SEC Football: Examining Conference's Best Players Thus Far in 2012

Stephen Sheehan@@StephenPSheehanCorrespondent IOctober 29, 2012

Jadeveon Clowney simply can't be blocked.
Jadeveon Clowney simply can't be blocked.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

There's the SEC, and then everyone else. 

With five teams in the Top 10 of the AP Top 25 poll, the premier conference in college football has maintained its dominance in 2012, and much of that has to do with its glut of future NFL stars. 

In a league littered with premier pass-rushers, punishing linebackers, burly offensive linemen and speedy tailbacks, it's hard to find a team without a bunch of potential first-round picks in its starting lineup. 

When searching for the conference's best players thus far in 2012, it's impossible to miss the 6'6" Jadeveon Clowney. 

Ever since the day he signed with the South Carolina Gamecocks, the former No. 1 overall recruit has made it his mission to terrorize college quarterbacks. 

Just a year and a half into his collegiate career, call it mission complete. 

After earning SEC Freshman of the Year honors with 36 tackles, eight sacks and five forced fumbles, Clowney has taken his game to a new level this season. 

Now 256 pounds, the cat-quick defensive end has already matched last season's total of 12 tackles for loss while accumulating 6.5 sacks and 31 tackles. 

Unfortunately for the rest of the SEC, Clowney is just midway through his sophomore year, meaning he'll be punishing quarterbacks for at least another year. 

While Clowney wrecks havoc for the nation's No. 8 team (BCS), Jarvis Jones fills a similar role for No. 6 Georgia. 

Despite missing time with an ankle injury, Jones reminded everyone why he was an All-American selection last year in his first season with the Bulldogs. 

Just two days ago, the 6'3", 241-pound outside linebacker was the best player on the field in what was basically the SEC East title game between Georgia and Florida. 

Facing two talented tackles in Xavier Nixon and Chaz Green, Jones whipped the Gators for 13 tackles (4.5 for loss), three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. 

With 49 tackles, including 14.0 for loss, and 8.5 sacks in just six games, Jones is putting himself in the rare discussion to be a defensive player worthy of the Heisman Trophy. 

Believe it or not, a third pass-rusher makes the midseason list of the best players in the SEC. 

However, while LSU's pair of Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo are still first-round prospects, it's Texas A&M's Damontre Moore who's been the most productive defensive lineman so far. 

After posting 72 tackles and 8.5 sacks in 2011, the 6'4", 250-pounder has taken his game to new heights midway through the 2012 season. 

In eight games, the hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker has recorded 65 tackles, including 18.0 for loss, and an amazing 10.5 sacks. 

Moore's ascension has helped ease the Aggies' transition to the SEC, as they check in at No. 16 in the BCS rankings.

Flipping to the other side of the ball, the SEC is built upon one staple: running the ball.

In order to get the ground game going, you need strong play up front, and no offensive lineman has been more dominant than Alabama's Chance Warmack.

Although he plays on a line featuring more recognizable guys like Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker, it's Warmack who's carried the Tide.

The 6'3", 322-pound left guard dominates at the point of attack, driving defenders downfield, opening holes for guys like T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy.

If Warmack finishes the season like he started, he'll be a rare first-round selection at guard.

While AJ McCarron has been typically efficient and turnover-free, he hasn't been the best quarterback in the SEC to this point. That honor belongs to freshman sensation Johnny Manziel.

Despite checking in at just 6'1", 200 pounds, Texas A&M's signal-caller is an incredible playmaker who's been a touchdown machine. 

The 19-year-old has already thrown for 2,216 yards and 16 touchdowns, but it's his legs that have wowed everyone. 

Manziel leads the entire conference in rushing yards (793) and touchdowns (13). 

The sky's the limit for this kid, and it'll be exciting to see whether he can duplicate his first-half success over the course of the season.