Go on vacation for a week and everyone stops answering your email. So it’s just me and Billy on this one. I tell ya…
As the 3-4 gets more and more popular, it gets harder to tease out the contributions of the linemen from the edge rushing linebackers. By and large, I’m looking at how the line creates tackles for a loss, which is the prime job of the line, but sometimes those pesky linebackers come in and steal the glory. So I also want to make sure it’s the linemen generating the pressure or clogging the middle.
Defense is far more interrelated statistically than the offense, and it requires a bit more feel to rate teams based on their statistical profile, but I give it the old college try.
1. Mississippi State. State led the SEC last year in both TFL’s/play and sacks/play, and the two main drivers of that production return: Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons. Sweat is the returning SEC leader in TFL and he anchors a deep, experienced, and terrifying Bulldog front four.
2. Alabama. Shockingly, Bama only has one player in the three-deep Athlon preseason All-SEC team, which feels like a major step back for a unit that usually dominates the list. But Raekwon Davis is a star and should hold down the usual gaggle of five star talent.
3. Florida. Cece Jefferson came into his own last year. But the Gators start just three down linemen, and they have four guys returning with at least 5.0 TFL. This is a powerhouse unit.
4. Auburn. They lack the star power, but this is a unit poised for a breakout. Derrick Brown is the headliner, but Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe showed massive potential as underclassmen last year. The production lags behind the potential, but if those were the growing pains, this unit could be great.
5. LSU. It’s an anonymous group around the conference, but it is deep and effective. LSU gets into the backfield and bottles up plays so its stars at the next level can clean up.
6. Georgia. Tyler Clark is the biggest name, but this is a unit that holds down the line so the linebackers could make the big plays. With many of those linebackers in the NFL, the production may take a step back.
7. Texas A&M. Landis Durham highlights another effective unit. A&M creates a ton of pressure with its front seven and though there were some losses here, the core of the unit returns.
8. Missouri. On the one hand, Terry Beckner is a machine. On the other, he was helped out by Frazier on the other end, and he’s gone. Beckner’s a great player, but he’s the only returning starter in the front four.
9. South Carolina. DJ Wonnum is the leader of a trio of sophomores who started to make an impact. They don’t get to the QB much, and that needs to change, but they have real potential to build from here.
10. Vanderbilt. Dare Odeyingbo is a playmaker, and his younger brother Dayo looks cut from the same cloth. This is another good, effective unit, and we’re getting deep in the rankings here.
11. Ole Miss. The ends are a huge question mark, but Ole Miss is solid up the middle up Josiah Coatney and Benito Jones.
12. Tennessee. OK, it took awhile to get to the bad units, such is the quality of d-lines around the conference, but we arrive with a bang. The Vols didn’t have much last year, but the good news is that they don’t return a lot.
13. Kentucky. The Cats pulled the unfortunate daily double of less than 5 TFL/game coupled with allowing over 6 yards/play. It’s a bad defense, and it started on the line.
14. Arkansas. McTelvin Agim is left entirely on an island as the only returning starter on what was easily the worst line in the SEC last year. It looks like it might get worse, through no fault of Agim’s.
Agreed. And even if they aren’t making the plays themselves, if you have a really active group of linebackers making plays behind the line, chances are the defensive line is making that happen by occupying the offensive front.
1. Mississippi State. It’s hard to believe anybody can compete with Alabama in this area, but you can’t ignore the production of Simmons and Sweat.
2. Alabama. Raekwon Davis is an animal when he wants to be, and while he’s got new running mates, they’re all studs just the same.
3. Auburn. Hard to believe they can lose Jeff Holland and still be this good, but three productive starters are back and there’s a couple of big-time talents on the come-up as well.
4. LSU. Projection on my part, but I expect this LSU group to be every bit as good as the three teams ahead of them. A healthy Ed Alexander and Rashard Lawrence, plus a talented transfer in Breiden Fehoko whom has basically spent the offseason dominating the weight room. And this year there will be much better depth with Glenn Logan, Tyler Shelvin, Neil Farrell and a couple of big-time recruits.
5. Georgia. Trenton Thompson is gone, but Tyler Clark and Jonathan Ledbetter are still really good, plus another top-shelf class coming up behind them.
6. Florida. This feels like an underachieving unit, and CeCe Jefferson is now a linebacker, although he’s going to miss a few games anyway with a shoulder injury. Active group, but still susceptible to the running game at times.
7. South Carolina. I think DJ Wonnum breaks out this year as a big-time pass-rusher, and this group does a better job in the running game than you might think.
8. Texas A&M. Yeah, there are productive guys back, but until I see otherwise, this Aggie front is going to need some rebuilding after years of watching any running game worth its salt dominate them.
9. Missouri. Terry Beckner can be really, really good when he wants to be. Good enough to make the rest of this unit better.
10. Vanderbilt. Here’s where things really tail off, but at least the ‘Dores have one productive returnee in Dare Odeybingo.
11. Ole Miss. Benito Jones has been at Ole Miss since the Houston Nutt days, but this group is going to really struggle without Breeland Speaks.
12. Tennessee. Can this group underachieve forever? We’ll see if a new coach can get something out of them.
13. Arkansas. Couple solid players, but they’re few and far between.
14. Kentucky. Basketball joke.