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2014 SEC Preseason Football Position Rankings: Defensive Line

In a measure designed to help us all avoid the doldrums that are summer life without football, we – those that make up the SEC bloggosphere here at SB Nation – will be voting once a week until football season, ranking the position groups for SEC football as we countdown to the first weekend of the season. To kick things off, let's rank the groups of defensive linemen.

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

As we get underway with our position rankings for the upcoming 2014 season, we get started with a group that is vital to every defense – the big guys up front, the defensive line.  As far as defensive lines go in the SEC, there is a variety of returning talent and talent levels that should make for an interesting rankings set.  You probably won't be surprised as to who came out on top, but there may be some shakeup and surprise from 2-14.  Here are your SEC football defensive line rankings from SB Nation's SEC bloggers.

1. Alabama (7 First Place Votes, 1.22 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: A'Shawn Robinson, Jonathan Allen, D.J. Pettway, Brandon Ivory,  Darren Luke
Key Losses: Jeoffrey Pagan, Ed Stinson
Our Thoughts:

-- It should be expected that Nick Saban will have a solid defensive line at Alabama. (Red Cup Rebellion - ballot)

-- So deep. So talented. So how did Auburn run for 296 yards on essentially the same unit last year? (Alligator Army)

-- Alabama always has a dominant defensive line. I don't expect that to be any different, this year. (College & Magnolia)

-- In the words of that old hymn, the Tide defensive line is deep and wide, deep and wide. There's a depth chart flowing deep and wide. Losing the likes of Jeoffrey Pagan and Ed Stinson doesn't help, but of all the spots where the Tide have recruited well over the past few years, the D line may be the spot where Saban and company have recruited the best. (Dawg Sports)

-- Number one by a country mile. Again. Ugh. Like Walmart, Duke basketball, and Egg McMuffins, Alabama under Saban is a dominating, disgustingly popular juggernaut. (Rocky Top Talk - ballot)

-- I want to dock them for only having so few returning starters and the like. Really I do. But expecting Alabama to have a bad defensive line is like believing in unicorns. It might make you feel better about the world, but you ultimately know that it's not really true. In the Nick Saban era, Alabama has never allowed more than 3.4 yards a carry. Never. I doubt that changes in the 2014 season. (Team Speed Kills - ballot)

2. Auburn (1 First Place Vote, 3.89 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: DE Carl Lawson, DT Ben Bradley, DT Gabe Wright, DT Montravius Adams
Key Losses: DE Dee Ford
Our Thoughts:

-- Even without Carl Lawson, Auburn's talented and deep. Montravious Adams should have a big, big year for the Tigers. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- Carl Lawson + Montravius Adams + Elijah Daniel is Auburn's version of Florida's triumvirate of Ronald Powell, Sharrif Floyd, and Dominique Easley, isn't it? (Alligator Army)

-- This is going to hinge a lot on the health of Carl Lawson. I do think the Tigers' defensive line can be successful without him. Elijah Daniels and LaDarius Owens would likely be the starters on the ends in this case. But don't rule out some stout packages with Montravius Adams on the end, as well. (College & Magnolia)

--Another team that will deal with significant losses. Dee Ford was unblockable during 2013 (just ask John Theus), and is the kind of player you just don't replace. (Dawg Sports)

-- Auburn already has a pipeline of former Georgia players, so when is Rodney Garner going to get a few former Dawg defensive linemen to join Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson? (Rocky Top Talk)

-- There are really two reasons for this: Gabe Wright and LaDarius Owens. There are also a few reasons not to like it, most of them being the 4.6 yards a rush that Auburn allowed last year. Put the two together and somewhere in the middle feels about right. (Team Speed Kills)

3. Florida (1 First Place Vote, 4.33 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: DE Dante Fowler, DL Jonathan Bullard
Key Losses: DT Dominique Easley
Our Thoughts:

-- Gerald Willis III could make an immediate impact for the Gators. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- Underestimate Florida's depth if you want, but underrate Dante Fowler, Jr. and Jonathan Bullard at your own peril. But being second in the conference in run defense in 2013 despite losing Dominique Easley is mitigated by being ninth in YPC allowed. (Alligator Army)

-- Similar to Arkansas, I don't really know a lot about Florida. They were great against the run overall (that little Georgia Southern game notwithstanding), and they have potential, but they're going to need contributions from underclassmen to be truly successful. They're also going to need to develop a pass rush. (College & Magnolia)

-- Never underestimate the ability of the worst coach in America to have his charges ready for underachievement. Muschamp is a greasy spoon cook in a Michelin-star restaurant, proud that he's made top shelf ingredients taste like a 7-Eleven sausage rolling ceaselessly under a hot broiler light. (Rocky Top Talk)

-- Injuries, etc., but there's something that troubles me about ranking a defensive line too high after an FCS opponent put up 429 yards rushing against the team last season. And it wasn't just Georgia Southern -- the Gators allowed 4.3 yards a rush on average last year and got just 19 sacks. (Team Speed Kills)

Carl Lawson

Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

T-4. Georgia (5.11 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: DE Sterling Bailey, DE Ray Drew
Key Losses: DE Garrison Smith
Our Thoughts:

-- Ray Drew brings six sacks and 43 tackles back to anchor the Bulldogs defensive front. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- Second in the SEC in YPC allowed in 2013, but 25 touchdowns allowed on the ground, and few obvious standouts other than Ray Drew. Leonard Floyd factoring into the pass rush helps a bit. (Alligator Army)

-- Pruitt and the Rock. Georgia has a lot of talent on the line, but I ranked them high because of their coaches. Pruitt is a great coach, and Tracy Rocker is one of the best DL coaches in the business in my homer eyes. They will have Georgia's DL ready to go. (College & Magnolia)

-- Overlooked in the transition from Todd Grantham to Jeremy Pruitt is the fact that Georgia returns a lot of talent up front. Chris Mayes looks like a breakout player at tackle behind veteran Mike Thornton, and senior Ray Drew has improved steadily over the course of his time in Athens. Also, Tracy Rocker is one of the best defensive line coaches in the business. (Dawg Sports)

-- Never as good as they think, never as bad Georgia fans believe. They have all the pieces for a dominant performance this year. (Rocky Top Talk)

-- Ray Drew, Sterling Bailey and Chris Mayes are back on a line that allowed 3.7 yards last year. Jon Taylor will also probably contributed. I have a few (very few) questions about the depth here, but the Bulldogs should be pretty good up front on defense this season. (Team Speed Kills)

T-4. LSU (5.11 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: DE Jermauria Rasco, DE Danielle Hunter
Key Losses: DT Anthony Jennings, DT Ego Ferguson
Our Thoughts:

-- LSU would normally be higher on this list, but they'll be relying on a lot of youth this season. Still, RS Freshman Frank Herron could be special. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- It's LSU, so we shouldn't be worried, but the lack of tackle depth is surprising ... but it's LSU, so we shouldn't be worried. (Alligator Army)

-- LSU I ranked high because they're LSU. Similar to Alabama, LSU always has a dominant DL. They may have lost a lot from last season, but I have no doubt their underclassmen are ready to step in and not miss much of a step. If they don't though, LSU could struggle a bit against some of the more run-heavy teams. (College & Magnolia)

-- At some point LSU is going to have a year in which their defensive line suffers from being picked over by the NFL. This may be that year. (Dawg Sports)

-- Tied for third in the SEC in defensive yards-per-play, seventh in adjusted line yards, and returns most of a deep crop of talented limemen. (Rocky Top Talk)

-- They do return Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco. I just have questions about the accomplishments of LSU's depth. (Team Speed Kills)

6. Ole Miss (5.22 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: DE CJ Johnson, DT Robert Nkemdiche, DL Isaac Gross, DL Lavon Hooks
Key Losses:
Our Thoughts:

-- If this defensive line can stay healthy - unlike last season - then they should be one of the SEC's more versatile and dominant fronts. Robert Nkemdiche and Issac Gross form a combination of athletic defensive tackles who can move outside when needed. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- Nkemdiche is Nkemdiche, and the talent's there, but the 27 rushing touchdowns allowed last year was last in the SEC. (Alligator Army)

-- Robert Nkemdiche is a sophomore and the Rebels return a good many other talented linemen, as well. They'll be successful if they can stay healthy, as Red Cup Rebellion pointed out. (College & Magnolia)

-- Even if you ignore the fact that DTDeterrianWhateverYouWantToCallHim Shackelford is listed as a linebacker/defensive end on the Ole Miss roster, this is still a solid unit. Isaac Gross and Robert Nkemdiche could be the headliners, but there's a bit of depth here, and the Rebels allowed only 3.9 yards a rush last year. (Team Speed Kills)

7. MSU (6.33 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: DL Chris Jones, DE Preston Brown, DL Kaleb Eulls
Key Losses: DE Denico Autry
Our Thoughts:

-- Sophomore Chris Jones will bolster a very experienced defensive line for State, which is built around seniors Kaleb Eulls and PJ Jones. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- They weren't terribly impressive last year -- opponents rushed for 4.2 yards a carry -- but there are a lot of returning players here that put up decent numbers, particularly when it comes to tackles for loss and quarterback hurries. Given another year of seasoning, this could be a really good unit in 2014.  (Team Speed Kills)

-- Chris Jones can't do it by himself. (Rocky Top Talk)

-- Chris Jones is a future early round NFL pick, and he's backed up by a strong cast of players. After watching the Bulldogs late season film in preparation to cast my ballot, this was probably the group I moved up the most from where I initially had them. (Dawg Sports)

-- I really like Chris Jones. I have no idea who the rest of these guys are. (Alligator Army)

-- Three seniors and a five star sophomore. They'll do just fine. (College & Magnolia)

8. Missouri (6.67 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: DL Shane Ray, DL Matt Hoch, OLB/DE Markus Golden
Key Losses: DE Michael Sam, DE Kony Ealy
Our Thoughts:

-- Even in the shadow of Michael Sam, Markus Golden and Shane Ray combined for 12 sacks last season. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- They'll be good, but I wonder about the stoutness inside, especially if Missouri's offense takes a step or two back. (Alligator Army)

-- For all Auburn (well, Tre Mason) gassed them in the SECCG, Missouri still had a fantastic defensive line last year. I see that carrying over to at least a really good one this year. (College & Magnolia)

-- Mizzou doesn't recruit well, and lost their best two players to the NFL draft. That's not a recipe for a good defensive line, or sustainable success generally. (Rocky Top Talk)

-- No Kony Ealy and no Michael Sam, no problem. Okay, that might be a bit of an overstatement. But by my count, there are five returning players here with more than 30 tackles. Beyond the loss of Ealy and Sam, though, the main question is how this team allowed 4.2 yards a carry last year, and how much they can improve. (Team Speed Kills)

T-9. Arkansas (9.33 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: DE Trey Flowers, DT Darius Philon
Key Losses: DE Chris Smith, DT Robert Thomas, DT Bryan Jones
Our Thoughts:

-- Darius Philon is a terribly underrated talent. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- They allowed 4.7 yards a rush last year -- and that was before losing Chris Smith, Robert Thomas and Byran Jones. On the other hand, I like Trey Flowers and Darius Philon out of this group. They could be a sleeper. (Team Speed Kills)

-- ESPN dubbed Trey Flowers "one of the more accomplished pass-rushers in the league." He has 12 career sacks, and 3.5 of them came against Auburn in 2012. Accomplished? (Alligator Army)

-- I honestly don't really know terribly much about Arkansas. I know they're returning some pretty good players from last year, but last year's Arkansas team was not terribly impressive. (College & Magnolia)

-- Bielema needs another solid recruiting class to work with before Arkansas rises out of the conference cellar. (Rocky Top Talk)

Za'Darius Smith

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

T-9 South Carolina (9.33 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: DT J.T. Surratt, Dixon brothers, Darius English
Key Losses: DE Jadeveon Clowney, DT Kelcy Quarles
Our Thoughts:

-- "What will South Carolina be without Clowney?" You'll hear ESPN announcers ask this question about a billion times this Summer. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- No Clowney is bad; no Clowney and no Kelcy Quarles is worse. (Alligator Army)

-- South Carolina's defensive line performance may tell us very quickly just how good Clowney was. Did teams focus on him and allow the other linemen to appear better than they are? Or does USC really have a great defensive line? I'm leaning towards the latter, but I get the feeling we'll find out quickly when Georgia comes to town. (College & Magnolia)

-- A lot of people would ask how the Gamecocks will survive the loss of Jadeveon Clowney. I'm not one of them, because Clowney wasn't a factor for much of the 2013 season. Instead, I'm curious whether Spurrier and company can replace Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton. (Dawg Sports)

-- Somehow, everyone's favorite sassy drunk uncle (and best future member of "The View") Steve Spurrier has managed to recruit reasonably well along the defensive line in between rounds at Augusta. Still, Clowney was a once-in-a-generation talent in Columbia. There will be a drop off in performance, no matter how talented his replacements. (Rocky Top Talk)

-- J.T. Surratt is the only player with much starting experience here; if you asked even some South Carolina fans who Darius English was, they would probably guess that he was the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish. They get extra credit for having two players named Gerald Dixon. (Team Speed Kills)

T-11. Kentucky (11.78 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: DE Alvin Dupree, DE Za'Darius Smith
Key Losses: DT Donte Rumph, DT Mister Cobble
Our Thoughts:

-- Za'Darius Smith and Bud Dupree combined for an impressive 13 sacks last season. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- They have Bud Dupree and Za'Darius Smith, but they don't have Donte Rumph or Mister Cobble. They also allowed 4.9 yards a rush last year. If C.J. Johnson pans out, this might be a bit low for the group -- but let's see if Johnson really does pan out first. (Team Speed Kills)

-- Not even the best defensive line in their own state. Don't stop believin', Kentucky fans. (Rocky Top Talk)

-- Kentucky lost a lot in the center of the DL, so they're going to need new players to step up quickly. (College & Magnolia)

-- Better against the pass than the run, that's for sure. (Alligator Army)

T-11. Texas A&M (11.78 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: DE Julien Obioha, DL Gavin Stansbury, DE Daeshon Hall
Key Losses: Isaiah Golden
Our Thoughts:

-- Freshman Myles Garrett could be this year's Carl Lawson. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- You know Texas A&M allowed almost 3,000 rushing yards last season? That was without ever giving up 400 yards in a game, which is actually kinda impressive, but it's more impressive that Alabama and Duke both ran 37 times for 234 yards on the Aggies. Cavalry's coming, but it may take a while to fully arrive. (Alligator Army)

-- Underclassmen are going to have to step up fast for Texas A&M to improve upon last year's performance. (College & Magnolia)

-- Volume 2: Young talent, no experience. Why isn't A&M ranked higher? Mark Snyder had the same young talent last year, and it didn't come together. (Rocky Top Talk)

-- A&M had the worst rushing defense in the league last year in terms of yards per carry (5.4), which isn't much of a surprise, because A&M pretty much had the worst defense in the league last year, period. There's not a big reason to think that, at least on the line, that's going to get any better in 2014. (Team Speed Kills)

13. Tennessee (12.44 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: Corey Vereen, Curt Maggitt
Key Losses: DT Daniel McCullers, DE Jacques Smith
Our Thoughts:

-- Tennessee is replacing way too many starters up front. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- The good news: The worst defensive line in the SEC in 2013 lost most of its rotation up front. The bad news: The worst defensive line in the SEC in 2013 lost most of its rotation up front. (Alligator Army)

-- Tennessee lost a ton on the DL this year and are likely going to have a rough time replacing them and building back to a strong defensive line in the SEC. (College & Magnolia)

-- Volume 1: Young talent, no experience. Jones has produced solid defenses in the second year and beyond at both of his previous stops. He's certainly recruited enough talent to keep up the streak in Knoxville. (Rocky Top Talk)

-- Just ahead of Texas A&M last year with 5.3 yards per carry. The bigger problem: Basically everyone is gone. There are several reasons to think that the Volunteers will be better this year; the defensive line is not one of them. (Team Speed Kills)

14. Vanderbilt (12.56 Average)

Returning Starters/Contributors: Caleb Azubike, Adam Butler
Key Losses: DE Walker May
Our Thoughts:

-- Vandy's shifting to a 3-4 this season. That should be interesting. (Red Cup Rebellion)

-- Shifting to a Stanford-style defense will help, but Vandy just doesn't have the horses up front yet. (Alligator Army)

-- New coaches and switching to a new defensive alignment should make this a very interesting year for Vanderbilt on the line. I'm sure there are going to be some serious struggles along the way. (College & Magnolia)

-- Vandy's defensive line played great last year, and probably deserves a better ranking than this... but replacing James Franklin with former UCLA headman Karl Dorrell is like replacing an older Ferrari with a new Kia: sure it's new, but it's still a serious downgrade. If Vandy's offense sputters without Franklin's magic, the defense is in for a long year. (Rocky Top Talk)

-- Kyle Woestmann is probably going to play at linebacker this year as Vanderbilt goes to a 3-4 scheme, which moves one of the best players on the defensive line out of the rotation. There's still some talent here, but the new scheme could cause some issues until the Commodores get a handle on it. (Team Speed Kills)