SEC teams look to find defensive stoppers after draft exodus

This weeks NFL draft showcases some of the Southeastern Conferences top defensive players from a year ago.

It also is a window into the SECs challenges this year.

Last years featured six defensive linemen or linebackers from the SEC: Alabamas Quinnen Williams, Kentuckys Josh Allen, LSUs Devin White, Mississippi State teammates Montez Sweat and Jeffery Simmons and Floridas Jachai Polite. All of them left for the NFL.

Now a conference that prides itself on producing great defensive linemen and linebackers must find candidates to replace all the guys entering the pros. Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt doesnt expect that to be a major problem.

There wont be a drop-off of defensive in this league, said Pruitt, a former Alabama defensive coordinator. Guys in this league recruit too well. Lots of teams have depth, so theres always elite pass rushers in this league.

The SECs definitely losing some elite defenders. ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay did a last week that had Allen, Williams, White and Sweat all getting taken within the first eight overall picks and Simmons going later in the first round.

But theres still plenty of talent left.

Alabamas Raekwon Davis and Auburns Derrick Brown earned last season. The two linemen enter the summer as legitimate All-America candidates as they attempt to lead their teams.

Thats the whole reason I came back, to teach the younger guys and just help the team (as much) as I can, to the best of my ability, Davis said.

Tennessee outside linebacker Darrell Taylor had eight sacks in 2018 – the most of any returning SEC player – but must get more consistent after collecting seven of those sacks in just two games. Texas A&M returns Justin Madubuike, who had 10 ½ tackles for loss and 5 ½ sacks last year.

According to composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports, Georgia signed the nations in outside linebacker Nolan Smith and the No. 1 in outside linebacker Jermaine Johnson. Missouris Jordan Elliott is another player to watch.

The SEC also should get breakthrough seasons from plenty of pass rushers who havent yet made names for themselves. That happens just about every year in the SEC.

The biggest thing that sticks out in the SEC on the front four is the athleticism, Mississippi State coach Joe Moorhead said. On a consistent basis, there are guys who can stop the run, rush the passer and do some unique things from a blend of size and skill that you dont find many other places.

Here are some other SEC stories to watch.


Nobody in the SEC had to worry about adjusting to a new head coach this spring. After five of the leagues 14 members had new coaches in 2018, this offseason. This shapes up as the first season since 2006 in which the SEC has no first-year coaches.


Alabama and Georgia faced off in last seasons after the Crimson Tide edged the Bulldogs in the a year earlier. Those two teams could meet in December again this season as theyll head into the fall as clear favorites in their respective divisions.


Every team in the SEC East has a quarterback who has started at least 13 games. Returning starters in the East include South Carolinas Jake Bentley (32 career starts), Georgias Jake Fromm (28), Floridas Feleipe Franks (21) and Kentuckys Terry Wilson (13). Missouris top candidate to replace four-year starter Drew Lock is Kelly Bryant, who started 18 games at Clemson.

Ball State graduate transfer Riley Neal, who made 32 starts at his former school, is competing with Deuce Wallace for the right to take over for four-year starter Kyle Shurmur at Vanderbilt.


With so many experienced quarterbacks in the East, most of the notable quarterback competitions are in the West.

has freshman early enrollee Bo Nix and Joey Gatewood seeking the job. Mississippi State is choosing between Keytaon Thompson and Jalen Mayden. worked out with Arkansas this spring and will receive a challenge from Texas A&M transfer Nick Starkel this summer.


during the offseason.

by bringing in former Power Five head coaches Rich Rodriguez as offensive coordinator and Mike MacIntyre as defensive coordinator. Alabama brought back former Washington and Southern California coach as offensive coordinator. Former Georgia offensive coordinator at Tennessee.

AP sports writer David Brandt in Starkville, Mississippi, contributed to this report.

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