearly as much attention as his superstar line mate, who we’ll get to in a minute, but he was just as vital to Mizzou’s defensive success. Golden went through a four-game sackless stretch in SEC play, but his effort was crucial to the Tigers pass rushing success even during that slump. Golden came on strong at the end of the season, with 4.5 sacks and 7.0 tackles for loss in November alone as Mizzou took the SEC East again. He finished the season with 8.5 sacks and 16.0 TFL. … Flowers was the biggest snub of the All-SEC teams announced this week. Arkansas’ nasty defense flew under the radar all season, but the Razorbacks were as fearsome as any unit, led by Flowers incessant pressure and nose for the ball. Flowers had nine quarterback hurries on top of his 5.0 sacks. He also accounted for 13.5 tackles for loss, sixth in the SEC, on a defense that finished third in the conference in rushing defense.
The Defensive Player of the Year
1. Shane Ray, Missouri
Ray wasn’t just the best defensive end in the SEC this year; he was the best defender, period. He’s already made two All-America teams and is a near lock to make several others. He finished third in the country with 14 sacks, setting a Missouri record, and was third nationally in tackles for loss as well with 21.0. With fantastic speed and instincts, Ray is a surefire first round pick in the NFL draft if he decides to leave school a year early, and no one would blame him for forgoing his senior year after all he accomplished in 2014.