Top 5 run-stuffing defensive lines for 2015
Last season was a good year for SEC run defenses. Five schools placed in the top-30 nationally in stopping the run, with one team — Alabama — coming in at No. 4 in the country.
Which defensive lines do we think will come in as the best run-stopping units in the conference this fall? Looking ahead, here are our top five for 2015.
Honorable mentions: Tennessee, Georgia, LSU
5. Auburn — The Tigers were so-so against the run as the defense crumbled last year. How do they end up at No. 5 here? The answer is simple: Will Muschamp. The new DC in town consistently helms top-10 defenses as a coordinator and put together some excellent units at Florida, including a team that ranked 13th nationally against the run last season. Muschamp has the tools to turn Auburn into a force in his first year. Montravius Adams is a beast in the middle, Carl Lawson returns from injury to team up with DaVonte Lambert as the ends, and freshman Byron Cowart provides Muschamp with an excellent candidate for his Buck position.
4. Arkansas — The Razorbacks have some of the bigger holes to fill along their defensive front among teams at the top of the SEC in run defense. Trey Flowers was the engine that powered Arkansas’ ferocious run-stopping defense last season, and Darius Philon was a force in the middle of the line. Defensive coordinator Robb Smith has plenty of ammunition to reload, though. JaMichael Winston and Taiwan Johnson return from last year, Bihjon Jackson is ready to blossom into a star and newcomers Jeremiah Ledbetter and Hjalte Frohholdt, both already on campus, provide plenty of depth.
3. Missouri — Losing its top two defensive ends has become nothing to sweat for Missouri. The D-Line Zou will be anchored by its fearsome interior duo this year, Harold Brantley — who will challenge for a first-team All-SEC spot in 2015 — and the massive Josh Augusta, as well as incoming freshman Terry Beckner, who could thrive as a 3-4 defensive end if Mizzou tries out the alignment under new DC Barry Odom. While the Tigers lose 42.5 tackles for loss frome Shane Ray and Markus Golden, defensive end replacements Charles Harris and Marcus Loud have shown good potential in backup reps and in this year’s spring practices.
2. Ole Miss — While Ole Miss found some trouble with power running games last fall, there weren’t many groups in the country more intimidating against the run. Led by defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, a double-team magnet, the Land Sharks’ defensive line man-handled less offensive lines, holding Memphis (ranked in the top 25 at the time) to 23 yards and leaving Tennessee with a flat zero rushing yards in a 34-3 bruising. The Rebels return all four starters and will provide the foundation for yet another nasty defense in 2015.
1. Alabama — One of the best defensive fronts in the nation returns completely intact for 2015. Alabama led the SEC in rushing yards allowed, giving up just 102 yards per game on the ground in 2014, and that line figures to get better in 2015. First-team All-SEC defensive end Jonathan Allen sets the edge on runs as well as any 3-4 end in the nation, while nose tackle A’Shawn Robinson has superstar potential. Alabama has experience and depth along the front line, making the Crimson Tide a good bet to repeat as the best run defense in the conference — and one of the best in the nation.