Earlier today, we looked at the best front sevens in the SEC. Now, we’ll take look at the best front linebackers and defensive linemen in the conference.
1. Arden Key, LSU, OLB: No Myles Garrett? No Jonathan Allen or Derek Barnett? No problem. Leave it to Key to take the mantel of the SEC’s most fearsome pass-rusher after racking up a dozen sacks as a sophomore. His absence from the spring for "personal reasons" was a concern, but LSU coach Ed Orgeron told reporters at the SEC's Spring Meetings that he expects Key back in school soon.
2. Da'Ron Payne, Alabama, DT: Don’t worry about his lack of sacks or tackles. Just watch the tape. The mountain of a man is the heart and soul of Alabama’s defense, clogging the middle, taking on multiple blockers and showing surprising quickness in pass-rushing situations. It won't be long before he's being talked about as a potential first-round pick in the NFL draft.
3. Jordan Jones, Kentucky, LB: You might have missed it, but Jones quietly emerged as one of the best linebackers in the SEC as a sophomore, racking up 109 tackles, including 15.5 for a loss.
4. Marquis Haynes, Ole Miss, DE: Like Key, Haynes is a tad undersized to be thought of as a true defensive end. But whatever he lacks in weight, he more than makes up for in quickness with 24.5 sacks in three seasons. Haynes could have tried his hand in the NFL but decided to return for his senior season.
5. Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama, LB: Looking for the next great Alabama middle linebacker? Look no further than Hamilton, who actually started alongside Reuben Foster at linebacker last season. An injury cut short Hamilton’s junior year, but he returns as one of the most experienced players on the Tide defense.