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.

5.) TRACY ROCKER, AUBURN (1986-89)

Considered by most as the Tigers’ best defensive lineman in program history, this defensive tackle became the first SEC player in league history to earn both the Outland and Lombardi awards in a single season (1988) and was twice named to All-American teams.

The three-time All-SEC star earned the league’s player of the year honor as a senior in 1988 after posting 101 tackles (13 for losses) and five sacks. His 354 career tackles on the Plains was an SEC all-time best for a defensive tackle during his era.

A knee injury cut short his NFL career, but Rocker went on to begin a lengthy stint in the college coaching ranks in 1994. His career also featured a two-year stay with the Tennessee Titans and has included four stops at SEC programs, including his current job at Georgia as the Bulldogs’ defensive line and associate head coach.

Career numbers:

354 tackles, 48 TFL, 21 sacks

Individual superlatives:

Consensus All-American (1987-88); All-SEC (1986-88); Outland Trophy (1988); Lombardi Trophy (1988); SEC Player of the Year (1988); College Football Hall of Fame

NFL Draft:

No. 66 overall (third round) in 1989


One of the highest-rated defensive prospects in prep football history and South Carolina’s most hyped recruit ever, Clowney was everything the Gamecocks expected him to be when he arrived on campus as a true freshman fall 2011.

The freakish defensive end with wide receiver speed and a running back’s burst was a headache to game plan against and constantly fought off double teams to make plays throughout his brief three-year career — the winningest stretch in South Carolina football history (33-6).

After earning SEC freshman of the year accolades, Clowney became the nation’s most feared defensive player as a sophomore in 2012, setting single-season program records for sacks (13.0) and tackles for loss (23.5) on his way to consensus All-American and SEC defensive player of the year honors.

Had Clowney played one more season with the Gamecocks, he would’ve liken broken Eric Norwood’s school record for sacks and tackles for losses. He does hold the program high for career forced fumbles (9).

The first overall pick in last season’s NFL Draft, Clowney suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss most of the season.

Career numbers:

130 tackles, 47 TFL, 24 sacks

Individual superlatives:

All-American (2011-13); All-SEC (2011-13); Hendricks Award (2012); SEC Def. POTY (2012)

NFL Draft:

No. 1 overall in 2014

3.) GLENN DORSEY, LSU (2004-07)

The unquestioned No. 1 defensive lineman in college football during the 2007 season on the eventual national championship LSU Tigers, Dorsey became the first SEC defender player to win the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski and Lott honors.

The two-time All-American defensive tackle doesn’t have the lofty sack numbers like most players in this list, but he didn’t have to for the Tigers who were always equipped with talented bookends. His job was to protect the middle of the field at the line of scrimmage and cause havoc in opposing backfields — which he did almost every snap.

Like Clowney, Dorsey often faced double-teams during his tenure after it was discovered he was unblockable in 1-on-1 situations. He was drafted fifth overall in 2008, but hasn’t made the dominant impact he sustained in the SEC.

Career numbers:

179 tackles, 27 TFL, 15 sacks

Individual superlatives:

All-American (2006-07), All-SEC (2006-07); SEC Def. POTY (2007); Lombardi Trophy (2007); Outland Trophy (2007); Nagurski Trophy (2007); Lott Trophy (2007)

NFL Draft:

No. 5 overall in 2008


This mountain of a man standing 6-foot-8, 260 pounds was knocking for leaping offensive linemen to make explosive plays in the backfield during his time in Knoxville, an athletically-gifted and massive pass rusher with agility and speed much like Penn State’s LaVar Arrington before his time.

Atkins enrolled at Tennessee on a basketball scholarship due to his size but was quickly plucked by coach Robert Neyland to start along his defensive line. Voted as the best defensive player on the SEC’s quarter-century squad (1950-75), Atkins was the most gifted outside rusher in all of football during his era and was named a unanimous All-American in 1952.

During his tenure, the Vols went 29-3-1 and won the 1951 national championship. Atkins was a starting defensive lineman in the NFL for a then-record 17 seasons, playing for the Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints.

Atkins and Reggie White are the only Vols in program history to be honored as both College and Pro Football Hall of Famers.

Career numbers:


Individual superlatives:

All-American (1952); All-SEC (1951-52); All-SEC Quarter Century Team; SEC Player of the Quarter Century (1950-74); All-Time All-SEC Team (1933-82); College Football Hall of Fame; Pro Football Hall of Fame

NFL Draft:

No. 1 overall in 1953


Georgia’s all-time sack and tackles for losses leader is the most decorated defensive lineman in SEC history, the league’s only player to ever win two conference player of the year awards and be named a three-time first team All-American in a three-year span.

Pollack’s final three seasons in Athens were incredible as the nation’s premiere defensive end as he accumulated a college football-leading 55 tackles for loss and 34 sacks during that span.

Herschel Walker is the only other three-time All-American in Georgia football history. Pollack’s NFL career was brief as an outside linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals after a serious neck injury in 2006 made him reconsider his future plan.

Career numbers:

275 tackles, 58.5 TFL, 36 sacks

Individual superlatives:

All-American (2002-04), All-SEC (2002-04); SEC POTY (2002, 2004); Hendricks (2002, 2004); Bednarik (2004); Lott (2004); Lombardi (2004)

NFL Draft:

No. 17 overall in 2005