Real talk: I actually find the process of ranking the entire SEC's defensive lines quite difficult , namely because to do so with any accuracy would mean one would have to have an in-depth knowledge of each teams' losses and gains and also their depth beyond just the starters. Also, there's a bit of homerism and historic trends that make it difficult to look at each group objectively.
For instance, it's hard for me to not place Alabama at #1. Forget the fact I'm a gump, I know our depth, the incoming class of freshman and talented JUCO players, the guys returning from injury and our new but old defensive line coach. I can't say the same for Kentucky, Vandy, or Missouri. And it's just as hard for me to not think of LSU in the top three or South Carolina, because historically (last 5 or 6 years) those teams have produced high end defensive lines, year in and year out.
So instead of simply ranking 1-14 based on my own knowledge, I'm going to put the teams in three categories and then allow RBR to rank the teams in each group.
All statistical rankings are SEC only, not national.
The Bottom Dwellers
Tennessee- Ranked 13th in rushing defense in '13 and dead last in sacks. Oh yeah, and they graduated their entire starting defensive line. The Vols may be the clear cut #14. (said with the biggest grin ever)
Texas A&M- The Ags only slightly out performed the Vols in '13, ranking 10th in sacks, 10th in TFL and 14th in run defense. The Aggies have recruited well at DL since Sumlin arrived, and have some talented incoming freshman, but is young talent enough to improve from last year's nightmare?
Vandy- Welp, Vandy has switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 and as 2007 Alabama fans can attest, the immediate defensive alignment switch will likely bring about a drop off in production.
Kentucky- Ok, it's Kentucky, so maybe putting them in the with the Bottom Dwellers is a bit of going with the norm because again, it's Kentucky... But Stoops has actually recruited well, at least for Kentucky, at defensive line. So I'm taking the same approach as I did with A&M...Until the young guys show up on the field, they'll remain in the bottom tier.
Rank the Bottom Dwellers
Note: You get just one vote, so vote on who you'd rank LAST. 11-13 will be based on who got the least amount of votes.
The Not Horrible But Not Great, Yet
South Carolina- Replacing Clowney won't be easy but how productive was he last year and how much focus did he take off the rest of the line? Those questions will be answered early and often.
Arkansas- Shocker, Arky actually has some depth at DL, especially with Darius Philon and DaMarcus Hodge returning.
LSU- Again, almost by habit I wanted to place LSU in the top tier but given their losses at DL the last two years, and the fact they'll have to rely heavily on freshman, I had to put them in this middle tier.
Auburn- Probably should be in tier 1 because the Tiger's DL in '13 were hell on wheels in passing downs (ranking 3rd in sacks and 2nd in TFL) but the fact they allowed 163 rushing yards per game (which could be a sign of a poor linebackers but still) gives me pause. Gus has recruited well at DL but how easily will they be able to replace Dee Ford? My guess it won't come without some struggles, especially early on in the season.
Florida- UF is in the same place as LSU in my eyes. They typically have one of the best DL's in the league but were bit of jekyll and hyde in '13 (ranked 2nd in rush defense but 13th in TFL and 12th in sacks). Dante Fowler will be the leader of this group and freshman Gerald Willis adds depth. But can the DL get more pressure on the quarterback? If they can, they'll be in the top three by years end.
Rank the Not Horrible but Not Great, Yet.
Note: You get just one vote, so vote on who you'd rank LAST in this group. The rest will be ranked based on who got the least amount of votes.
The Contenders for #1
UGA- My gut says UGA will have one of the better DL's in the the SEC this year but a lot of that depends on the system Pruitt installs. He had a wealth of talent at DL to deal with at FSU which took a lot of pressure off the rest of the defense. Will he have the same at Georgia? The Dawgs have the talent but will they get the same production?
Mizzou- Missouri had maybe the best defensive line in the SEC in '13 but were exposed against Auburn. Michael Sam
Montgomery is gone but the Tigers still have Kony Ealy (went pro) and Markus Golden who combined for 14.5 more sacks and 27 tackles for loss.
MSU- Call this my semi-sleeper group. Bully returns all but one guy from their two deep roster and Chris Jones is a rising star. Add to that P.J. Jones, Kaleb Eulls and and reserves A.J. Jefferson, Nelson Adams and Curtis Virges and the west side bulldogs may have the deepest DL in the entire SEC.
Alabama- Sure, I may be a homer, but is there really any doubt 'Bama will have one of the best defensive lines in the entire country, let alone the SEC?
Ole Miss- CJ Johnson, Robert Nkemdiche, Issac Gross are big enough names to be worthy of a top spot, but will they stay healthy for an entire season? The Rebs get some depth help with the addition of Garrald McDowell and transfer Fadol Brown, but will it be enough if the injury bug hits the starters like it did in '13?