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Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Ranking top players on D UGA will face

By David Ching

It’s Rankings Week at DawgNation. Each day this week, we’ll rank some aspect of Georgia’s football program and the teams and players the Bulldogs will face in the 2013 season.

Today we’re ranking the top-10 defensive players the Bulldogs will face this season. On Thursday, we’ll turn to Georgia’s top-10 impact freshmen.

Jadeveon Clowney
South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney won't make it easy on Georgia.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: One of the scariest defensive players the SEC has produced in years, Clowney is actually getting some preseason Heisman Trophy darkhorse attention. For a defense-only player, that’s truly remarkable, but Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray can attest that the attention is well-deserved, having been harassed by the future NFL star for the past two seasons.

2. A.J. Johnson, ILB, Tennessee: The Georgia native is an absolute tackling machine, having recorded 138 (and 11 against the Bulldogs) a season ago. Johnson also proved to be an effective goal-line runner, leading the team with six rushing touchdowns on just 12 carries. But it’s the run-stopping skills of the SEC’s leading tackler in 2012 that will most concern the Bulldogs.

3. Dominique Easley, DT, Florida: Easley can play inside or outside, but Florida’s coaching staff plans to play him at defensive tackle because of the Gators’ shallow depth at the position. At 285 pounds, he won’t be an oversized anchor in the middle, but he’s quick and tough enough to be a force there. We project a breakout season for him this fall.

4. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU: Most of the big bulls that made LSU’s defensive front such a force over the past two seasons are gone. But Johnson is still around, and without players like Bennie Logan, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo around to intimidate opposing quarterbacks, he’ll attract more attention.

5. Craig Loston, SS, LSU: NFLDraftScout.com lists Loston as the No. 1 strong safety prospect for the 2014 draft after a standout junior season in which he returned three interceptions for 103 yards. He’ll have to stabilize the secondary after star free safety Eric Reid left for the pros.

6. Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee: ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. ranks the massive McCullers (6-foot-8, 360 pounds) as the No. 4 defensive tackle prospect for next year’s draft. The Georgia Military College transfer remains a bit of a project, but he has good quickness for a player with such girth, and that makes him a candidate for regular double teams.

7. Lamin Barrow, ILB, LSU: Similar to Johnson’s situation, Barrow didn’t attract as much attention last season because Kevin Minter was next to him earning All-America honors. Minter’s a pro now, however, so Barrow takes over as the top tackler in the middle -- and he should be fine with that responsibility, having ranked fifth in the SEC with 104 stops in 2012.

8. Jeremiah Attaochu, DE, Georgia Tech: Attaochu was Tech’s Jarvis Jones Lite last season, notching 10 sacks and 12 tackles for loss from his outside linebacker spot. That helped him earn honorable mention All-ACC honors for the second straight season. A big senior season will help him rank among Tech’s top pass rushers in program history and could push him into the upper rounds of the NFL draft.

9. Andre Hal, CB, Vanderbilt: Hal, who returned a kick for a touchdown against Georgia in 2011, was impressive last fall and earned All-SEC honors in his first season as a starter. He ranked among the SEC leaders with 14 pass breakups and made two key interceptions in a win against rival Tennessee. Now a senior, he should be one of the focal points of the Commodores’ defense this fall.

10. Loucheiz Purifoy (CB, Florida): We ranked him 10th on the offense list and 10th here as well. He’d rank higher on defense if his 2013 role was more obvious. He played some receiver to add some life to a terrible Florida passing game, so time on offense could potentially limit his impact strictly as a defender. But in terms of talent, Purifoy is one of the best defensive backs Georgia will face all season.

Ten more to watch:
Avery Williamson (LB, Kentucky), Kelcy Quarles (DL, South Carolina), Ego Ferguson (DL, LSU), Jaylen Watkins (DB, Florida), Jabari Hunt-Days (LB, Georgia Tech), Chaz Sutton (DL, South Carolina), Vic Beasley (DL, Clemson), Isaiah Johnson (S, Georgia Tech), Ronald Powell (DL, Florida), Kony Ealy (DL, Missouri).