Defense has been a key to the success of the SEC. In 2014, four of the SEC teams were ranked in the Top 20 nationally in total defense, while seven teams were ranked in the Top 20 nationally in scoring defense.
The reason for the defensive success is the talent each team brings each year. It’s not by accident that Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss are always stout on defense. But teams such as Arkansas, Georgia and Missouri are overlooked because they are known for their offense.
So with all the talent these SEC teams have, who are the three best defensive players in the conference? Who are the guys that opposing quarterbacks stay away from in order to have success?
Vernon Hargreaves III
The Florida Gators did not have a great season in 2014 as they finished with a 7-5 record. But Vernon Hargreaves was not the reason the Gators struggled.
Hargreaves emerged onto the scene when he was a true freshman in 2013 as he started 10 of 12 games and recorded 38 tackles and three interceptions. He was named National Defensive Freshman of the Year by College Football News and he was named a Third Team All-American by the AP.
2014 was a better season for the Tampa, Fla. native as he tallied 50 tackles, three interceptions and 13 pass breakups which led the SEC. He was named a First Team All-American by CBSSports.com, Sporting News and ESPN.com.
Hargreaves may be the best cornerback in the country. He has the ability to shadow the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver while breaking the normal alignment.
Like Florida, Texas A&M had its issues as it won only three SEC games last year. But one of the highlights of the Aggies season was the emergence of Myles Garrett.
Garrett went on to finish the season with 11.5 sacks (a Texas A&M freshman record) which was second in the SEC. He was a consensus Freshman All-American and All-SEC selection.
Garrett has the speed to run past offensive tackles, and he also has great explosiveness. He will have a challenge this upcoming season because teams like LSU, Alabama and Arkansas were able to slow him down last season by running at him.
Alabama always has a talented group of defensive players, and it’s no different in 2015. But the best of the bunch has to be defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson.
As a freshman in 2013, Robinson led the Crimson Tide with 5.5 sacks to go along with his 38 tackles and eight tackles for loss. He was not as dominant last season, but still had a strong season with 49 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. As this season begins, Robinson is on several preseason All-American lists as well as several preseason All-SEC lists.
Because of his size (6-foot-4, 312 pounds), Robinson eats up a lot of space, which causes linebackers such as Reggie Ragland and Rueben Foster to make plays. However, because of his quickness and athleticism, Robinson can make the tackles and be very disruptive in the backfield. And one of his other great qualities is that he can bat down balls as well as blocking kicks as he blocked a PAT in the game against Ole Miss last year.