The SEC has established itself as the premier defensive league in college football, and that includes stopping the pass. Three of the top 10 and six of the top 30 passing defenses nationally in 2015 played in the conference.
Great passing defenses are more than just one player or position group. The defensive backs and defensive linemen must work in unison to take away opportunities. The elite recruiting classes SEC teams put together allow them to do just that.
Several of the top defensive playmakers from last season are gone to the NFL. Regardless, here are five teams whose pass defenses should stand above the rest this season.
The Bulldogs quietly put together the best pass defense in the country last season. Realistically speaking, there is almost no way Georgia allows just 156.5 passing yards per game again, even with rising defensive minds Kirby Smart and Jeremy Pruitt taking over in Athens. After the success last season, this ranking is somewhat based on reputation.
While the numbers might not be as impressive, Georgia still has plenty of talent to keep things going. Safety Dominick Sanders is the star of the unit, but all four defensive backs are upperclassmen. The questions more come in the front seven, which Georgia must almost completely replace. Stars must emerge, and soon.
The gold standard for defensive football brings back another strong group to try and defend the SEC and national championships. LB Tim Williams and DL Jonathan Allen are two of the most disruptive playmakers in the nation. The secondary must withstand the loss of CB Cyrus Jones, but Eddie Jackson will help lead a talented unit.
Surprisingly, the Crimson Tide ranked sixth in the SEC in passing yards allowed per game last season. However, while the numbers are somewhat underwhelming, they must be contextualized. Teams pass more when down, and many teams trailed the 14-1 Crimson Tide. And Clemson QB Deshaun Watson’s performance in the national title game — he threw for 405 yards — was enough to drop Alabama from No. 17 to No. 30 nationally in pass defense. He was that good.
While Will Muschamp had his shortcomings in Gainesville, he sure knew how to recruit defensive players. The Gators have compiled an impressive group of prospects, both on the defensive line and in the secondary. Florida had a pair of defensive backs selected in the first round of the NFL draft and four defensive players picked in the first four rounds.
Even with so many players gone to the NFL, plenty of elite talent returns to the field in 2016. CB Jalen Tabor has the talent to be every bit as good this season as first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves was. Quincy Wilson joins Tabor to form one of the best cornerback pairings in football. There are just enough talented playmakers on the line to give defensive backs time to make plays. This should once again be one of the most disruptive pass defenses in football.
4. Texas A&M
It flew under the radar, but the Aggies quietly had one of the top five pass defenses nationally last season. With DEs Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall anchoring the defensive line, Texas A&M does a stellar job of making life difficult for opposing quarterbacks. The secondary, already featuring standout safety Armani Watts, could get better with the acquisition of CB Priest Willis, a transfer from UCLA.
While the Aggies continue to build on defense, some of the passing defense numbers also have to do with Texas A&M’s struggles against the run. The Aggies posted the nation’s No. 107 rush defense last season, giving up 213.7 rushing yards per game. With a year of development, the Aggies might be able to improve in both areas.
While things fell apart in Missouri last season, the defense continued to be its usual elite self. That should only continue as former Mizzou linebacker Barry Odom takes over the program. Defensive end Charles Harris is one of the top returning players in the conference and will only be aided by the return of Harold Brantley.
The secondary is not outstanding, but boasts four upperclassmen in the lineup. FS Anthony Sherrils and CB Aarion Penton are the standouts. The pair combined for 14 pass breakups last season, and both ranked among the top five players in tackles. Between consistent defensive back play and stellar performance in the trenches, Missouri should once against feature an elite defense.