Our preview of the top players at each position continues today with the Top Ten SEC Defensive Ends. If you’ve missed anything tis far, here are the links:
1. Dante Fowler, Jr., Florida
As bad as the Florida Gators were on offense last season, they were great on defense. The unit ranked in the top ten nationally in both total defense and in pass defense, and ranked in the top three in the SEC in scoring defense and rushing defense. Seven starters return, including Fowler, who may be the best pass rusher in the SEC.
Fowler plays the Buck position in the Florida defense, which is a hybrid defensive end/linebacker role. Last season, the junior had only 3.5 sacks, but he recorded 50 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and seven quarterback hurries in 2013. Expect Fowler to have a big year before leaving early for the NFL Draft.
2. A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama
If Alabama utilized a 4-3 defense, Robinson would likely be a defensive tackle, but in Nick Saban and Kirby Smart’s multiple 3-4 scheme, he is an ideal defensive end. At 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds, he certainly has the size to be a three-technique, or even a nose guard, which will allow the Crimson Tide coaching staff to use the freakish athlete however they see fit.
And, with starting nose guard Brandon Ivory and expected contributor Jarran Reed both currently suspended, Robinson’s role could change often early in the season. Lightning quick for his size, the sophomore led the team with 5.5 sacks, despite not being a full-time starter in 2013.
3. Bud Dupree, Kentucky
Believe it or not, Kentucky may have the best defensive end combination in the league. Seniors Dupree and Za’Darius Smith (who barely missed out on a spot on the list) give the Wildcats and head coach Mark Stoops a great deal of optimism for 2014. Dupree had seven sacks last season, which is the most among returning SEC players. Expect him to get a lot of attention from opponents, and for the UK coaching staff to respond by moving him all over the field.
4. Markus Golden, Missouri
Most teams that lose a pair of All-SEC caliber players at the defensive end position would be very worried. However, at Missouri, Markus Golden has already proven he is one of the best edge players in the conference. Because the Tigers had Kony Ealy and Michael Sam last year, Golden did not even start. However, he certainly made an impact with 6.5 sacks. Expect Golden to wreak havoc on offensive tackles this year and then be an early round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft.
5. Trey Flowers, Arkansas
Golden and Dupree both could have left their respective schools for a shot at the NFL, and Trey Flowers could have been right there with them as a second or third day selection. However, the Huntsville, Alabama native wants to be part of Bret Bielema’s reclamation project in Fayetteville. Flowers has produced well for the Razorbacks. He recorded five sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss last season and is as smart a defensive player as you’ll find.
6. Jermauria Rasco, LSU
LSU produces defensive linemen like John Grisham produces legal novels – one or two a year, and they are all solid. Rasco has been solid before – he started all 13 games for the Tigers last season – and led the team with four sacks. He has decent size at 6-foot-2 and 262 pounds, but Rasco and fellow end Danielle Hunter will miss the inside help provided by Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson last year.
7. Danielle Hunter, LSU
Speaking of Hunter, he could breakout onto the national stage as a junior. Last season, Hunter recorded three sacks and five tackles for loss, and knocked down two passes at the line of scrimmage. He is a nightmare one-on-one assignment for an offensive tackle, and should be a household name soon.
8. Carl Lawson*, Auburn
We have reached our first Auburn Tiger on the list, and by now you know that Carl Lawson is unlikely to contribute on the football field anytime soon. Gus Malzahn revealed the news at SEC Media Days that Lawson’s spring knee injury was actually a torn ACL that would sideline him for most, if not all, of 2014. The loss is a big one for the Tigers, since they will lose Lawson’s production (four sacks as a Freshman All-SEC performer in 2013,) and Gabe Wright must move to defensive end from his inside spot, where he had been dominant.
9. Sterling Bailey, Georgia
The Georgia defense had its issues last season, but the unit was solid against the run. The Bulldogs ranked sixth in the SEC in rushing defense, and 41st nationally. Sterling Bailey has been Georgia’s most consistent defensive lineman recently, especially since Ray Drew fell into new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s dog house this spring. Former Auburn great Tracy Rocker will coach Bailey this season.
10. Jonathan Bullard, Florida
Another high-level performer on the Florida front is Jonathan Bullard, who is yet another versatile piece of the defensive puzzle for the Gators. Bullard is likely to return to his starting spot at end, but he did practice often at defensive tackle this spring. The junior is most likely to play inside on third down and other specific pass rushing situations, though he is talented enough to hold his own inside in a pinch.
11. *Gabe Wright, Auburn
Arguably the best defensive tackle in the SEC, Gabe Wright will play defensive end this year for the Auburn Tigers. The move is certainly not a shock – Wright saw extended practice time on the outside this spring and he has worked hard to slim down his frame. Listed at 6-foot-4 and 285 pounds, Wright is big for both a five or a nine-technique, but like Bullard, he has the talent to handle multiple roles. Wright has already shown a good mix of speed, agility and power inside, and those traits should play very well at defensive end. While it is difficult to evaluate him to his peers at this point, there is no way we could leave Gabe Wright off the list.
What do you think? In the SEC, defensive ends are always top performers. How will Auburn fare without Carl Lawson? Can Gabe Wright solidify the spot? Let us know in the comments below.