While quarterback play may be down for many teams across the SEC, the league possesses some standout defenses that have already stolen the show in some big games. Below is a breakdown of 10 players who are on track to contend for SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors:
- Myles Garrett, DL, Texas A&M: Garrett leads the SEC in sacks (6.5) and is tied for the third-most tackles for loss (7.5). With the Aggies’ trailing Arkansas in the fourth quarter last weekend, he produced a game-changing strip-sack that potentially saved their season. What else can be said? His talent coming off the edge is fearsome and few can match it.
- Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss: If only offensive play counted on this list (it doesn’t). As far as Nkemdiche’s defense is concerned, he put forth an excellent effort against Alabama and is even more of a freak-talent than Garrett. But his resume lacks the consistent week-to-week performance of the man above him.
- Vernon Hargreaves III, DB, Florida: His current injury concerns knock him down a peg for now, but a healthy Hargreaves is no doubt the best cornerback in the SEC. His role is crucial for the Gators defense.
- Jordan Jenkins, LB, UGA: Once a heralded 5-star prospect, Jenkins’ performance at the college level — fairly or not — has always been compared to that lofty potential. This year, the senior seems poised to quiet those detractors. Through four games, he has 23 tackles, three sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries for a strong UGA unit.
- Johnathan Bullard, DL, Florida: All aboard the Bullard train. The senior has four sacks and eight tackles for loss through four games and gives the Gators exactly what they need to maintain the physical fronts that Will Muschamp oversaw in his years there. Like Garrett and Nkemdiche, Bullard played the best in his team’s biggest game — last Saturday’s win over Tennessee.
- Kentrell Brothers, LB, Missouri: Coach Gary Pinkel has overseen some fearsome front sevens in his time at Missouri, and Brothers looks like the latest in a long line of playmakers. Whether injury sidelines him against South Carolina this weekend could affect his chances at winning postseason awards.
- Leonard Floyd, LB, UGA: Floyd’s versatility has been vital for the Dawgs. Whether defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt rushes Floyd off the edge or shifts him inside, the junior’s talent is undeniable, and it should make him a first-round pick in the NFL draft.
- Skai Moore, LB, South Carolina: Overshadowed by the Gamecocks’ 2-2 start has been the excellent play of Moore, who has averaged 10 tackles per game to go along with three interceptions. His move from middle linebacker to the weakside last Saturday clearly did not hinder his abilities.
- Cam Sutton, DB, Tennessee: The junior from Jonesboro, Ga., comes off an excellent 2014 campaign that saw him tally 13 pass deflections. But a lot is asked of him in the Vols’ defense, and he may not be able to handle it with the unit thinned around him by injury.
- Richie Brown, LB, Mississippi State: A first-year starter, Brown burst onto the scene this Saturday by recording 13 tackles, including three for loss, and a pair of sacks against Auburn. The junior also recorded 11 tackles in each of the team’s first two games and has played an integral role for a stingy Bulldogs defense (14.8 points allowed per game).
- Johnathan Allen, DL, Alabama (turnovers and fluky touchdowns aside, Ole Miss dropping 43 makes it harder to give the Tide credit)
- Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama (see above)
- Tony Conner, DB, Ole Miss (will miss four weeks with a meniscus tear)