Top 10 SEC defensive tackles following spring practices
The SEC lost Quinnen Williams and Jeffery Simmons in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, and several other defensive tackles heard their names called in Nashville.
However, there is still some talent at the position, especially since one potential 2019 first-round pick decided to return to his school for his senior season. Even at schools that lost star defensive tackles, there are guys waiting to take over.
There are some obvious talents at the top of the list, but the 7-10 range is full of players who could have breakout campaigns this fall.
Here’s how we rank the top 10 defensive tackles following the spring practice season in the SEC:
10. Phidarian Mathis, Alabama
Someone has to take over for Quinnen Williams, and it seems that the job will fall to Mathis in 2019. It won’t be easy, but Williams, you’ll remember, took over for Da’Ron Payne, who took over for Jonathan Allen.
Alabama has a way of churning out highly productive and talented defensive tackles, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Mathis, a former 4-star recruit, have a breakout campaign this fall.
9. Tyler Shelvin, LSU
Shelvin has the size (6-3, 360 pounds) to be a world-class nose tackle. The Tigers are trying to get his weight down a bit, but he’s always going to be a big guy.
Getting on the field and staying there will be the big issue. He only had 7 tackles (and 1.5 sacks) in 2018. Much more will be expected of him this fall.
8. Adam Shuler II, Florida
In his first year as a Gator after coming over from West Virginia as a graduate transfer, Shuler played well. He recorded 39 tackles (3.5 for a loss) and 1.5 sacks. He wasn’t relied on to get much pass rush, as Jachai Polite and Jabari Zuniga handled that aspect of the defense.
However, he’ll play a bigger role this season, and he showed he can generate more of a rush from inside during his 2017 season with the Mountaineers (37 tackles, 8 for a loss, 3 sacks). Now that he’s more comfortable with DC Todd Grantham’s system, he could shine for the Gators this year.
7. Benito Jones, Ole Miss
Jones is back for one last ride with the Rebels, and it could be his biggest season yet. With Mike MacIntyre taking over as defensive coordinator this offseason, that unit should be better than it has been.
Jones had 34 tackles (9 for a loss) and 3 sacks last season as the Rebels struggled to stop any offenses. If he is used better this fall, he could have a big year and quickly rise up this list.
6. Tyler Clark, Georgia
Clark took a bit of a step back in 2018, though that’s somewhat understandable considering all the talent the Bulldogs lost from their 2017 defense — guys like Lorenzo Carter, Reggie Carter, Roquan Smith and others. In 2017, Clark put up 41 tackles (6.5 for a loss) and 2.5 sacks. In 2018, he had only 31 tackles (4 for a loss) and 1 sack.
When he’s playing his best, he’s a nightmare to block, even for future NFL offensive linemen. Here he is in the Rose Bowl following the 2017 season, beating a double-team from a talented Oklahoma line:
— @540Jason© (@540Jason) January 1, 2018
If he can do that more often, Georgia’s defense can be even better in 2019. He has a lot of potential, but he needs to show it more often.
5. Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina
Like his South Carolina defensive line mate DJ Wonnum, health will be key for Kinlaw this fall. In 2018, he appeared in every game but the bowl game but was limited by nagging injuries.
Still, he managed to compile 38 tackles (10 for a loss) and a team-high 4.5 sacks. When he’s healthy, he’ll be a big boost for Wonnum on the edge. Kinlaw can wreck pockets and get a push up the middle:
9/22/18 — South Carolina's Javon Kinlaw sacks Vanderbilt's Kyle Shurmur, fumble recovered by Aaron Sterling. pic.twitter.com/jjlzIHG5Wu
— College Football Clips (@CFB_Clips) September 23, 2018
Wonnum and Kinlaw have a chance to be one of the more dynamic duos in the SEC, so we’ll see how they play together this fall.
4. McTelvin Agim, Arkansas
Agim has been primarily a defensive end, but with Armon Watts off to the NFL, Agim is moving inside. Coach Chad Morris has said this offseason that Agim will primarily be a defensive tackle this fall.
At 6-3 and nearly 280 pounds, Agim is big enough to handle the job of defensive tackle, but he also provides some pass-rushing acumen to the defense. If he continues to buy in to the defensive plan, he could eclipse the 45 tackles, 10 for a loss, and 4.5 sacks that he had in 2018.
Plus, with his experience at defensive end, he can be versatile and play wherever he’s needed if injuries or ineffectiveness force a change.
3. Jordan Elliott, Mizzou
Elliott, a transfer from Texas, will be counted on to fill in for Terry Beckner Jr. now that Beckner is off to the NFL. In limited action last season for the Tigers, Elliott showed flashes of brilliance, recording 24 tackles (8 for a loss) and 3 sacks.
He was a one-man wrecking ball in the regular-season finale against Arkansas, recording all 3 of his sacks:
— Mizzou Network (@MizzouNetwork) November 26, 2018
If he can build on that momentum, he’s fast enough and strong enough to become the next defensive line star for Mizzou.
2. Justin Madubuike, Texas A&M
As a redshirt sophomore last year, Madubuike benefitted from playing alongside Kingsley Keke, Landis Durham and Daylon Mack on the defensive line. Still, he managed to put up big numbers, recording 40 tackles, 10.5 for a loss and 5.5 sacks.
That makes Madubuike the leader in sacks among all returning SEC defensive tackles. He’s another guy who is versatile and loves getting after the quarterback:
— McKinneyYellowJacket (@McKYellowJacket) October 7, 2018
He’ll have to take a step forward as a run stopper this year without Keke and Mack in the middle, but he has the talent to become one of the best defensive tackles in the country this fall.
1. Derrick Brown, Auburn
This was probably one of the most anti-climactic No. 1s among all my position rankings. Brown is the clear No. 1 defensive tackle, and it isn’t really all that close.
Brown could have been a top 10 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, but he chose to return for one last ride at Auburn. He has insane athleticism for a defensive tackle, as he showed on this sack against Southern Miss:
That is a 325 lb. leap for a sack from Derrick Brown after pushing the OT back – awesome effort (and allowed in CFB!) pic.twitter.com/VrRjBBIitg
— Connor Rogers (@ConnorJRogers) October 4, 2018
And here he is against Texas A&M, instantly collapsing the pocket and leaving Kellen Mond with nowhere to go:
Derrick Brown instantly caves in the pocket for a clutch strip sack, but Dontavius Russell can't fall on the ball. Still a big play. pic.twitter.com/ftCQHTy4bo
— Fed Scivittaro (@MeshPointScout) November 3, 2018
Auburn’s defensive line could be the best in the nation this year, and it all starts with Brown, who can do it all in the middle.