5. Kentucky defensive end Alvin Dupree: It’s probably a surprise to see a Kentucky player on this list, but Dupree deserves it. He was second on the team last year with 61 tackles, adding 9.5 tackles for a loss and seven sacks. He had one pass breakup and one pass deflection to go with three quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles.
The Kentucky defense wasn’t good last season, but with a year under his belt in the SEC, Dupree should be even better this season. Head coach Mark Stoops, the former defensive coordinator at Florida State, will know how to use him, too. An elite pass rusher can cure a lot of ills for a defense, and that’s what the Wildcats are hoping Dupree does for them this fall.
4. Florida State defensive end Mario Edwards, Jr.: This might not make a lot of sense based on the statistics from last season. Edwards was 14th on the Florida State roster with 28 tackles, but his impact goes further than that. He filled up the stat sheet last season, tying for second on the team with 9.5 tackles for a loss and third on the team with 3.5 sacks. Edwards had one interception, one pass breakup, two passes defended, one quarterback hurry, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
The sacks should increase this season, but his 6-3, 294-pound frame is important in setting the edge for the Seminoles on the defensive line. He’s tough for offensive linemen to move but still has the speed to create havoc in the pass rush. Edwards is an important part of the Florida State defense this year.
3. Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson: The Bulldogs took their lumps on the defensive side of the ball last season with multiple young players. The hope in Athens is that the youth grew up because of it last season and is ready for a big year. If that happens, Wilson’s veteran presence will be a big reason why. He ended last season with a team-high 133 tackles, posting 11 tackles for a loss, four sacks, three pass breakups and seven quarterback hurries.
Wilson is strong and a big hitter in the run game but athletic enough to play in the passing game as well. The Tampa native is heading into his senior year but the first year under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt means he has a new scheme to learn.
2. Alabama linebacker Trey DePriest: C.J. Mosley was the star linebacker of the Alabama defense last season, but it looks like DePriest will step into that role this fall. He finished third on the team last year with 65 tackles, ending third on the team with 7.5 tackles for a loss. He added two sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Upshaw made a big impact as a pass rusher. The Alabama staff will have to decide whether that’s a role DePriest can fill, but if it is, he should have the same strong season that Upshaw displayed in 2013.
1. Alabama safety Landon Collins: Made famous in the recruiting process when his mother disagreed with his decision and wanted him at LSU, Collins became a household name last year because of his play. He was second on the Alabama roster with 70 tackles, adding two interceptions, four tackles for a loss, six pass breakups, two quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
To sum it up, he was everywhere. He can play as a one-high safety, trusted to drop back and cover from one sideline to the other, or he can step up in the box and help in run support. The Gators will have to know where Collins is at all times when they make the trip to Tuscaloosa this fall.