When you think of the SEC, you think of a hard-nosed, physical brand of football.
That physical nature is embodied in the conference annually by some of the nation’s best ballhawks. Whether it’s a player with the tenacity to be in the middle of seemingly every tackle or the skill to find any pass thrown in his area, there are always those SEC defenders players that show up play after play after play.
That shouldn’t change this fall as several upperclassmen have already established a reputation of making their presence felt from both a physical and statistical standpoint. Let’s take a look at the conference’s 10 top ballhawks entering 2016.
S Jamal Adams, LSU
Heading into his third season as a foundation piece of the LSU defense, Adams is certainly used to being in the mix of every play. The junior comes off a year that saw him rack up 67 tackles, five tackles for loss, four interceptions, six pass breakups and a forced fumble. Adams should be among the top safeties you’ll see anywhere this fall.
CB Jalen Tabor, Florida
Entering the season as arguably the SEC’s best cover corner, Tabor can also deliver some big blows. The 6-foot, 191 -pound defender totaled 40 tackles, four tackles for loss and one sack last season, but he also attacked the football in the air and finished with four interceptions and 14 pass breakups. He’ll be a vital piece to the Gators’ defensive success in 2016.
S Tony Conner, Ole Miss
Conner seems to be one of the SEC’s forgotten stars as he returns from an injury that caused him to miss eight games during his junior season. Conner has been among the conference’s best since he arrived in Oxford in 2013, and the Rebels will be happy to have him back on the field.
S Armani Watts, Texas A&M
It was hard to find a guy more involved on every tackle last season than Watts. The 5-foot-11, 200 pounder recorded 126 total tackles, six tackles for loss, an interception and two forced fumbles as a sophomore in 2016. It’s safe to say offensive coordinators will know exactly where Watts is lining up this fall.
S Eddie Jackson, Alabama
Jackson surprised many when he decided to stick around for his senior season, but it was opposing play-callers who were really disappointed in that news. Jackson showed off his skills weekly last season as he racked up 46 total tackles, three tackles for loss, six interceptions and a forced fumble.
LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Tennessee
It was hard to find a linebacker who flew around the field like Reeves-Maybin did last year. The versatile linebacker also surprised everyone by returning to the Vols, and he’ll look to build on what was already a big junior campaign. Reeves-Maybin had 105 total tackles, 14 tackles for loss, six sacks, four pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles in 2016.
S Dominick Sanders, UGA
Not many players had a nose for the football quite like Sanders did in 2015. Sanders tied Jackson for the SEC lead with six interceptions, while also posting 48 total tackles, five tackles for loss, one sack and six pass breakups. With Kirby Smart entering his first season as the Bulldogs’ coach, expect Sanders to be a focal point of the UGA defense this fall.
LB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
The biggest positive for Vanderbilt in 2015 was the play of its defense, and that was thanks in large part to Cunningham, who has a knack for finding the football. The rising junior totaled 103 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and three pass breakups last season. He’ll undoubtedly be relied upon heavily again by coach Derek Mason.
DB Donovan Wilson, Texas A&M
Another Aggies defender that will make Texas A&M a tough matchup this year will be Wilson. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound nickelback was all over the field last season, totaling 63 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, five interceptions and three forced fumbles. Needless to say, defensive coordinator John Chavis will relish another season with Wilson at his disposal.
S Marcus Maye, Florida
While Tabor may be the best cornerback in the SEC this season, Maye is still a vital piece of the Florida secondary entering 2016. The senior tallied 82 total tackles, two interceptions, six pass breakups, five forced fumbles and three quarterback hurries last season. Expect more of the same this fall from Maye.