Last week, we looked at the best offensive position groups in the conference. Starting with the front seven today, we begin examining the defense.
Best of the best: Granted, Alabama’s front seven probably won’t be as good as it was the last two seasons. And how could it with the likes of Jonathan Allen, A'Shawn Robinson and Reuben Foster gone? But even after losing that much talent and even accounting for a slight dip in production, it’s hard to find a better group than what Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will have to work with. Nose guard Da'Ron Payne is one of the most underrated linemen in college football, and defensive end Da'Shawn Hand seems poised to live up to his five-star hype as a senior. With Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion Hamilton back at linebacker, there’s plenty to like about the Tide’s returning starters, not to mention emerging young talents like Terrell Hall, Anfernee Jennings and Dylan Moses.
Next in line: Alabama and LSU as the No. 1 and 2 front sevens in the SEC? I’m sure no one would have guessed that. In what’s become a familiar refrain for the past decade in the conference, expect LSU to have one of the best defenses in the conference, especially up front. With Arden Key apparently back in the fold, the Tigers have one of the best pass-rushers in the country to go along with seasoned vets Christian LaCouture and Greg Gilmore. While losing Tashawn Bower, Kendell Beckwith and Duke Riley certainly hurts, expect the usual influx of talent into Baton Rouge with Tyler Shelvin and K'Lavon Chaisson as former ESPN 300 players poised to contribute early on.
Don’t sleep on: The Florida-Georgia rivalry is one of the best in the SEC, and the winner could be decided by the team with the best front seven. The Bulldogs have the most experience returning with all seven starters potentially back, including future pros Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy. The one question mark, however, is defensive tackle Trenton Thompson, who withdrew from classes during the spring after an overnight hospitalization. The Gators, on the other hand, have to withstand the loss of star linebacker Jarrad Davis and star defensive lineman Caleb Brantley. Cece Jefferson is back, though, and much is expected of Taven Bryan and Jordan Sherit.