Throughout the history of the league, the SEC has been known for its impact defenders. Elite defensive play has been a staple of teams in this conference forever. When pundits or coaches are asked what sets the SEC apart from other conferences, one of the first things mentioned is the talent and ability on the defensive side of the ball. The 2018 season is fast approaching, so here is a look at the impact defenders to watch in the SEC East.
SEC East Impact Defenders
D’Andre Walker – Linebacker – Georgia Bulldogs
This rising senior will be a disruptive force for Kirby Smart’s defense this season. The Bulldogs lost a lot of defensive talent from last year’s SEC championship team. D’Andre Walker will be counted on to lead the team on this side of the ball. He is the type of player that brings literal meaning to the term impact defenders. Walker thrives on physicality and usually arrives at his destination with serious force. Typically, he mostly lines up as an edge rusher, but Georgia will move him around to force the offense to adjust to his positioning. The 6’3, 240 pound linebacker was second on the team in sacks and tackles for loss last season.
He raised his level of play late in the season, with four sacks and eight tackles for loss in the final six games. He has the burst and power to both set the edge in the run game and chase down the opposing quarterback.
Josh Allen – Defensive End – Kentucky Wildcats
Much like his teammate Benny Snell, this Kentucky defender has not received nearly the amount of attention that his production warrants. Standing 6’5” and 230 pounds, Josh Allen has been harassing and chasing down quarterbacks for three years in the SEC. He has posted back to back seven sack seasons and has forced six fumbles in that time frame. Allen is a dynamic pass rusher, with a quick first step and the agility to outmaneuver offensive lineman. He is 11.5 sacks away from the school record 26 in a career. That may be a tall order, but with another solid season, he should easily move into second place in school history. Allen may not be a household name throughout college football, but rest assured that SEC offensive coordinators know all about him.
D.J Wonnum – Defensive End – South Carolina Gamecocks
The Gamecocks have exceeded expectations the last two seasons. If they are to take another step forward in 2018, the junior defensive end will need to play a big part. South Carolina loses a lot of talent and leadership off of their defense from last season. D.J. Wonnum will now step into one of the leadership roles. He has become a versatile playmaker during his two years in Columbia. Wonnum had 13 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2017 and will look to build on those numbers. The Gamecocks line him up on both ends of the line, and sometimes they stand him up to let him find the proper gap to rush into.
Cale Garrett – Linebacker – Missouri Tigers
Cale Garrett returns as the leading tackler for the Tigers. He will pair with Terez Hall to form one of the most experienced linebacker duos in the SEC. Garrett was all over the field for Missouri in 2017, with 99 total tackles, 10 of those for loss, three sacks, and two interceptions. Much like Walker from Georgia, the Missouri linebacker brings a literal meaning to be one of the SEC’s impact defenders. A hard hitter with a nose for the ball, Garrett will be relied upon to lead a Tiger defense that allowed 32 points a game last season.
David Reese – Linebacker – Florida Gators
Despite the struggles of their offense for the past handful of seasons, the Gators never fail to produce impact defenders. David Reese is the next big-time defensive talent in Gainesville. As a sophomore, he led the team with 102 tackles, including 10 for a loss. He is a true sideline to sideline linebacker. Reese had double digits tackles in five contests in 2017. His instincts put him in the right position, and his power and relentlessness allow him to make the play. Reese is a tackling machine, and with Georgia’s Roquan Smith gone, he could lead the SEC in tackles in 2018.
Daniel Bituli – Linebacker – Tennessee Volunteers
There were not many positives to be drawn from 2017 in Knoxville. However, the play of Daniel Bituli was one of them. The Nashville native led the Vols in tackles with 90 and had a 97-yard interception return for a touchdown. The defensive-minded Jeremy Pruitt is taking over as head coach in 2018. He will have a potential star to build his first defense around. Bituli had 23 tackles and a forced fumble in the season opener a year ago. He diagnoses plays quickly from his middle linebacker spot and arrives at the ball carrier with bad intentions.
JoeJuan Williams –Safety – Vanderbilt Commodores
As a sophomore, the Nashville native was tied for seventh on the team with 39 total tackles. He has proven to be a solid run stopper from his secondary position. While he has yet to record any interceptions in two seasons, JoeJuan Williams is still an effective defender against the pass. He had ten pass deflections last season, to go along with 2.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. The hope is he can get his hands on a few passes in 2018. He needs to help his defense create a few more turnovers. The Commodores had only seven interceptions and two fumble recoveries as a team last year.