[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with the 3-Point Stance looking at defensive tiers in the SEC, the best EDGE recruiting programs in recent years, and Group of Five EDGE rushers to keep an eye on.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]— Let’s keep breaking down the defense in the Power Five, continuing with the SEC.
Elite: Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M
Would you expect anything less from Alabama? Will Anderson isn't just the best player at his position in college football - he's the best player regardless of position. Anderson is surrounded by five-star talent at every level, including fellow edge rusher Dallas Turner, who is poised for a huge sophomore season. The addition of Eli Ricks to an already loaded defensive backfield gives the Crimson Tide an embarrassment of riches on the back end.
The reigning national champions may not have a unit quite on par with last year's legendary group, but they're still going to be among the best in the nation. As he showed in the national title game, Kelee Ringo is a lockdown cornerback, and he returns in a defensive backfield that has another potential all-American in Christopher Smith. Nolan Smith should be near the top of the national leaderboard in sacks this season, but all eyes will be on Jalen Carter. He's widely considered to be one of the top non-QB prospects in this year's draft, and expectations are through the roof.
The Aggies also lost their fair share of talent, but they're still loaded, starting in the defensive backfield. Antonio Johnson is among the best DBs in the nation, and Demani Richardson is excellent in his own right. Up front, Shermar Turner is a breakout candidate as a sophomore, and five-star true freshman Walter Nolen is the real deal. There's too much talent on this roster for them to be anything less than very good.
Good but not Great: Florida, Auburn, LSU, Tennessee
There are a lot of pieces to like for the Gators, but the biggest addition might be the subtraction of Todd Grantham from the equation. Up front, Brenton Cox Jr. on the outside and Gervon Dexter on the inside should both be able to generate a consistent pass rush, while Ventrell Miller leads a veteran linebacking corps. There are a couple more questions on the back end - especially at safety - but with new co-coordinators Patrick Toney and Sean Spencer, they should be in a much better place than last season.
The Auburn defense, for the most part, has weathered the storm that has engulfed the program. So while other units may be suffering, the Tigers are in relatively good shape, especially in the defensive backfield. Zion Puckett, Nehemiah Pritchett, and Donovan Kaufman all return, and they added Iowa State transfer Craig McDonald, so they should be more than solid on the back end. Derick Hall, Colby Wooden, and Eku Leota are all back after finishing as their three leading pass rushers last season. If Oregon transfer Jayson Jones can consistently occupy multiple blockers, they can be a very good unit.
There's a lot of talent on the LSU roster, and if it all gels, they could be outstanding. BJ Ogulari and a fully healthy Ali Gaye are a great combo on the edge, and the interior of their line is even better. Maason Smith, Jaquelin Roy, and Missouri transfer Mekhi Wingo are as good a defensive line rotation as you'll find. The defensive backfield is in more of a state of flux, with the two-deep littered with talented transfers. There's enough talent, especially up front, that they should be able to compete with almost anyone
I'm generally high on Tennessee, and that extends to the defense, especially up front. Byron Young and Tyler Baron can both get into the backfield with ease, and Omari Thomas occupies blockers really well. Jeremy Banks is equally at home off the edge and in coverage and is one of the rangiest linebackers in the game. Trevon Flowers leads a secondary that will have to rebuild without Theo Jackson, but should still be at least league average.
That'll Do: Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina
The Razorbacks are right on the border between tiers two and three, but I'm keeping them down because of questions against the pass. They bring back standout Jalen Catalon as well as corner Hudson Clark, but the rest of the defensive backfield is in flux. Bumper Pool is one of the best linebackers in the conference, and the addition of former Alabama LB Drew Sanders should help that unit. Eric Gregory and Zach Williams struggled to get any sort of consistent pass rush last season, and I see that as their ultimate Achilles heel.
Lane Kiffin hit the portal hard this offseason, and he really needed to on defense, bringing in a lot of guys who can get to the passer. Khari Coleman (TCU) and Jared Ivey (Georgia Tech) join Cedrick Johnson on the edge, while JJ Pegues (Auburn) helps fill in the gap in the middle. Transfer LB Troy Brown (Central Michigan) is expected to step in for the departed Chance Campbell, while they bring back a handful of experienced defensive backs, most notably Otis Reese. With so many transfers coming in, there's a really high ceiling for this unit but also a very low basement, which is why I'm leaving them in tier three at least for the moment.
As opposed to their in-state rivals, the Bulldogs have a much higher basement, but a much more limited ceiling. They get back most of their front seven, including linebackers Nathaniel Watson, Jett Johnson, and Tyrus Wheat, but are inexperienced on the back end, which is a killer in today's SEC. They'll lean on Decamerion Richardson a lot, but that's going to be the group that holds this unit back.
The Wildcats are always going to be intriguing as always, but they're lacking a pass rusher to replace Josh Paschal. They've got some really good space eaters up front in Tre'vonn Rybka, Justin Rogers, and Octavious Oxendine, but it's unclear who's going to get after the quarterback outside of JJ Weaver. Safety is in good hands, but corner is pretty unproven. They could definitely be tier two midway through the season, but I'll start them here.
Mizzou gets back eight starters and should be at least competent in most facets of their game, but no one is going to mistake them for elite anytime soon. Trajan Jeffcoat and Isaiah McGuire are a solid pair at defensive end, and Florida transfer Ty'Ron Hopper should be league average at minimum at middle linebacker. But they'll struggle on the back end.
The Gamecocks really struggled against the run last season, and it's tough to see how they're going to improve drastically in that category. Linebackers Sherrod Greene and Brad Johnson are good options off the ball, and Zacch Pickens can hold his own up front. But they need Central Michigan transfer Devonni Reed to get up to speed quickly.
Cross Your Fingers and Pray: Vanderbilt
The 'Dores are simply bereft of talent at every level. Linebacker Anfernee Orji is the only true playmaker on the front seven, and it will be tough sledding. Maxwell Worship is a solid safety, but the defensive backs simply have to do too much with their lack of a pass rush.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]— Pressure off the edge is crucial and these teams recruit it the best currently and in recent years. This is about recruitment and not development and includes the transfer portal.
1. Ohio State
— No debate from the Bosa brothers to Chase Young to current players like Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau the Buckeyes rule the world.
— Will Anderson and Dallas Turner are hard to beat and this goes back to Jonathan Allen if you want to reach that far back. And it just continues.
3. Texas A&M
— The recent haul at DE puts them this high and their success can go back to Myles Garrett and others if you want.
— Few teams recruit players who dominate in space as well as UGA and Nolan Smith is the next great one
— This was a debate between Clemson and a few others but they continually recruit high 4 stars and 5 stars at the position with Myles Murphy the latest example.[/vc_column_text][vc_separator][vc_column_text]— And these EDGE rushers from the Group of Five will make some noise this season.
1. Andre Carter, Army
— Okay they aren’t technically Group of Five as an FBS independent, but I had to include one of the top 10 pass rushers in the country.
2. Josiah Stewart, Coastal Carolina
— Stewart put up monster numbers last season with 13 sacks and 16 tackles for a loss.
3. Devere Levelston, SMU
— 6.5 sacks last year will be double digits this season.
4. Nick Hampton, Appalachian State
— he had double digit sacks and tackles for a loss last season.
5. Javon Solomon, Troy
— He’s a guided missile and had double digit sacks last season.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]