The Southeastern Conference has long prided itself on tough defenses. And tough defenses start up front. The SEC has also historically been a conference won and lost at the line of scrimmage. Often times, the ends get all the glory on the defensive line. Not so here. Three of our five are interior linemen, highlighting the importance of impact over statistics.
Once again there is no shortage of talent on the defensive line. Here are the top five returning SEC defensive linemen in 2018.
Top Five Returning SEC Defensive Linemen In 2018
It’s impossible to produce a definitive list of anything subjective. This is a holistic approach, including past performance, future potential, system, and performance in different situations. Most importantly, it considers who would get picked if we were building our own team from each position group around the conference.
5. Landis Durham, Senior, Texas A&M
Landis Durham had to fill the void that Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall left in College Station in 2017. While he didn’t get the press that Garrett received, his production wasn’t too far off. Durham led the SEC with 10.5 sacks and was eleventh with 12.0 tackles-for-loss (TFLs). And, similar to Garrett, he was a complete package. In addition to the sacks and TFLs, he recorded three forced fumbles and had four QB hurries (QBHs). And Durham didn’t pad his stats against inferior opponents. His statistics skew heavily towards conference opponents. If the Aggies can provide some help for Durham, he could have a Garrett-like season.
At 6’3″, 255, Landis is physically suited for the next level. After losing two of his three defensive line starters from last season, he will again see the vast majority of attention from the opposition’s front men. In the SEC West, where the margin for error is razor thin, an athlete like Landis Durham on the defensive line could make the difference in a big game.
4. Terry Beckner, Jr., Senior, Missouri
Terry Beckner, Jr. has had an up-and-down career at Missouri. The former five star recruit had a break-out freshman season in 2015 with 8 TFLs and 3 sacks. But off-the-field issues and a disappointing 2016 campaign had some thinking the former highly rated recruit might be a bust. He came back strong last season and recorded 38 tackles, 7.0 sacks, and 11.0 TFLs. All from his interior lineman position.
Beyond the stats, Buckner, Jr. is a dominant force in the run defense up front. At 6’4″, 305, he has the combination of size and athleticism you’d expect from a player at the top of the SEC. He’s been Missouri’s best defensive player since he stepped foot on campus. His decision to come back for his senior season surprised many. It’s most likely a sign of his continued maturation while in Columbia. As much as fans enjoy great football players, they enjoy even better stories. Beckner, Jr. is hopefully writing the final chapter in a great college story–both on and off the field.
3. Montez Sweat, Senior, Mississippi State
Montez Sweat is one part of what promises to be a great defensive front for the Mississippi State Bulldogs this season. Sweat led the SEC in both sacks (10.5) and TFLs (15.5) in 2017. He was named to the 2017 All-SEC First Team defense and has several pre-season All-American accolades. He recorded 48 tackles last year and four QBHs.
Sweat spent the 2014 season at Michigan State before transferring to Starkville. At 6’6″, 241 lbs., he’s a little under the ideal weight for a defensive end, especially in a Bob Shoop coached defense. He’ll have to adjust a little with the coaching change, but he has the physical gifts to get it done. And the numbers don’t lie. Mississippi State will surprise people this season, and Sweat will be one of the key reasons why.
2. Jeffery Simmons, Junior, Mississippi State
Sweat’s defensive line teammate comes in at second on our list. Jeffery Simmons had a monster 2017 season, recording 60 tackles from the interior line, 12.0 TFLs, and 5.0 sacks. Simmons, another of these SEC defensive line freakishly gifted athletes, also had one pass break-up, five QBHs, two forced fumbles, and three kick/punt blocks. He had two touchdowns, one on a punt block recovery and the other a 90-yard fumble return. At a massive 6’4″, 305 lbs. you can imagine the oxygen take was reserved for him when he got to the sideline.
Simmons, like Beckner, is another player that’s had to deal with off-the-field issues. The only noise he’s made since getting to Starkville has been due to his performance, though, and, again like Beckner, seems to be putting aside any residual doubts about his character. Like Sweat, Simmons was a 2017 All-SEC selection, and has numerous Pre-Season All-American mentions.
Unlike Sweat, Simmons is perfectly suited for the next level. If he repeats his performance this season, he’ll be a likely first round candidate for the 2019 NFL Draft if he chooses to forego his senior season at Mississippi State.
1. Raekwon Davis, Junior, Alabama
You didn’t think we could have a top five returning SEC defensive linemen in 2018 without having an Alabama Crimson Tide player on the list, did you? Raekwon Davis is this year’s installment of the Nick Saban project. Davis led all SEC defensive linemen in 2017 with 69 total tackles. He added 10.0 TFLs and 8.5 sacks. That’s on a defense that saw eight players–EIGHT PLAYERS–drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft. He added an interception and two QBHs to his gaudy numbers.
It’s hard to get those stats when you’re surrounded by the rest of the Alabama defense. Davis used his incredible athleticism and his massive frame to stymie opponents’ rushing attacks. His size, combined with his wingspan, strength, and speed make him a freakishly talented athlete. He was also a First Team All-SEC selection last season and is on multiple Pre-Season All-American teams. With the departure of Da’Shawn Hand and Da’Ron Payne, there’s going to be a lot more tackles, TFLs, and sacks available for Davis this season. Expect to see an All-American performance by the Crimson Tide’s latest defensive line beast.
Cece Jefferson, Florida: A constant and mainstay for Florida for three years; April shoulder surgery might cause some concern.
Marlon Davidson, Auburn: He’d be a top five in any other conference; a true indication of the depth of talent at defensive line in the SEC.
Isaiah Buggs, Alabama: On that defense, anyone could wind up being a star.
See our ranking of the Top Five Returning SEC Quarterbacks
Embed from Getty Images