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SEC Football: Ranking Best Defenders Heading into 2014 Season

Luke BrietzkeContributor IIIMay 23, 2014

SEC Football: Ranking Best Defenders Heading into 2014 Season

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Pinpointing the top defenders after spring practice is no simple task.

    Sure, many SEC observers could have picked out Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney at this time last year.

    Few would have thought Missouri defensive end Michael Sam would beat both out for Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2013 (though Sam split the coaches' award with Mosley).

    Even fewer would have projected that Clowney wouldn’t be the most productive defensive lineman for the Gamecocks. Yet tackle Kelcy Quarles finished with stronger numbers (more tackles for loss and sacks) than his overshadowing ex-teammate.

    Here is a list of the SEC’s five top defensive players after spring practice.

Honorable Mentions

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    John Sommers II/Getty Images

    Here is our hefty list of honorable mention players for the post-spring SEC defensive player power rankings:

    1. LB A.J. Johnson, Tennessee
    2. LB Serderius Bryant, Ole Miss
    3. DE Trey Flowers, Arkansas
    4. LB Trey DePriest, Alabama
    5. LB Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
    6. CB Deshazor Everett, Texas A&M
    7. DE Alvin Dupree, Kentucky
    8. DT Chris Jones, Mississippi State
    9. LB Darreon Herring, Vanderbilt
    10. LB Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
    11. DE A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama
    12. DE Caleb Azubike, Vanderbilt
    13. DE Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
    14. DE Dante Fowler, Florida
    15. DE Carl Lawson, Auburn
    16. LB Kentrell Brothers, Missouri
    17. CB Jamerson Love, Mississippi State
    18. LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
    19. DE Shane Ray, Missouri
    20. CB Tre’Davious White, LSU
    21. DT Deterrian Shackelford, Ole Miss
    22. DE Kyle Woestmann, Vanderbilt
    23. S Jalen Mills, LSU
    24. DE Walker May, Vanderbilt
    25. DE Danielle Hunter, LSU
    26. DE Jermauria Rasco, LSU
    27. S Alan Turner, Arkansas
    28. LB Kris Frost, Auburn
    29. LB Skai Moore, South Carolina
    30. DE Ray Drew, Georgia

DE Markus Golden, Missouri

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Far too many comparisons have been drawn between Markus Golden and former teammate Michael Sam.

    That’s no insult on Golden’s numbers, which were stellar in 2013 and could improve significantly this year when he actually starts along Missouri’s defensive line.

    The parallels simply aren’t apt.

    If Golden goes bananas this season and leads the conference in sacks or tackles for loss, it would come as a shock to few. Nobody would wonder where this guy came from after he registered 55 tackles, 13 for loss and 6.5 sacks last season. He also forced a fumble and recovered two.

    Sam, conversely, came from obscurity to post his SEC Defensive Player of the Year season.

    Golden played especially well in conference games, finishing second behind Sam for sacks against SEC foes and tying him for tackles for loss over the eight regular-season games.

S Landon Collins, Alabama

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    As a part-time starter, Landon Collins showed the talent that made him 247Sports’ No. 3 overall prospect in 2012.

    He served as a fill-in for both HaHa Clinton-Dix and Vinnie Sunseri last season, recording 70 tackles (including four for loss). More importantly, he picked off two passes, forced two fumbles and recovered two. He also broke up six passes.

    Impressively, he accomplished all this while bouncing between free safety and strong safety, as AL.com’s Andrew Gribble reported.

    So the scary part is Collins’ best play probably lies ahead.

    At this time next year, preseason talk could describe him as the biggest takeaway machine in the SEC.

LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Perhaps no player emerged on the scene quite like Ramik Wilson in 2013.

    Over his first two seasons, he registered just 10 total tackles. On his way to all-SEC honors last year, he averaged more than 10 stops per game.

    His 133 tackles led the SEC by a wide margin, and he proved to be a playmaker behind the line of scrimmage as well, racking up 11 tackles for loss and four sacks. He also added seven quarterback hurries.

    With Jeremy Pruitt installing his defensive system at Georgia, the question is, Could the best still be to come from Wilson?

    As well as he played in 2013, he could take his game to another level—namely, he could create turnovers. Wilson neither intercepted a pass nor had a hand in a fumble (or recovery).

S Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Last year Cody Prewitt took the giant step forward that coaches hoped he would take.

    Yes, the free safety drew national attention in 2012 as a sophomore when he posted 80 tackles.

    His arrival on the next level, though, took becoming a playmaker capable of turning around games with critical takeaways. He finished the season with six interceptions and two forced fumbles, earning first-team All-American honors. He also broke up seven additional passes.

    Prewitt’s best performances came in SEC action. He earned five of his six interceptions against league foes.

    Ole Miss must love the fact that throwing away from Prewitt will largely mean avoiding the middle of the field. In other words, Prewitt will still have chances to turn in game-breaking plays, even though opponents will be far more aware of him.

CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    The biggest compliment that offensive coordinators can pay to cornerbacks is avoiding them—and their side of the field—entirely.

    Look for Vernon Hargreaves III to get such treatment in 2014.

    As a freshman last year, he intercepted three passes and broke up 11 more—a number that tied the program record for a freshman, according to Florida’s official website (h/t Bleacher Report’s Barrett Sallee).

    Earning first-team All-SEC honors as a true freshman shows that coaches have already caught on to what’s happening in a Gators secondary that included talented players like Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson last year.

    Hargreaves seems on track to be two seasons away from becoming a first-round NFL draft pick.

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