Who are the top defensive linemen in SEC history?

We’ve spent the last several weeks flipping through team-specific media guides, glancing over highlight film and nearly coming to blows at our home office determining this 25-member comprehensive list of the league’s best defensive linemen.

Editor’s note: The SDS staff weighed multiple factors during our SEC’s all-time defensive linemen rankings process including career statistics, individual awards, importance to their respective team and the era in which they played.

20.) MARCUS SPEARS, LSU (2001-04)

Recruited to play tight end for Nick Saban’s Tigers at the turn of the century, Spears moved to defensive end full-time as a sophomore and began a three-year stint as one college football’s most feared pass rushers.

A star on LSU’s 2003 national championship team before earning All-American honors as a senior, Spears’ 19 career sacks with the Tigers ranks sixth all-time in program history. Perhaps his brightest moment came as a junior when he returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown against Oklahoma in the BCS title game.

Spears played nine NFL seasons — eight with the Dallas Cowboys — before becoming an analyst with the SEC Network prior to the channel’s launch in 2014.

Career numbers:

33.5 tackles-for-loss, 19 sacks

Individual superlatives:

Consensus All-American (2004); All-SEC (2003-04)

NFL Draft:

No. 20 overall in 2005


One of the best defensive players to ever play for the Bulldogs, this four-year starter holds the program record with five sacks in a single game and helped Georgia win a national championship and multiple SEC titles during his tenure.

Between his freshman and sophomore seasons, Gilbert added 30 pounds of muscle to his slender 185-pound frame, quickly transforming into a physical threat as an interior lineman. This came one year after Gilbert recorded two sacks against Auburn as a wide-eyed freshman to preserve top-ranked Georgia’s unbeaten season.

At the time of his departure between the hedges, Gilbert was the school’s all-time sack leader with 26, including 11 during his banner All-American campaign in 1983. Gilbert followed teammate Herschel Walker to the USFL and eventually played four seasons in the NFL.

Career numbers:

233 tackles, 26 sacks

Individual superlatives:

Consensus All-American (1983); All-SEC (1982-83)

NFL Draft:


18.) NICK FAIRLEY, AUBURN (2009-10)

After landing at Auburn in 2009 following a dominant season in the JUCO ranks, this 6-foot-4, 310-pound monster quickly made a name for himself as a fleet-footed defensive tackle with an endless motor and nasty edge who enjoyed trash-talking the opposition.

During Fairley’s All-American 2010 season, the boisterous pass rusher set Auburn’s single-season sack (11) and tackles-for-loss records (24) during the Tigers’ unbeaten run to a national championship. Fairley was named the BCS title game’s defensive most valuable player after making three stops behind the line of scrimmage and forcing a fumble against Oregon.

Drafted by the Detroit Lions in the first round, Fairley  In March, he signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the St. Louis Rams.

Career numbers:

27.5 tackles-for-loss, 11 sacks (two seasons)

Individual superlatives:

Consensus All-American (2010); All-SEC (2010); SEC Def. POTY (2010); Lombardi Trophy (2010)

NFL Draft:

No. 13 overall in 2011


Before blossoming into one of the NFL’s most productive defensive lineman as a tackle or end with the New England Patriots, Seymour was a four-year letter winner and two-time All-SEC player between the hedges after becoming a full-time starter his junior season in 1998.

Seymour’s best campaign came in 2000 when he earned consensus All-American status after accumulating a team-best 10.5 tackles for loss for the eight-win Bulldogs.

Seymour won three Super Bowls and registered 57.5 sacks in 12 NFL seasons with the Patriots and Oakland Raiders.

Career numbers:

223 tackles, 25.5 tackles-for-loss, 9.5 sacks

Individual superlatives:

Consensus All-American (2000), All-SEC (1999-00)

NFL Draft:

No. 6 overall in 2001


Nearly 400 pounds when signed by the Crimson Tide in 2008, ‘Mount Cody’ was arguably the SEC’s top defensive lineman during both of his seasons in Tuscaloosa after transferring from Mississippi Gulf Coast as a JUCO All-American.

An expert run-stopper known for his brute strength, Cody fought off double-teams and clogged the middle on the interior of Alabama’s line to lead a defense, ranked in the Top 3 nationally and best in the SEC, back-to-back seasons.

The Ft. Myers, Fla. native blocked two field goals against Tennessee during the 2009 campaign which preserved an unbeaten season and ultimately paved the way toward Alabama’s 13th national championship in program history.

Career numbers:

52 total tackles, 10.5 tackles-for-loss (two seasons)

Individual superlatives:

Unanimous All-American (2008, 2009), All-SEC (2008, 2009)

NFL Draft:

No. 57 overall (second round) in 2010