Ranking the SEC defensive tackles

We take a look at the interior players on the defensive line next. The frightening thing about this area is that there is a lot of young talent that could be just as good as the veterans around the league.

That just goes to show you how good the recruiting is in this league. There are a couple of junior college players who could also make instant impacts on SEC lines in this league.

Here’s a look at some of the big fellas in the middle:

1. Jaye Howard, Florida, Sr.: Howard has never wowed people with his stats, but when he’s playing to his potential, he’s one of the toughest interior linemen to stop in this league. The athletic 300-plus-pounder is already a top NFL draft prospect at tackle. He had just 29 tackles and three sacks in 2010, but would have added to that had he not suffered a nagging ankle injury. He had his ankle cleaned out this spring and should be back to full strength for two-a-days.

2. Malik Jackson, Tennessee, Sr.: Jackson will be the center of attention on Tennessee’s line. He’s not only talented but he makes those around him better, and the Vols’ line should greatly improve around him. Jackson had 48 tackles and five sacks a year ago after transferring from USC and making the switch from end to tackle.

3. Fletcher Cox, Mississippi State, Jr.: Cox started four games as a freshman and was a staple on the defensive front last season for the Bulldogs. He managed 29 tackles and 2.5 sacks and improved even more during the spring. Cox had a solid spring and looks to be even more of a force in the middle this fall.

4. John Jenkins, Georgia, Jr.: Jenkins has resided in the JUCO world for the past two years, but he arrives at Georgia as someone expected to have a profound influence on the Bulldogs’ defense. He’s perfect for Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense and will be immediately thrown into the noseguard battle. At 6-foot-4, 340 pounds, Jenkins will be a player who stuffs the run and collapses the pocket.

5. Josh Chapman, Alabama, Sr.: He’s the anchor on the line and started 12 games a year ago after backing up and learning a lot from Terrence Cody in 2009. He’s not as big, but he’s more athletic than Cody and improved his strength this spring. Chapman enters the fall as the Tide’s most-experienced lineman.

6. Travian Robertson, South Carolina, Sr.: Robertson returned in 2010 after a season-ending knee injury cost him most of 2009. All Robertson did was record 42 tackles, including 10 for loss and four sacks. He’s become more of a leader on defense and should improve on his solid numbers from a year ago.

7. Josh Boyd, Mississippi State, Jr.: Boyd is the second part of Mississippi State’s talented duo in the middle. He was right behind Cox with 24 tackles and also had 2.5 sacks. Boyd has been a tremendous player since his freshman year and seemed to grow even more throughout the spring.

8. Sharrif Floyd, Florida, So.: Floyd was the most consistent of Florida’s much-heralded freshmen defensive linemen last season. The thing is that he could have been even better, but it took him some time to adjust to the college game. He’ll battle for time at noseguard when Florida is in the 3-4 and will be a regular on the line when the Gators go back to the 4-3.

9. Ego Ferguson, LSU, Fr.: He redshirted last season, but people on the Bayou expect him to be a big-time player this fall. He has tremendous size and strength and should be an excellent run-stopper in the middle. His spot in the middle hasn’t been guaranteed, but it will be hard to keep him out of the lineup.

10. Robert Thomas, Arkansas, So.: Sure, Thomas has yet to play a down of SEC football, but coach Bobby Petrino said this spring that Thomas might be the most-talented player in the middle for the Hogs. Thomas had 48 tackles, including 15 for loss, and 4.5 sacks as a JUCO standout last year. The coaches gushed over his athleticism after he took advantage of the reps he got with Byran Jones and DeQuinta Jones injured this spring.