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SEC Football: Power Ranking the 10 Most Terrifying Defensive Players of BCS Era

Kurt WirthCorrespondent IMarch 9, 2014

SEC Football: Power Ranking the 10 Most Terrifying Defensive Players of BCS Era

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    PHIL COALE/Associated Press

    With the graduation or early leap to the NFL of half of the league's quarterbacks, the Southeastern Conference looks to return to its status as a defensive-minded conference.

    With the BCS now history, we turn our gaze backward to review the system that was. The SEC has seen its share of talent on the defensive side of the ball, and many of those standouts remain in the NFL.

    Taking a trip down memory lane, let's review and rank some of the most potent players to greet opposing offenses in the BCS era.

10. Reggie Nelson, Florida

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    KELLY JORDAN/Associated Press

    Position: Safety

    Years: 2005-2006

    After redshirting his freshman season, Nelson started for head coach Urban Meyer immediately as a sophomore. A staple on the 2006 national championship squad, the Melbourne, Fla. native finished as a consensus All-American and a finalist for the Jim Thorpe and Nagurski awards.

    Known as "The Eraser" by his teammates for his clean-up defensive work, Nelson has accumulated 368 tackles and 18 interceptions in seven years with both the Jaguars and the Bengals.

9. Michael Sam, Missouri

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Position: Defensive End

    Years: 2009-2013

    After redshirting as a freshman, Michael Sam took the long road to success. Slowly developing throughout his career, Sam started nine games in 2012 before exploding onto the national scene as a senior. Hailing from Hitchcock, Texas, the 6'2" and 261-pound defensive end took Jadeveon Clowney's spot as the most feared, most disruptive defensive force in the SEC for 2013.

    Sam was named Co-Defensive Player of the Year by the SEC, chosen to the All-SEC first team, a consensus All-American and a semifinalist for the Bednarik, Hendricks and Lombardi awards after notching 48 tackles and 19 tackles for loss in 2013. Recently having come out as gay, Sam looks poised to become the first openly gay NFL player.

8. DeMeco Ryans, Alabama

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    TONY GUTIERREZ/Associated Press

    Position: Linebacker

    Years: 2002-2005

    Playing in every game as a freshman, not an easy task at Alabama, there was little doubt to Ryans' ability from the outset of his career. Accruing over 300 tackles and with 33 tackles for loss to his name, Ryans made a name as one of the greatest tacklers to ever play for the storied Crimson Tide.

    From Bessemer, Ala., Ryans took the Lott Trophy during his senior campaign as the IMPACT Defensive Player of the Year and stood as a consensus All-American. A finalist for the Bednarik, Butkus, Lombardi and Nagurski awards as a senior, Ryans graduated to begin a successful career in the NFL. Leaving the Houston Texans for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012, Ryans has recorded 667 tackles in eight seasons as a pro.

7. Patrick Willis, Ole Miss

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    ROGELIO V. SOLIS/Associated Press

    Position: Linebacker

    Years: 2003-2005

    With 16 tackles after playing in all 13 games as a true freshman, Willis was relied on heavily as a defensive role player until he matured into the powerhouse he became. As the most highly decorated defensive player in Ole Miss history, the star was named to back-to-back first-team All-America teams and won both the Butkus and Lambert awards as a junior.

    The Bruceton, Tenn. native twice led the the SEC in tackles and went on to play a similar dominating role for the San Francisco 49ers. With the 49ers, Willis has played in the Super Bowl and accumulated 703 tackles and 20.5 sacks.

6. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

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    Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press

    Position: Defensive End

    Years: 2011-2013

    Playing in every game for the Gamecocks as a true freshman, Clowney received All-SEC Freshman of the Year status after proving his potential as a disruptive phenom that threatened every opposing quarterback. His breakout came in 2012, where he led the SEC in tackles and tackles for loss, ranking as a consensus All-American and placing sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

    The following year, though, was a bust. His work ethic was questioned numerous times, including by his own head coach, and his production drastically dropped. Whether this perception was due to his lack of effort or a series of minor injuries and conditions is still a hot topic among the media, but his sheer ability has never been in doubt. The Rock Hill, S.C. native is projected as a first-round draft pick after foregoing his senior campaign.

5. John Henderson, Tennessee

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    SCOTT AUDETTE/Associated Press

    Position: Defensive Tackle

    Years: 1998-2001

    Playing for Phil Fulmer's Tennessee squad, Henderson was recognized as the nation's top interior lineman with the Outland Trophy in 2000 and again as a finalist in 2001. With 38.5 tackles for a loss to his name, the Nashville, Tenn. native was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the ninth overall pick in 2002. After eight successful years, he was released in 2010.

4. Patrick Peterson, LSU

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    Sean Gardner/Associated Press

    Position: Cornerback

    Years: 2008-2010

    Exiting high school as one of the high-profile players to ever step foot on the LSU campus, Peterson started his final four games as a freshman and finished with 41 tackles in 2008. Having earned the starting spot, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. native evolved quickly into one of the conference's most effective defenders.

    As a junior, Peterson took home the Jim Thorpe and Bednarik awards and stood out as a return specialist. Chosen fifth overall in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals, Peterson has notched 151 tackles in just three seasons.

3. Eric Berry, Tennessee

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Position: Safety

    Years: 2007-2009

    An important role player as a freshman, taking home SEC Defensive Player of the year honors, Berry quickly became one of Tennessee's best defensive players of all time. Intercepting seven passes, returning two for touchdowns and finishing his sophomore campaign with 72 tackles, Berry achieved consensus All-American status twice and won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2009.

    The Atlanta, Ga. native was selected fifth overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2010 and has spent four years with the organization, collecting eight interceptions and 216 tackles.

2. Glenn Dorsey, LSU

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    Rob Carr/Associated Press

    Position: Defensive Tackle

    Years: 2004-2007

    Playing for head coach Nick Saban's national championship LSU squad in 2007, Dorsey exploded into the limelight in his junior season, named as an All-American and All-SEC member after 64 tackles. His senior campaign, though, is what truly set him apart.

    As a senior, Dorsey started all but one game and recorded 69 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss. A consensus first-team All-American, the Baton Rouge, La. native finished ninth in Heisman Trophy voting and took home the Outland Trophy, Lombardi Award, Nagurski Trophy and Lott Trophy.

    Dorsey was chosen fifth overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008 and was picked up by the 49ers in 2013. He's seen limited playing time as a pro, recording 187 tackles in six seasons.

1. David Pollack, Georgia

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    APRIL L BROWN/Associated Press

    Position: Linebacker

    Years: 2001-2004

    The only three-time first-team All-American on this list, and only the second in University of Georgia history, Pollack stands among some of the most elite defensive players in college football history.

    Pollack broke records and opponents at Georgia, and his list of accolades showed it. A two-time receiver of the Hendricks Award, the New Brunswick, N.J. native was chosen as the SEC Player of the Year as a senior. That's a rare feat for a defensive player, and one that is deserved for the school's all-time career sacks (36) and tackles for loss leader (58).

    Joining those achievements are his 2004 Bednarik, Lombardi and Lott Trophy awards. Pollack was drafted 17th overall by the Cincinnati Bengals, though a broken back in a game versus the Cleveland Browns in 2006 ended his brief NFL career.

     

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