Texas A&M Aggies: Devin Taylor

Two pairs of teammates highlight the nine SEC players named to the preseason watch list for the 2012 Ted Hendricks Award, which is presented annually to the top defensive end in college football.

South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, a sophomore, and Devin Taylor, a senior, are on the list along with LSU's Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, both juniors.

Other SEC defensive ends making the 40-player list were Florida's Dominique Easley, Auburn's Corey Lemonier, Missouri's Brad Madison, Texas A&M's Damontre Moore and Georgia's Abry Jones.
We ranked the guys in the trenches on Friday, so now it’s time to take a look at the outside guys on the defensive line.

Below is the way we would rank the top 10 defensive ends in the SEC heading into the 2012 season. One thing to note is that Florida’s Ronald Powell, who plays a hybrid end/linebacker role for the Gators, is not on this list because he’s recovering from ACL surgery and could miss the first part of the season.

Here’s what we came up with:

[+] EnlargeSam Montgomery
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesSam Montgomery led the Tigers with nine sacks last season.
1. Sam Montgomery, Jr., LSU: The SEC’s most complete defensive end, Montgomery is big enough and explosive enough to stuff the run as well as rush the passer. He had nine sacks last season.

2. Jadeveon Clowney, Soph., South Carolina: His freshman season was just a glimpse. Clowney had eight sacks and five forced fumbles and was playing on talent alone. He’ll be an every-down force in 2012.

3. Barkevious Mingo, Jr., LSU: LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis predicted that Mingo would emerge as the best pass-rusher in the SEC. He’s well on his way after racking up 15 tackles for loss last season.

4. Corey Lemonier, Jr. Auburn: He’s the leading returning sack man among SEC defensive ends with 9.5 last season. Lemonier could play his way into the first round of the NFL draft with a big junior season.

5. Damontre Moore, Jr., Texas A&M: He may be new to the SEC, but Moore will quickly introduce himself to opposing quarterbacks in this league. He finished with 17.5 tackles for loss a year ago and forced four fumbles.

6. Devin Taylor, Sr., South Carolina: He’s the “other” defensive end for the Gamecocks and plenty productive in his own right. The 6-foot-8, 267-pounds Taylor had six sacks last season.

7. Abry Jones, Sr., Georgia: An end in Georgia’s 3-4 scheme, the 6-foot-3, 309-pounds Jones is extremely active and one of the most improved players on the team. Look for him to have a big senior season.

8. Brad Madison, Sr., Missouri: A painful shoulder injury limited Madison last season, and he missed the spring after undergoing surgery. He should be good to go this fall and return to the same form he displayed as a sophomore.

9. Denico Autry, Jr., Mississippi State: The only newcomer to make the list, Autry was a big hit this spring for the Bulldogs after coming over from junior college. His specialty is rushing the passer.

10. Damion Square, Sr., Alabama: Even though Square didn’t have big sack numbers last season, don’t be fooled. He’s a veteran player who played his best football down the stretch. He’ll be even better as a senior.
Barkevious Mingo, Sam MontgomeryWesley Hitt/Getty ImagesLSU's Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery will head up the strongest D-line in the SEC in 2012.
We’ve already gone through the different position groups on offense in SEC.

Now, it’s on to the side of the ball this league is known for -- defense.

More specifically, we examine the top defensive lines, and there are at least five or six in the SEC that would rank among the best in the country.

In fact, defensive line play is one of the things that has separated the SEC from everybody else over the years.

Here’s how we would rank the defensive lines going into the 2012 season:

1. LSU: All you really need to know about the Tigers’ defensive line is that they have three players -- ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo and tackle Bennie Logan -- who may go in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. Look for sophomore tackle Anthony Johnson to also become an every-down force this season, and sophomore Ego Ferguson could also make his move. LSU is swimming in talent and depth up front.

2. South Carolina: In his second tour through the SEC, sophomore end Jadeveon Clowney is poised to wreak some serious havoc. His partner on the other side, senior Devin Taylor, is also All-SEC material. Sophomore tackle Kelcy Quarles should take a big step, and senior tackle Byron Jerideau was one of the team’s most improved players this spring.

3. Georgia: The Bulldogs’ strength up front starts right there in the middle with 350-pound senior nose guard Jonathan Jenkins. Now that he’s been through an entire SEC season, he’ll be even more of a force in 2012. Cornelius Washington adds a real pass-rushing threat at end in the 3-4 scheme after moving from outside linebacker, and senior end Abry Jones had a great spring.

4. Florida: If not for the injuries to junior tackle Dominique Easley and junior end/linebacker Ronald Powell, the Gators would be ranked even higher. Both players are expected back, with Powell facing the longest odds of being all the way back. Junior Sharrif Floyd is back at his natural position of tackle, and keep an eye on junior college newcomer Damien Jacobs inside. He showed up repeatedly around the ball this spring.

5. Alabama: Jesse Williams moves from end to nose guard and has the strength and power to develop into an NFL first-round draft choice. He shouldn’t have any problem making the transition. Damion Square is an accomplished pass-rusher at one end, and talented guys like junior end Ed Stinson have patiently been waiting their turn.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Jon EiltsTexas A&M's Damontre Moore is expected to play at a high level again this season.
6. Auburn: It wasn’t a season to remember on defense a year ago for the Tigers, but their defensive line should be one of the most improved units in the league if everyone returns healthy in the fall. Junior end Corey Lemonier tied for fourth in the SEC with 9.5 sacks a year ago, while Dee Ford looks to be healthy on the other side after missing most of last season. The Tigers have some of the best inside depth in the league.

7. Mississippi State: Fletcher Cox’s early departure stings, but his former running mate inside, senior Josh Boyd, is back for his senior season, and junior college newcomer Denico Autry was the rage this spring at end. If Autry turns out to be as good as he looked in the spring, the Bulldogs will have that finisher off the edge they lacked last season.

8. Arkansas: This is a group that could make a significant move upward if everybody stays healthy. Tackle Robert Thomas will be a key in the middle. He should be more consistent this season after coming over from junior college a year ago. Another junior college newcomer, Austin Flynn, was impressive this spring. That’s important because Tenarius Wright is moving from end to linebacker.

9. Texas A&M: Stopping the interior run remains the big question mark for the Aggies, who are moving from a 3-4 to a 4-3. Junior Damontre Moore is a natural at end and will make his presence felt right away. He rates up there with Jarvis Jones, Sam Montgomery, Barkevious Mingo and Corey Lemonier as one of the top defensive front-seven playmakers in the league.

10. Tennessee: The Vols are counting on a pair of junior college additions to come through this fall -- Daniel McCullers at nose tackle and Darrington Sentimore at end. They’re moving to a 3-4 in their base defense. Maurice Couch could factor in at nose guard or end, and junior Marlon Walls is back at end. Replacing Malik Jackson won’t be easy. He made a ton of plays for the Vols.

11. Vanderbilt: If you’re looking for the SEC’s top breakout players in 2012, junior defensive end Walker May should be near the top of your list. He had 4.5 sacks last season and is coming off a superb offseason. Senior tackle Rob Lohr was one of the more underrated interior linemen in the league last season, and the Commodores’ overall depth across the front has improved greatly.

12. Kentucky: The Wildcats won’t be hurting in the experience department. They just don’t have a lot of proven depth. The junior tackle tandem of Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph gives Kentucky more than 600 pounds of muscle in the middle. Senior end Collins Ukwu was slowed during the spring, but has all the tools to be a big-time pass-rusher in this league.

13. Missouri: The Tigers lost three starters from a year ago, and they’re also undersized up front. They have some talent coming, and sophomore end Kony Ealy is primed for a breakout season. Sheldon Richardson will be a key in the middle. He missed the spring with a shoulder injury. Senior end Brad Madison has All-SEC potential, but is also coming off a shoulder injury.

14. Ole Miss: The Rebels don’t have any depth at defensive tackle, which is a major concern for first-year coach Hugh Freeze. They could also use some help at end, which means getting freshman end Channing Ward eligible this fall is a must. Sophomore end C.J. Johnson played well this spring.
The SEC has a nation-leading 19 players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which is awarded annually to the nation's best defensive player. Alabama leads the SEC with five players on the list, while LSU is second with four.

Here are all 19 SEC players on the Nagurski Trophy list:
For the complete Nagurski Trophy watch list, go here.

The SEC also leads the country with 19 players on the 2012 preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, which is presented annually to the nation's top interior lineman. Alabama leads the SEC with four players on the list, including reigning Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones.

Here are all 19 SEC players on the Outland Trophy watch list:
For the full Outland Trophy watch list, go here.

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