We’ve divided the defensive line into two categories -- ends and tackles. The more rankings the merrier, right?
First, we'll start with the defensive ends. The pass-rushers in the SEC are scary. You have to feel for the league quarterbacks when you look at the enormous talent flying off the edge in this conference.
It wasn't easy ranking these backfield harassers, but here goes:
1. Devin Taylor, South Carolina, Jr.: Taylor was a first-team All-SEC performer last season after leading the Gamecocks’ defensive linemen with 46 tackles and 12 for loss. He was fourth in the league with 7.5 sacks. Taylor is one of the more athletic ends in the league and his pass-rushing ability is just plain scary.
2. Jake Bequette, Arkansas, Sr.: He returns as Arkansas’ sack leader, after registering seven in 2010. Bequette harassed quarterbacks all last year, totaling five quarterback hurries and three pass breakups. He’s the heart of Arkansas’ defense and was one of the more unheralded defensive ends in 2010. Most in Fayetteville think he could be even better this fall.
3. Kentrell Lockett, Ole Miss, Sr.: Ole Miss got great news this spring when the NCAA granted Lockett a sixth year of eligibility for the fall. Even though he missed spring while recovering from his knee injury, he is already the Rebels’ best pass-rusher and will be leaned on to be Ole Miss’ emotional leader since D.T. Shackelford is out for the season.
4. Sam Montgomery, LSU, So.: He hasn’t played a ton at LSU, but the feeling coming out of Baton Rouge is that he has the talent to be one of the top ends in the SEC. A knee injury shortened his first year, but he regains his starting spot and is on a mission to show just how disruptive he can be this fall.
5. Melvin Ingram, South Carolina, Sr.: Ingram is someone who will frustrate opposing linemen with not only his tremendous skill but because he moves all over the place. He’s the inside man on passing downs, but he primarily plays outside. Still, he was third in the league and first for the Gamecocks with nine sacks last season.
6. Tenarius Wright, Arkansas, Jr.: Wright was Bequette’s partner in crime a year ago. He had 36 tackles, including eight for loss and six sacks in 2010. Oh, and he did all that without starting a game last season. Wright entered spring as the starter opposite Bequette and should make the Hogs’ pass rush one of the most intimidating in the league.
7. Corey Lemonier, Auburn, So.: Lemonier isn’t even a returning starter, but there is a ton of buzz surrounding him this offseason. He was one of the top end prospects coming out of high school a year ago and saw action in every game last fall, earning SEC All-Freshman honors. He’ll become more unpopular among SEC quarterbacks this fall.
8. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina, Fr.: Clowney makes our list as a true freshman because he’s got all the tools to be an immediate star in this league. Some feel he can start right away in Columbia and with his freakish ability, he could make an instant impact on the league. The No. 1 high school player in the country has everything needed to be a pain for tackles, but handling the hype is his first hurdle.
9. Damion Square, Alabama, Jr.: Square is two years removed from a severe knee injury, but he came back strong in 2010. The athletic lineman played in 13 games, making six starts and accumulating 27 tackles and three sacks. In Alabama’s 3-4, he’ll line up as an end and could have the makings for a breakout year.
10. DeAngelo Tyson, Georgia, Sr.: He’s moving from noseguard back to his natural position at end and should do fine in Todd Grantham’s 3-4. He was a little too small to be in the middle, but has nice quickness to be a nuisance for offensive linemen in his new home.