1. Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey: The stat sheet from Ramsey’s sophomore season takes a while to read. He made 79 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, two interceptions, 12 pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one blocked kick. He moves all over the Florida State secondary and creates havoc from wherever he’s at on the field.
Ramsey is also a star on the track for the Seminoles, showcasing that blazing speed in coverage with a 6-1, 201-pound frame. This year’s rivalry game will feature two of the top defensive backs in the country with Ramsey and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.
2. Tennessee defensive lineman Derek Barnett: As a freshman, Barnett put up numbers you’d expect from a seasoned veteran in the Southeastern Conference. He made 72 tackles with 20.5 tackles for a loss, including 10 sacks, and adding eight quarterback hurries. Now he’ll head into his sophomore year with a full offseason under his belt to gain strength and improve. It’s a scary thought for offenses across the SEC.
The Tennessee defense isn’t short of star power, as cornerback Cameron Sutton is on this list and linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin was in the conversation. It’s a unit that has taken big steps forward under Butch Jones, but Barnett is the one that can make the unit reach an elite level this fall. His ability to disrupt plays in the backfield makes the Volunteers go.
3. Georgia pass rusher Jordan Jenkins: The Florida offensive game plan took Jenkins out of the game in Jacksonville last year, as the Gators only threw the ball six times. With an offensive that should throw the ball more this fall, Florida will have to keep an eye on Jenkins and teammate Leonard Floyd in the pass rush. As a junior last year, Jenkins made a strong case to leave early for the NFL Draft but elected to return for his senior season.
Last year, Jenkins made 70 tackles with 9.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks and 23 quarterback hurries, adding two forced fumbles. For an improving Georgia defense under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, Jenkins’ pass rush is an important part.
4. LSU safety Jamal Adams: Consider this more of a projection. Adams had a good freshman season with 66 tackles, five tackles for a loss and five pass breakups. Those statistics aren’t usually the ones to get a player on a list like this, but Adams showed the ability that made him a five-star recruit that was sought after by almost every school in the country, including Florida.
Adams is a physical safety that can make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. He also has coverage skills that can keep him on the field in obvious passing situations. Maybe his most important attribute to LSU, Adams is a vocal leader. Expect this to be his breakout year where Adams is in the conversation to be an All-American.
5. Tennessee cornerback Cameron Sutton: One of the best cover cornerbacks in the SEC, Sutton had 13 pass breakups and 16 pass deflections last season. He only had three interceptions, the same number Hargreaves had for Florida, but that shouldn’t be surprising since teams usually try to stay away from a standout cornerback. He’s a fluid athlete that can lock down any receiver in the SEC, making life easier on an improving Tennessee defense.