SEC Today: Breaking Down the Top 5 SEC Defensive Ends
If there’s one area where the SEC has had the edge over the past decade, it’s been in the trenches. Last week, I highlighted the conference’s top offensive linemen, but this week we move to the other side of the ball. Whether it’s Jadeveon Clowney, Carlos Dunlap or Robert Ayers, the SEC has produced a ton of productive defensive ends in recent years.
This year is no different. Whether you want a speedster like Shane Ray or a lengthy run defender like Danielle Hunter, the SEC defensive end class has a bit of every flavor. With such a deep collection of defensive end talent, some solid players just couldn’t make the cut. That’s just life in the SEC. Let’s take a look at the top five SEC defensive ends below.
1. Shane Ray, Missouri
Jadeveon Clowney turned heads at last year’s NFL Scouting Combine by running an unofficial 4.47 40-yard dash. Missouri’s Shane Ray might best that mark. According to David Morrison’s preseason piece on the Tigers’ top pass rusher, Ray clocked a 4.44 during offseason workouts. If he can come close to replicating that number at the combine, he’ll be a top-10 lock.
It’s not just Ray’s freakish speed and athleticism that makes him the top-ranked SEC defensive end. The kid can play. At 6’3”, 245 pounds, the consensus All-American consistently blows past offensive tackles and knows how to finish plays. His 2014 campaign ended with 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss. While he may have to move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, there’s no doubt the explosive edge rusher will be a nightmare to block at the next level.
2. Dante Fowler, Florida
Though he played BUCK linebacker at Florida, Fowler could play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. Listed at 6’3”, 277 pounds, the former five-star recruit took the torch from eventual first-round picks Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley. Despite playing for an underachieving Florida team, Fowler played with maximum effort and racked up 60 tackles (15 for loss) and 8.5 sacks. He saved his best for last, capping off his college career with three sacks against East Carolina in the Birmingham Bowl.
Like Ray, Fowler will likely play on the edge in a 3-4 scheme. However, he does have a more stout, thicker build than Ray. Fowler’s biggest strengths are his tenacity, versatility and physicality. He doesn’t possess Ray’s explosive get-off, but he can play multiple roles and should be a first-round pick this May.
3. Alvin “Bud” Dupree, Kentucky
Yet another gifted edge player in the SEC, Dupree has tremendous upside at the next level. “Bud” possesses an athletic 6’4”, 267-pound frame that leaves him with the ability to bulk up and play defensive end in a 4-3 scheme or outside linebacker in a 3-4 system. An explosive athlete off the edge, Dupree showed that versatility at Kentucky en route to posting 24 career sacks.
Dupree has a legitimate shot to go in the first round if he tests well at the combine. He terrorized the SEC for four years while showing consistent improvement. The sky’s the limit for this kid, and he could very well end up being the best player of this talented bunch.
4. Markus Golden, Missouri
The “other” Missouri defensive end is a different animal than Ray, but don’t overlook him. Golden was equally productive this year, racking up 77 total tackles, 10 sacks and a forced fumble. Though he doesn’t possess Ray’s lightning quickness, Golden uses his long arms and strong hands to dominate tackles. That length should make him an attractive prospect during the draft process.
Golden may be a more well-rounded player than Ray, but he won’t be drafted as high. Still, he should be a productive pro who should easily be a Day 2 pick. Ray and Golden certainly did an admirable job replacing the duo of Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. How will the Tigers replace the Ray-Golden combo?
5. Danielle Hunter, LSU
Like ex-Tiger Barkevious Mingo, Hunter boasts the long, lean frame that scouts drool over. But just like Mingo, Hunter’s pass-rush production doesn’t match up with those tools. The 6’6”, 240-pounder led LSU with 13 tackles for loss but managed just 1.5 sacks. Considering his length and athleticism, that’s a really disappointing number.
Still, Hunter should be a late second-round pick, at worst, as long as he measures up well at the combine. Mingo went sixth overall in 2013 despite posting just 4.5 sacks as a junior. He still hasn’t developed into a Pro Bowl player, but scouts see similar upside in Hunter. I’d be cautious on a player with limited pass-rush production at the college level, but someone’s going to take a chance on him early.
Just Missed the Cut: Trey Flowers (Arkansas); ZaDarius Smith (Kentucky); Jonathan Allen (Alabama); Derek Barnett (Tennessee); Myles Garrett (Texas A&M)