Our look at the SEC's most productive returning players in 2012 continues with a look at the sack artists.
The SEC returns six players that ranked in the top 10 in sacks in 2011. Three of the top four sack men from a year ago are gone, but Mr. Sack himself, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, is back. Defenses will key in on Jones more this fall, but it'll still be hard to stop him, so expect him to battle to keep his crown.
The obvious top performer when it came to sacks:
Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia: Jones led the SEC with 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. He did all of this in his first season playing in the SEC after transferring from USC in 2010. Jones really made SEC tackles suffer, as 12.5 of his sacks came in league play. Jones played like a freight train chugging off of the line. He showed tremendous speed and agility and was nearly unstoppable at times, registering 49 quarterback hurries. His best performance came in a pivotal game against Florida, where he recorded four sacks. Jones is already getting a ton of NFL draft love, as ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. rates him as the No. 2 player on his first Big Board. Jones was also second on the team with 70 tackles.
The SEC returns five more of its top sackers:
Corey Lemonier, DE, Auburn: He recorded 9.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries.
Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU: He recorded nine sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and one quarterback hurry.
Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU: He recorded eight sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hurries.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: He recorded eight sacks, 12 tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries.
Devin Taylor, DE, South Carolina: He recorded six sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries.
It feels like the SEC produces pass rushers likes trees produce leaves. Jones leads the pack right now, but those LSU ends are going to put up quite the fight because it'll be tough for anyone to block both at the same time. Clowney was good as a freshman, but people expect bigger and better in 2012.
Florida lost Ronald Powell this spring, but Lerentee McCray is a player to keep an eye on. He missed spring with a shoulder injury, but coach Will Muschamp is very excited about what McCray can do on the outside with his speed and relentlessness. Also, watch out for linebackers Alonzo Highsmith at Arkansas and Adrian Hubbard at Alabama. Highsmith suffered a pec injury this spring, but he should be fine for the fall after leading the Razorbacks with 12.5 tackles for loss. Hubbard replaces Courtney Upshaw at the Jack linebacker position and people at Alabama left spring impressed with the youngster.
Texas A&M has a couple of players that could compete for the sack title this fall in linebacker Sean Porter and end Damontre Moore, who combined for 18 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss. Porter is a player who is already garnering a lot of draft attention and will enter the fall as one of the SEC's top linebackers.
And don't forget about Ole Miss linebacker/defensive end C.J. Johnson. He only registered one sack last year, but the coaches in Oxford feel very good about how much he improved this spring. He'll be used as more of a pass rusher this year, and if he adds some weight he'll be the cause of a lot of headaches for opposing tackles.