SEC Football: Projecting the Top Defensive Studs for Next Season

Ian HanfordFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2012

JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 27:  Matt Elam #22 of the Florida Gators warms up prior to the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at EverBank Field on October 27, 2012 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

The SEC is widely considered the best conference in college football for a reason, and it's not the offensive skill players.

It's the defenses. SEC teams frequently play knock-'em-down, drag-'em-out games where neither offenses can muster much of anything, and that's because of the talent on the defensive side of the ball.

Of those players, a few stand out. They may have enjoyed a huge 2012 season, or they could be due for a major year. Either way, you will be hearing from these dynamic athletes in 2013.


Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina

Let's get the obvious out of the way first. Clowney is a man child. He terrorized opposing offensive linemen last season, and he will do the same in 2013 without question.

Clowney racked up 50 tackles, 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for a loss this season. He even forced two fumbles. There's really nothing that this kid cannot do.

At 6'6'', 256 pounds, Clowney is a physical specimen on the edge. He's strong against the run, but getting after the quarterback is his strongest suit. He's built for it, and he has the tools necessary to succeed in college, and in the NFL, for a very long time.

Offenses game-plan for him for a reason. He's capable of changing the game all by himself, whether it be via sack or simply a big tackle. 

NFL scouts drool over Clowney for a reason. He has everything you could possibly want in a defensive end, and he will destroy offensive tackles next season.

Matt Elam, S, Florida

Elam could enter the 2013 NFL draft and be one of the top safeties selected, but it doesn't appear that he's going to do that according to reporter Andrew Spivey.

If he comes back, look out. He's one of the best safeties in the country because of his ability to defend the pass. He had four interceptions, placing him in the top five of the SEC, although his 65 tackles (10 for a loss) also showcase his ability to play in the box.

Elam only stands 5'10'', but he's strong. Add in his experience and the fact that he's a fearless player, and you have yourself a legitimate contender for SEC Defensive Player of the Year.

The Gators have a ton of talent coming back on defense next season, but Elam will be the pulse of the unit if he decides to return. 


Jelani Jenkins, LB, Florida

Jenkins didn't put up great numbers this season with the Gators, but he's still one of the nation's most-talented linebackers. 

Fans need to remember that he was hurt for part of the season. This will cause him to be motivated next season as he looks to end his career on a high note. With his talent, he doesn't need extra motivation to perform at a high level.

Jenkins is short, so he struggles in pass coverage, but he's a stout run stopper. He's an aggressive tackler at the point of attack, and he possesses excellent instincts to go with it.

The Gators' defense is going to be elite again next season, and a lot of that has to do with Elam and Jenkins. 

If Jenkins is healthy though, he's the real difference maker here.