The SEC is loaded with defensive talent with each team fielding an elite playmaker on the defensive side of the ball heading into 2013. This is a look at the star defenders for each squad heading into the new year.
Guys like Jadeveon Clowney are headliners for the conference, but there are a host of others that have less star power that bring the same intensity and impact to the field on Saturdays.
Big hits and turnovers will follow these 14 players all season. Here is a look at each team’s top defender for 2013.
C.J. Mosley: LB, Alabama Crimson Tide
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
C.J. Mosley has been a starter for the Crimson Tide for the past three seasons at linebacker, and he heads into the new season as one of the best at his position in the country.
The Tide relies on strong linebacker play to carry the defense, and Mosley provides that type of play. Last season he finished with 107 total tackles and four sacks. He also added two interceptions to his stat line (via CFBStats.com).
Mosley was an All-American selection and an All-SEC performer last season (via Alabama Athletics) and will look to continue that trend this fall.
Combining a solid run-stopping linebacker with a talented pass defender is rare, but Mosley brings the best of both worlds to the field. He will finish this season as the most recognized linebacker out of the SEC.
Jermaine Whitehead: DB, Auburn Tigers
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
Jermaine Whitehead has been a jack-of-all-trades type player for the Auburn Tigers over the past two seasons.
He started his career at safety, but Whitehead has moved around to nickelback and cornerback during his short time on the Plains.
Last year Whitehead finished with 86 total tackles and five pass breakups (via CFBStats.com).
Heading into 2013 there are a lot of options for Whitehead. He can continue to progress as a safety, as a corner or as a hybrid player at the ‘Star’ position for the Tigers in the new 4-2-5 scheme.
Auburn has relied heavily on Whitehead over the past two years and that will continue in 2013.
Donnie Baggs, LB, Texas A&M Aggies
Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports
Donnie Baggs is a rising junior for the Aggies this year at the linebacker position.
He has played a limited role over the past two years, but this season the Aggies need Baggs to step up and lead the defense.
The Aggies lose a lot of star power at linebacker and Baggs is expected to step in and fill the void. Without a strong season from Baggs at linebacker, Texas A&M will struggle.
As a reserve in 2012, Baggs finished the year with 27 total tackles and 1.5 sacks (via CFBStats.com).
Denzel Nkemdiche: LB, Ole Miss Rebels
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Denzel Nkemdiche was the biggest surprise out of the SEC on the defensive side of the football.
The freshman linebacker came out of nowhere to lead the Rebels in tackles, and he was a freshman All-American selection at the end of the year (via Ole Miss Athletics). He finished with 82 total tackles, and 13 tackles for loss (via CFBStats.com).
His brother Robert received most of last year’s hype as a top defensive end recruit, but Denzel is the proven on-field commodity.
The Rebels defense will be in good hands with Nkemdiche roaming the middle third of the field this fall.
Jordan Jenkins: LB, Georgia Bulldogs
Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports
Last year the Bulldogs defense lost all-star Jarvis Jones to nagging injuries throughout the year. During his time on the sideline, Jordan Jenkins stepped up his game.
The then-freshman linebacker finished the year with 31 total tackles and five sacks (via CFBStats.com). He showed that he was ready for a starting position, and heading into the new year, he will be the leader for the Bulldogs defense.
Jenkins is a unique player for the Bulldogs. He has the body type to play defensive end, but he has the quickness and field vision to be an elite linebacker in the 3-4.
Before the year concludes, Jenkins will be a household name throughout SEC country.
Chase Garnham: LB, Vanderbilt Commodores
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Chase Garnham put together a masterful campaign at middle linebacker for the Commodores defense.
The Vanderbilt defense needs a solid presence from the middle and Garnham has filled that role well. Heading into 2013, he is the leader for the Commodores defense and one of the most talented linebackers in the SEC.
He finished his 2012 season with 84 tackles and 6.5 sacks (via CFBStats.com) helping the ‘Dores finish with the best season in modern school history.
This year the Commodores will be a major threat in the SEC East, and Garnham will be an essential part of that success.
Braylon Webb: S, Missouri Tigers
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
The Missouri Tigers stepped into a world of hurt during the first year in the SEC. One of the positives that came away from the many negatives was the play of Braylon Webb.
Webb is a rising junior this season and is looking to grow from his solid sophomore campaign. The Tigers struggled in pass defense last year, but with a year of experience, Webb will be able to help that problem dissipate in 2013.
This will be a much better year for the Tigers in the SEC, and it begins with the strong play and leadership of Webb. He has started 16 games for Missouri and will return as one of the most experienced players for the team.
That leadership and experience will be huge for this program moving into its second year in the toughest conference in the country.
Dominique Easley: DE, Florida Gators
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Heading into the 2013 season, Florida has one of the most dangerous defensive linemen in the country lining up in orange and blue.
Dominique Easley is a terror along the defensive line, and after injuries hampered his 2012 campaign, he is looking to return to dominance this fall.
Easley still managed 26 total tackles and four sacks last fall (via CFBStats.com) despite a nagging knee injury following him throughout the year.
The chance at the NFL was there this spring, but Easley decided to stick in Gainesville for one more season.
A.J. Turner: LB, Arkansas Razorbacks
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Arkansas is entering a new era of football with the hiring Bret Bielema during the offseason, and one of the staples of Bielema football is strong defense.
Last year, freshman A.J. Turner burst onto the scene for Arkansas and became a leader at linebacker landing 53 total tackles and one sack (via CFBStats.com) during a down year for Arkansas.
That production will only get better this fall for Turner as he rises to a leadership position with the defense. Arkansas is on the verge of a return to relevance this fall and Turner will help that happen.
Denico Autry: DE, Mississippi State Bulldogs
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Denico Autry came to Mississippi State as a dominate JUCO transfer along the defensive line.
Last year he jumped into the fold for the Bulldogs finishing with 42 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and four sacks (via CFBStats.com).
Autry has one more year with the Bulldogs, and he is expecting to take his game to the next level this fall. Look for Autry to be one of the best defenders in the SEC this fall and for him to lead the Bulldogs defense after a huge departure of talent after 2012.
For Mississippi State to challenge for the SEC title, the defensive line has to come to play every Saturday. Autry will ensure that happens in 2013.
Alvin Dupree: LB, Kentucky Wildcats
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Alvin Dupree is the Kentucky Wildcats' defensive highlight reel. After pulling off 91 tackles and 6.5 sacks last fall (via CFBStats.com), Dupree is the best defender for the Wildcats without question.
He has been a contributor for the defense since his true freshman season, and incoming defensive-minded head coach Mark Stoops has a lot of athleticism at his disposal with Dupree in the fold.
The Wildcats need a spark to help them climb from the bottom of the SEC and it starts with Dupree on defense. His leadership and ability will put the Wildcats back on the football map this fall.
Craig Loston: S, LSU Tigers
USA TODAY Sports
LSU had a mass exodus of talent after 2012 on defense, but luckily for the Tigers, Craig Loston decided to stick around for his senior season.
Last year Loston became a leader for the Tigers at safety, finishing the season with 55 tackles and three inteceptions (via CFBStats.com).
This year having a senior roam the secondary is huge for this defense. The Tigers need a vocal leader to help call the defense and Loston will be that player.
LSU is looking to battle for another trip to Atlanta to finish the year, and without Loston it wouldn’t be possible.
A.J. Johnson: LB, Tennessee Volunteers
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
The Tennessee defense has one of the conference's hidden gems at linebacker with A.J. Johnson. Johnson is one of the premier defenders in the league, finishing 2012 with 138 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and one sack (via CFBStats.com).
The Volunteers were bad a year ago, but one bright spot was the play of Johnson.
This season he will be the anchor for a defense looking for an identity. New head coach Butch Jones is bringing a new mentality to Knoxville, and winning is the only way.
Johnson will help the Vols become winners in the conference again and should be the next in line for All-American honors at linebacker out of the SEC.
Jadeveon Clowney: DE, South Carolina Gamecocks
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
If there is one player on this list that requires no introduction it is Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney is a Heisman candidate in 2013 and arguably the best defender in the country.
Last year Clowney finished with 54 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks (via CFBStats.com) despite playing through a foot injury for most of last year.
His power and athleticism make him a physical freak that must always be accounted for by opposing offenses.
This year he will be the premier defender out of the SEC for 2013.