SEC Football's Most Feared Defensive Beasts, Part 1: The Best of the West

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SEC Football's Most Feared Defensive Beasts, Part 1: The Best of the West
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Nick Fairley of Auburn has been a monster in the SEC.

The late, legendary coach of Alabama, Bear Bryant, once said, "Offense sells tickets, defense wins championships."  Bryant also quipped, "There's no substitute for guts."

These defensive beasts, who lack not for guts, seldom get the accolades or media coverage that they deserve, but play an instrumental role in the ultimate measure of success for their teams, wins.

It's no coincidence that the the top teams in the SEC, college football's most prestigious conference, typically have the best defenses in all of college football.

Here's a look at the most feared defensive players from the Western Division of the SEC.

 

BEST OF THE WEST

Alabama Crimson Tide (9-3, 5-3 SEC) - Defensive Coordinator - Kirby Smart

When the discussion about SEC defenses begins, Kirby Smart's bunch breaks the ice along with opposing offenses.  The highly talented Tide defense led the conference in total defense (296 ypg), first downs (15.5 pg), scoring defense (14 ppg) and red-zone defense (69%) in 2010.  Alabama finished number two in the league in pass defense (172 ypg) and fourth in rush defense (123 ypg).  Loaded with underclassmen, look for the 'Bama defensive unit to be back, bigger, badder and better in 2011.

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
#37 of Alabama, Robert Lester hauls in an interception against Mississippi State.

 

Courtney Upshaw - JR - Linebacker

BIO - #41 - 6'2" 263 from Eufaula, AL

The junior linebacker led all Tide defenders with five sacks and 11.5 tackles-for-loss (ninth in SEC) in 2010 and tied for second in the SEC with two forced fumbles.  Upshaw accounted for 47 tackles on the season and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week in week five.  Great news for Alabama fans as Upshaw has announced that he is returning for his senior season in 2011.

 

Robert Lester - SO - Defensive Back

BIO - #37 - 6'2" 206 from Foley, AL

The conference leader in interceptions with seven also tallied 47 tackles for the year from the defensive backfield.  Lester claimed both SEC Defensive Player of the Week and Bronko Nagurski Award National Defensive Player of the Week in week four of the 2010 season.  The Alabama sophomore added his second SEC Defensive POTW honor in week 11 for his outstanding game against Mississippi State.  Lester has been named to the second-team All-SEC defensive squads by both the SEC coaches and the AP.

 

Mark Barron - JR - Defensive Back

BIO - #4 - 6'2" 210 from Mobile AL

Known as "Superman" to teammates and foes alike, the speedy Barron runs a 4.5 in the 40 and led the Alabama defense with 75 tackles in 2010.  The Tide defensive back also chipped in with two quarterback sacks.  A consensus first-round draft pick when he declares for the NFL, the junior was on the preseason Jim Thorpe Award watch list and has been named to the first-team in both the AP and SEC coaches All-SEC defensive teams as well as the second team AP All American defense.

 

Marcell Dareus - JR - Defensive Lineman

BIO - #57 - 6'4" 306 from Huffman, AL

Projected to be a top ten pick in the NFL Draft, Dareus tallied 31 tackles, nine for loss and four sacks in 2010 despite missing the first two games of the season due to a suspension.  Number 57 is a monster at 300 plus pounds on his 6'4" frame.  The junior linebacker has been named to the first team on the  2010 All-SEC defensive team by the SEC coaches and to the second-team by the AP.  Dareus has also been named to the AP's third-team All American defensive unit.

 

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Dont'a Hightower bringing the heat on Jeremiah Masoli of Ole Miss.

Dont'a Hightower - JR - Linebacker

BIO - #30 - 6'4" 260 from Lewisburg, TN

The highly-touted linebacker was the Tide's second leading tackler in 2010 with 67.  The junior linebacker also added 3.5 tackles-for-loss and had eight quarterback hurries.  According to nfldraftbible.com Hightower is projected to be a second round pick if he declares for the 2011 NFL Draft.  Hightower has been named to the second-team on the 2010 All-SEC defensive team by both the SEC coaches and the AP.

 

Dre Kirkpatrick - SO - Defensive Back

BIO - #21 - 6'3" 190 from Gadsden, AL

A second team All-SEC selection by the SEC coaches, Kirkpatrick ranked fourth in the conference in passes defended per game and hauled in three interceptions in 2010.  Dre was fifth on the Tide defense with 50 tackles, four for loss.  The sophomore will build on the momentum from 2010 and will again be one of the most feared defensive backs in the conference in 2011.

 

Arkansas Razorbacks (10-2, 6-2 SEC) - Defensive Coordinator - Willy Robinson

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Jake Bequette and the Arkansas defense stopping the Aggies of Texas A&M.

The Razorback defense ranked fifth in the SEC in both total defense (340 ypg) and scoring defense (22.8 ppg) in 2010.  Arkansas finished fourth best against the pass, allowing just 182 yards-per-game but struggled against the run giving up 157 yards-per-game, besting only Kentucky and Vanderbilt in the conference.  The secondary hauled in 11 interceptions, good enough for seventh in the league.  The strength of the defense came in the form of pressuring the quarterback as their 37 sacks ranked second only to South Carolina's 39 and opponent's third down conversion rate of only 32 percent was the best in the conference.  Look for the Arkansas defense to be solid again in 2011.

 

Jake Bequette - JR - Defensive End

BIO - #91 - 6'5" 271 from Little Rock, AR

Bequette, a junior linebacker from Little Rock, led the Razorbacks with seven quarterback sacks (fifth in SEC) on his way to being named to the second-team All-SEC defensive unit by both the AP and the SEC coaches.  Jake also accounted for 31 tackles, including eight tackles-for-loss, five quarterback hurries and a forced fumble on the 2010 season.

 

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Jerry Franklin of Arkansas has been a menace to SEC quarterbacks.

Jerry Franklin - JR - Linebacker

BIO - #34 - 6'1" 241 from Marion, AR

Franklin led the Razorback defenders with 93 tackles (ninth in SEC), 12.5 tackles-for-loss (seventh in SEC) and 6.5 sacks (sixth in SEC).  Providing he returns for his senior season, Jerry will lead an experienced and talented Arkansas defense in 2011.  Franklin has been named to the second-team 2010 All-SEC defense as voted on by the SEC coaches.

 

Anthony Leon - SR - Linebacker

BIO - #1 - 6'4" 227 from Miami, Fl

Leon was the Razorback's fourth-leading tackler with 58 for the 2010 campaign.  The senior linebacker's 10.5 tackles-for-loss was good enough for third best on the stout Arkansas defense.  For good measure, Anthony also added 2.5 quarterback sacks.

 

Jerico Nelson - JR - Linebacker

BIO - #31 - 5'10" 205 from Destrehan, LA

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Tramain Thomas takes on Alabama's Mark Ingram.

Nelson was the second-leading tackler for the Razorbacks with 83 in 2010, including 11 tackles-for-loss.  The junior linebacker also contributed 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.  Jerico was named the SEC's Defensive Player of the Week in week 13 of the SEC season.

 

Tramain Thomas - JR - Safety

BIO - #5 - 6'0" 187 from Winnie, TX

Thomas led the Razorbacks with four interceptions (fifth in SEC) and his 71 tackles was good for third-best on Willy Robinson's defensive unit.  The junior safety also kicked in 4.5 tackles-for-loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in the 2010 season.  Tramain has been named to the AP's second-team All-SEC defense.

 

Auburn Tigers (12-0, 8-0 SEC) - Defensive Coordinator - Ted Roof

The defense was obviously not the strength of the BCS Championship bound Auburn Tigers, but in fairness to Ted Roof's unit, an offense that averaged 42.7 points-per-game is going to give their opponent plenty of opportunities to rack up some offensive numbers of their own.  The Tigers ranked eighth in scoring defense (24.5 ppg), ninth in total defense (362 ypg), eleventh in pass defense (250 ypg), eighth in interceptions with ten, but second in rushing defense (111.7 ypg) and third in sacks with 33.  Auburn had big-time leads in many of their games and forced the opposition to throw a lot in an attempt at a comeback.  The Auburn defense also gave up, by far, the most first downs of anyone in the conference with opponents gaining 276 for an average of 21.2 per game.  In the red zone, Tiger foes scored 87.5 percent of the time, only Kentucky and Ole Miss were worse.  Roof and company will have their work cut out for them in 2011 as they will lose their top three defensive players.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
AP first-team All-American Nick Fairley puts the crunch on Jordan Jefferson.

 

Nick Fairley - JR - Defensive Lineman

BIO - #90 - 6'5" 314 from Mobile, AL

The 2010 AP's SEC Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All American is truly "the" biggest and baddest defensive beast in the conference.  Fairley set an Auburn school-record while leading the SEC with 21 tackles-for-loss and 10.5 sacks, to go along with 55 total tackles, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and an interception.  During the regular season, big number 90 took home SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors a league-leading five times.  With the Lombardi Award already in hand, Fairley was also a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Chuck Bednarik Award, all handed out to the nation's top defensive player.

 

Josh Bynes - SR - Linebacker

BIO - #17 - 6'2" 239 from Lauderdale Lakes, FL

The senior linebacker led the Tiger's with 71 tackles in 2010, including 5.5 tackles-for-loss.  Bynes also added three interceptions, a sack, eight quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.  In week 3, Josh was named the SEC's Defensive Player of the Week and has also been named to the AP's  second-team All-SEC defensive unit.  Look for Bynes playing on Sundays next season in the NFL as he is projected to be a second round pick according to nfldraftbible.com.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Auburn's Antoine Carter in a cat fight with Clemson's Kyle Parker.

 

Antoine Carter - SR - Defensive End

BIO - #45 - 6'4" 260 from Fort Lauderdale, FL

Carter made the most of his 31 tackles, as ten were for losses totaling 50 yards.  An outstanding compliment to the AU defense, the senior also tallied 4.5 sacks, 17 quarterback hurries and forced two fumbles.  The defensive end has been named to the second-team All-SEC defense by the AP.

 

Neiko Thorpe - JR - Defensive Back

BIO - #15 - 6'2" 186 from Tucker, GA

The junior defensive back ranked third on the Tiger's defense with 66 tackles including a team-high 44 solo tackles.  Neiko led the secondary unit with nine pass breakups (second in SEC) and will be counted on in 2011 to help solidify a defense that is losing several of its key players.

 

LSU Tigers (10-2, 6-2 SEC) - Defensive Coordinator - John Chavis

Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Drake Nevis puts the crunch on Ryan Mallett of Arkansas.

The LSU defensive ranked second in the conference in total defense (302 ypg), first downs (15.7 pg) and points allowed (17.8 ppg).  Anchored by the conference's best secondary, the Tiger's were number one against the pass, allowing just over 165 yards per game through the air.  John Chavis' unit was also fourth in both sacks with 32 an interceptions with 16.  Many of the Tiger's star defensive players will be playing on Sundays next season, but a strong recruiting class will help soften the blow for Chavis and Head Coach Les Miles.

 

Drake Nevis - SR - Defensive Tackle

BIO - #92 - 6'1" 292 from Marrero, LA

Number 92 was basically an unstoppable force in 2010.  The senior defensive tackle was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week on four separate occasions during the SEC season.  Nevis racked up 56 tackles, a team-high 13 tackles-for-loss (sixth in SEC), team-highs in both quarterback sacks (seventh in SEC) with six and three forced fumbles (third in SEC).  Drake has been named to the first-team in both the AP's and SEC coach's All-SEC defensive squads and to the AP's second-team All-American defense.

 

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Ryan Baker brings down Auburn's Cam Newton.

Kelvin Sheppard - SR - Linebacker

BIO - #11 - 6'3" 239 from Stone Mountain, GA

Sheppard led the Tiger's defense with a team-high 108 tackles which ranked third in the SEC.  His 11 tackles-for-loss (tenth in SEC) was second only to teammate Drake Nevis on the LSU defense.  The senior from Stone Mountain, GA also had four quarterback sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception and was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week in week 10 of the SEC season.  Kelvin was named by both the AP and SEC coaches as a member of the first-team All-SEC defense.

 

Ryan Baker - JR - Linebacker

BIO - #22 - 6'0" 210 from Grand Ridge, FL

The junior linebacker ranked second on the vaunted LSU defense with 82 tackles, including ten tackles-for-loss in 2010.  Baker's six quarterback sacks (seventh in SEC) tied teammate Drake Nevis for the team lead.  With the loss of Nevis, Peterson and Sheppard to the NFL, look for Ryan Baker to become the leader of the Tiger's defense in 2011.

 

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Patrick Peterson breaks up a pass against the Ole Miss Rebels.

Patrick Peterson - JR - Defensive Back

BIO - #7 - 6'1" 211 from Pompano Beach, FL

Patrick Peterson is a very special player, the likes of which we rarely see in college football.  Among his many superlatives and awards are the Jim Thorpe Award which goes to the nation's top defensive back, the Chuck Bednarik Award which goes to the nation's top defensive player, SEC Defensive and Special Teams Player of the Year, first-team selection to the AP All-American team, not to mention unanimous selection to the All-SEC AP defensive team.  Stats can sometimes be misleading, especially when opposing teams rarely throw your way, but the junior defensive back still hauled in four interceptions (fifth in SEC), 36 tackles and 1.5 tackles-for-loss.  The Florida native is projected to go within the top ten picks of the upcoming 2011 NFL Draft, all before the age of 21.  Peterson will leave behind quiet a legacy and some mighty big shoes to fill at LSU.

 

Morris Claiborne - SO - Defensive Back

BIO - #17 - 6'0" 177 from Shreveport, LA

The sophomore defensive back from Shreveport led the LSU defense with five interceptions (third in SEC) in 2010.  Claiborne also added 36 tackles on the year, including five for losses.  Morris was named to the second-team All-SEC defensive units by both the AP and the SEC coaches.

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Mississippi State's Pernell McPhee has been named to the first-team defense by the SEC coaches.

 

Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4 SEC) - Defensive Coordinator - Manny Diaz

For the Bulldogs, the philosophy was bend but don't break in 2010.  While ranking just eighth in the SEC in total defense (358 ypg), State was third in the conference in the all-important category of points allowed (20.3 ppg).  Against the run, the Bulldogs ranked third allowing just over 121 yards per contest but ranked ninth against the pass (236 ypg).  In the red zone, Manny Diaz's defensive crew ranked fourth in the SEC at 77.8 percent while finishing sixth in both sacks and interceptions with 12 and 26 respectively.  There will be big shoes to fill in 2011 as the Bulldogs will be losing several key senior leaders.

 

Pernell McPhee - SR - Defensive End

BIO - #90 - 6'4" 285 from Pahokee, FL

McPhee, a senior defensive beast, tallied 32 tackles in 2010, including 9.5 for losses of 46 yards along with two quarterback sacks, 12 hurries and a forced fumble.  Projected as a late second-to-third round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, Pernell will be hard to replace for Manny Diaz's defensive unit in 2011.  McPhee was named to the first-team All-SEC defense by the SEC coaches.

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
Coach Dan Mullen will have some big shoes to fill on State's defense in 2011.

 

Chris White - SR - Linebacker

BIO - #50 - 6'4" 245 from Vancleave, MS

The senior linebacker, twice named SEC Defensive Player of the Week, led the Bulldog's defense with 105 tackles, 15.5 tackles-for-loss and six quarterback sacks (seventh in SEC) in the 2010 campaign.  White also added two interceptions and a fumble recovery and has been named to the first-team All-SEC defense by the AP and to the second-team by the SEC coaches. 

 

K.J. Wright - SR - Linebacker

BIO - #34 - 6'0" 245 from Olive Branch, MS

Wright ranked second for State with 93 tackles (ninth in SEC) and seven tackles-for-loss while adding three quarterback sacks and a team-high nine pass breakups (second in SEC).  The senior from Olive Branch, MS will most assuredly join teammates McPhee and White playing on Sundays next season in the NFL. 

 

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Jerrell Powe of the Ole Miss Rebels.

Ole Miss Rebels (4-8, 1-7 SEC) - Defensive Coordinator - Tyrone Nix

The Ole Miss defense more closely resembled old swiss cheese in 2010, smelly and with plenty of holes.  The Rebs finished at or near the bottom of the conference in almost every defensive category.  Tyrone Nix's unit was last in scoring defense (35.2 ppg), 11th in total defense giving up nearly 400 yards per game, ninth against the run (152.8 ypg), tenth against the pass (246.3 ypg), last in interceptions with six,  11th on third down conversions (34.3%) and last in red-zone defense (94.6%).  The defense will have to sure up considerably in 2011 if the Rebels expect to get back in the mix in the brutal SEC West.

 

Jonathan Cornell - SR - Linebacker

BIO - #51 - 6'1" 235 from Azusa, CA

Cornell led the Rebels with 80 tackles in 2010, including 14 for losses (fifth in SEC) totaling 47 yards.  The senior from Azusa, CA also added 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

 

Jerrell Powe - SR - Defensive Tackle

BIO - #57 - 6'2" 320 from Waynesboro, MS

Powe was a stopper on the Rebel's defensive line with 27 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 2.5 quarterback sacks and a fumble recovery in 2010.  The senior was named to the second-team All-SEC defense by the SEC coaches.  Jerrell is projected as a second-round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

 

D.T. Shackleford - SO - Linebacker

BIO - #42 - 6'1" 230 from Decatur, AL

Shackleford had a team-high five quarterback sacks and ranked second among Rebel defenders with nine tackles-for-loss in 2010.  The sophomore also led the Ole Miss defense with three quarterback hurries and chipped in a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.  On a defense that really has no where to go but up, D.T. will be key to improving the Ole Miss defense in 2011.

 

Allen Walker - SR - Linebacker

BIO - #9 - 6'1" 225 from Olive Branch, MS

Walker was solid at the linebacker position in 2010 for the Ole Miss Rebels.  The senior forced a team-high three fumbles to go along with 54 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss, four sacks and even had a blocked kick. 

  

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