- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Now that you've seen where the 14 SEC defensive lines rank heading into the 2013 season, it's time to look at the top defensive linemen coming back.
We're splitting the linemen into ends and tackles, and we'll start with the guys on the outside:
1. Jadeveon Clowney, Jr., South Carolina: Clowney might be the best, most athletic player in the country, regardless of position. He has 21 career sacks (South Carolina's record is 29) and 35.5 tackles for loss, but has yet to play his best ball for the Gamecocks. He's a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and is easily the most disruptive defensive player in the country when he's going 100 percent. Oh, and he runs a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash while carrying 274 pounds.
2. Chris Smith, Sr., Arkansas: He doesn't have near the clout as Clowney, but Smith had a fine 2012 season. He was fourth in the SEC with 9.5 sacks and tied for fifth with 13 tackles for loss. Smith isn't just fierce against the pass either, as he can hold his own in the trenches against the run, too. Smith registered multiple tackles for loss in six of the Hogs final seven games last year.
3. Alvin "Bud" Dupree, Jr., Kentucky: He's moving from outside linebacker, but Dupree has been one of the best pass-rushers in the league the past two years. He has nine sacks in two years and had 12.5 tackles for loss last year. Dupree has exceptional speed off the edge and should be even more dangerous with his hand in the ground this fall.
4. Chaz Sutton, Sr., South Carolina: Even though he was a backup last year, Sutton was still third on the team with five sacks. He really played well when the Gamecocks had four ends on the field (rabbits package) for passing situations. Plus, he'll be freed up a lot this season with teams concentrating so hard on Clowney. Sutton will have plenty of opportunities to make big plays this fall.
5. Dante Fowler Jr., So., Florida: Fowler plays that hybrid linebacker/end "Buck" position, but could see more time at end this fall. He's extremely athletic and fast off the edge and had eight tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks last year. He looked really good this spring and if he continues to improve, he could push fellow Buck Ronald Powell to outside linebacker this fall.
6. C.J. Johnson, Jr., Ole Miss: Johnson should be fully healed from the broken leg he suffered this spring. He has really come a long way in his two years with the Rebels and should establish himself as one of the league's best pass-rushers this fall. He led the Rebels with 6.5 sacks last year and collected 28 solo tackles.
7. Walker May, Sr., Vanderbilt: He might be one of the most underrated players in the SEC. He started 13 games last year, recording 41 tackles, including 10.5 for loss and three sacks. May had at least one tackle for loss in eight games last season, and had five games in which he registered three or more solo tackles.
8. Jermauria Rasco, Jr., LSU: Les Miles didn't seem to concerned with Rasco stepping in at end this spring. He might even be a more polished pass-rusher than predecessors Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, which is scary to think about. He didn't record a lot of stats last year, but he had two years to learn from Mingo and Montgomery, and should have a big season on LSU's rebuilt defensive line.
9. Dee Ford, Sr., Auburn: Ford was one of Auburn's best players last year and finished the year leading the team with six sacks and added 6.5 tackles for loss. Ford was pretty impressive a year removed from a season-ending back injury. He's explosive off the line, is very good in the pass game and should be Auburn's best defensive player this fall.
10. Ed Stinson, Sr., Alabama: With Alabama's three-man front, the versatile Stinson will mainly be outside, but has a chance to move around to give the Tide different looks. Stinson was second on the team with 8.5 tackles for loss and had three sacks last season. Of his 30 tackles last year, 20 were solo.
15mDavid Ching and Edward Aschoff
1dESPN Stats & Information
2dSam Khan Jr.