Photo courtesy of South Carolina athletics
As we transition to the defensive side of our SEC “Buying Stock” series, we start up front.
Like most positions, some of the best defensive linemen in college football reside in the SEC every year. 2021 is no exception.
We kick this off with the SEC East:
In 2020, the Gators took a huge step back defensively. The defensive line was no exception. Opponent yards per rush rose from 3.2 to 4.6 from 2019 to 2020. While Florida did rank in the middle of the pack defensively, it was a very uncharacteristic year on that side of the ball.
Florida does lose two starters in Tedarrell Slaton and Kyree Campbell, but it hit the portal to bring in Antonio Shelton and Daquan Newkirk — both starters at their previous schools. To go along with that, the Gators also return Gervon Dexter and Zachary Carter. Both were starters at some point last season. Dexter was one of our breakout picks for 2021.
Despite losing two starters from a year ago, this is a group that gained valuable experience last year. The portal additions will come in and help right out of the gate.
Georgia’s defense gave up just 2.4 yards per rush in 2020, which is somehow slightly better than the 2.6 allowed in 2019. Even with the loss of Malik Herring to the NFL, you could argue that this group is the best in college football. Jordan Davis could’ve come out and been selected early in the 2021 NFL Draft, but decided to stay another year in Athens. Devontae Wyatt, Travon Walker, and Julian Rochester are three experienced guys who round out the top of the rotation; all three have been productive.
As usual, there are some young guys that give Georgia some quality depth. One of those is second-year defensive tackle Jalen Carter, who had a solid freshman season for the Bulldogs.
When you couple the experience at the top of the rotation with the embarrassment of riches behind them, you have a match made in heaven.
Kentucky ranked in the top half of the conference in major statistical categories defensively, but the defensive line takes a huge hit. Fortunately, Kentucky does return one of the best defensive ends in the conference in Josh Pascal. Kentucky loses two guys with starting experience this year, including Quinton Bohanna, who is now with the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys.
While Pascal anchors the edge, Kentucky will need to find someone to step up at defensive tackle. Marquan McCall is one of the obvious choices. He has played sparingly over the last three seasons and is seen as a plug-and-play guy. Outside of McCall, the Wildcats might have to rely on youth.
Pascal is a big-time player, but there are still some significant questions on the interior of the defensive line. For that reason, we’re selling.
Not only will the Missouri defensive line improve from 2020, but it could be one of the best in the conference.
Missouri was good up front last year, ranking in the middle of the SEC in opponents’ yards per carry. However, with three returning starters, the Tigers have the chance to go from good to great. This group is anchored at defensive end with Trajan Jeffcoat, who finished with six sacks last season on the way to an All-SEC first-team selection. Kobie Whiteside and Isaiah McGuire are the other two returning starters. Both have tons of experience and were also productive when it comes to sacks and tackles for loss.
Guys like Akial Byers, Darius Robinson, and Jatorian Hansford will all provide quality depth, with one of them likely emerging as a starter.
As far as defensive lines go, this could be the most experienced in the SEC.
South Carolina: Buying
Did this group live up to its potential last season? No, but that just means it had an offseason to learn from its mistakes, and still has a whole year of experience under its belt.
This group is anchored by Kingsley Enagbare, who was named to the All-SEC first team in 2020. Also, former 5-stars Zacch Pickens and Jordan Burch are both looking to take advantage of their elite skill-set and burst onto the scene in 2021.
South Carolina struggled to rush the passer last season outside of Enagbare. So what did the Gamecocks do? They went to the transfer portal and added Jordan Strachan from Georgia State — the FBS leader in sacks last season.
It might be a rough season when it comes to win-loss record in 2021 for South Carolina, but it has one of the best defensive lines in the conference on paper. Now, it’s about living up to the hype.
Like South Carolina, it will probably be a rough season for Tennessee. Still, there is reason to be optimistic about the defensive line.
Three starters return up front from a defense that limited opponents to less than four yards per carry. The Volunteers are confident that youngster Tyler Baron and junior college transfer Byron Young can provide a spark in the pass rush.
This group is blessed with three “super seniors” after having a big year last season. While the numbers might be worse thanks to losses at linebacker, the level of play from this group shouldn’t drop.
Vanderbilt Commodores: Selling
Vanderbilt returned loads of production last season up front. Naturally, it has lost a lot of talent this offseason, with none more notable than Dayo Odeyingo.
The lone returning starter is Rashaan Wilkins, who started all nine games at nose guard in 2020.
Will this group be better than it was in 2020? Well, it’s hard to be any worse. Still, it’s hard to buy this group.