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Michael Sam, Missouri
Season Stats: 45 tackles, 18.0 TFL, 10.5 sacks, 1 TD, 1 FR, 1 FF, 2 PBU
Sam's rise to prominence was a bit unexpected. More than doubling his stats from a year ago in nearly every important category, the redshirt senior from Hitchcock, Texas finds himself one of just five finalists for the coveted Nagurski Trophy.
Sam has caused havoc all year by bursting into the backfield to harry quarterbacks and tacklers alike. Rarely has there been a play for the Tigers that Sam hasn't been a part of. Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel will be hoping that another Missouri lineman will step up in 2014 like Sam did in 2013.
Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina
Season Stats: 36 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 1 FR, 3 QBH, 1 PBU
Quarles has enjoyed an outstanding junior season, establishing himself as Jadeveon Clowney's replacement as one of the premier pass rushers in the conference. With Sam graduating, Quarles will return as the SEC leader at the position, and you can bet his name will be in the mind of quarterbacks across the nation. That is, of course, assuming he returns for 2014.
Dee Ford, Auburn
Season Stats: 26 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 2 FF, 17 QBH, 1 PBU
Unlike Missouri's Michael Sam, Ford has long since created a name for himself. Ford is perhaps the SEC's most intangible player, despite his numbers. At 6'2" and 240 pounds, he uses his long arms and athleticism to help him into the backfield. He's helped Auburn survive the quality quarterbacks the Tigers have faced this season. Ford will graduate this season and is projected around the third round of the 2014 NFL draft by NFLdraftscout.com.
Chris Smith, Arkansas
Season Stats: 36 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 6 QBH, 1 FF, 1 PBU
Joining South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney as the only returning player to record at least nine sacks in 2012, Smith hasn't disappointed. Though his development is a bit stunted due to the team around him, Smith has become a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line. His departure will leave new head coach Bret Bielema needing to fill some mighty big shoes.