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OAYP: 2019 SEC EDGE Rankings

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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The new OAYP advanced metric ranks the SEC's returning edge defenders.

In case you missed it, I’ve already released the marginal OAYP rankings for all the qualifying SEC offensive players. Those, along with a more comprehensive explanation, can be found here:

-Quarterbacks

-Running Backs

-Receivers

-Tight Ends

-Offensive Linemen

Today, we’re diving into the edge rushers. Those include defensive ends in four-man fronts and outside linebackers in three-man fronts. The league lost a ton of talent from this spot, including Josh Allen, Montez Sweat, and Jachai Polite, among others. As such, there’s a relatively short list of qualifying returnees which could somewhat skew the marginal scores.

Regardless, let’s tier the SEC edge rushers, just like we did with the offensive players, into superstars (marginal OAYP >1), second tier (marginal OAYP between 0.5-1), and potential breakout stars.

*marginal OAYP scores in parentheses*

Superstars

-Jon Greenard (Louisville 2017), Florida (1.32)
-DJ Wonnum (2017), South Carolina (1.08)


Curiously enough, these guys played a combined five games last season. Greenard suffered a season ending injury in the first defensive series of Louisville’s season opener in 2018. Wonnum also went down in South Carolina’s first game, against Coastal Carolina. He returned for a few games in the middle of the season, but didn’t play in either of the Gamecocks’ last two regular season contests or the bowl game.

Therefore, as denoted above, their 2019 projections come as a result of their 2017 production.

It’s tough to just assume that a grad transfer, Greenard, will be one of the best edge defenders in the SEC next year, but there are reasons for Florida fans to be optimistic. He has a prior relationship with Todd Grantham from when the Gators’ DC recruited him to Louisville. He also enters a situation in which the departures of Polite and Cece Jefferson have opened the door to plenty of playing time opposite Jabari Zuniga. Jeremiah Moon, his fiercest competition at the position is also missing spring practice due to injury. At this point, it almost seems like a foregone conclusion that Greenard will earn the bulk of the snaps in what was Polite’s role. Greenard isn’t an elite athlete, but neither was his predecessor. Superior effort was probably Polite’s greatest attribute. Greenard, a bigger defender if not as explosive, shares that unceasing motor. He may not be as good as these numbers would suggest, but he’s a film star. Everytime the whistle is blown, he’s in the camera shot.

Wonnum is a bit easier to project than Greenard, or any grad transfer would be, because we’ve seen him be super productive in this defense. Assuming he’s healthy, few edge defenders in the conference can wreak havoc like Wonnum. However, he needs to be more consistent. He had just two sacks in five games against teams that ranked in the top half of the country in adjusted sack rate that season, and five of his thirteen tackles for loss came against NC State and Tennessee, who ranked 110th and 125th in stuff rate, respectively. In fairness, he did have sacks against both Missouri and NC State, top six teams in sack rate, plus tackles for loss against Georgia, Florida, and Kentucky, all top four teams in stuff rate, so it’s not like he’s just showing up and stockpiling numbers against the hapless. The next step is simply being more impactful on a week to week basis.

Second Tier

-Nick Coe, Auburn (0.93)
-Anfernee Jennings, Alabama (0.86)
-Jabari Zuniga, Florida (0.68)
-Darrell Taylor, Tennessee (0.57)


Because Greenard is a transfer and Wonnum is coming off of an injury, Auburn’s Nick Coe and Alabama’s Anfernee Jennings would actually be my two best bets as to who will be the best edge rushers in the SEC.

Coe has been a personal favorite of mine to watch going back to his freshman year. He has continued to put on weight since then, whilst maintaining the speed and explosiveness that made him such a highly touted recruit. Now, a devastating blend of power and athleticism, Coe’s 13.5 tackles for loss last year are the most among any returning player in the SEC and his seven sacks put him just one behind Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor.

Jennings is not the raw athlete that Coe is, but he’s a straight up bully. Long, strong, and mean, where you or I have palms and phalanges, Jennings has cement blocks, except the blocks aren’t actually made of cement, they’re made of fire and nails. I mean, there might be some cement in there, too, but I’m not sure. Regardless, he put those things to good work tallying 13 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks in 2018.

Zuniga is in a good spot with Greenard coming in, even after losing Polite, and should continue to produce at a high level, as he has since he stepped on campus. After stagnating from his freshman year to his sophomore year, Zuniga made a jump last season, perhaps as a byproduct of Polite’s emergence, but a jump no less. He could take another step forward in 2019 and join the ranks of the college football elite.

Taylor, meanwhile, was one of the lone bright spots on Tennessee’s defense last year. As mentioned above, he posted more sacks than any other SEC returnee a season ago and should be poised for a major encore performance as his surrounding talent continues to improve under Jeremy Pruitt.

Potential Breakout Stars

-Chauncey Rivers, Mississippi State (0.28)

Having to replace Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat on a line that spearheaded one of the nation’s most dominant defenses is no joke, but Chauncey Rivers could help ease that transition. He won’t be Sweat, that’s an unfair expectation, but he is the only returning edge defender in the SEC that didn’t qualify but still managed to post a positive marginal OAYP score, although that’s partially because the defensive formula is a little more value based than efficiency based, as compared to the offensive formula.. Auburn’s Big Kat Bryant and Kenny Hebert from Vanderbilt are also a couple of names to keep an eye on.

Full Marginal OAYP Rankings for Qualifying SEC Edge Defenders

1. Jon Greenard (Louisville 2017), Florida (1.32)
2. DJ Wonnum (2017), South Carolina (1.08)
3. Nick Coe, Auburn (0.93)
4. Anfernee Jennings, Alabama (0.86)
5. Jabari Zuniga, Florida (0.68)
6. Darrell Taylor, Tennessee (0.57)
7. Qaadir Sheppard, Ole Miss 0.36
8. Calvin Taylor, Kentucky -0.64
9. Patrick Queen, LSU (-0.67)
10. Jeremiah Moon, Florida (-0.7)
11. Ryder Anderson, Ole Miss (-0.81)
12. K'Lavon Chaisson (2017), LSU (-0.94)
13. Daniel Fennell, South Carolina (-0.95)
14. Tariqious Tisdale, Ole Miss (-1.11)

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP