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Top 20 SEC Defensive Players the Last 20 Years

By Dave Holcomb
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Dave Holcomb shares his top 20 SEC defensive players from the last 20 years.

The SEC has provided college football fans some of the best defenses of all time, especially within the last 20 years. And in order to assemble an incredible defense, one has to possess tremendous players. Recently, I released the Top 20 SEC Offensive Players since 2000. Now, it’s time for the defensive players who were responsible for slowing down those stars.

Here are the best 20 SEC defensive players since 2000:

20. Roquan Smith, Georgia -- Starring in three seasons with the Bulldogs, Smith won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award and the Butkus Award as the best college linebacker during the 2017 season. It didn’t cultivate into a national championship, but Smith led Georgia to an SEC title that year and won the SEC Championship Game MVP.

19. Corey Webster, LSU -- The first of many LSU defensive backs on the list, Webster finished second in Tigers history with 16 career interceptions. He finished as a first-team All-SEC player twice and first-team All-American in 2003 while helping LSU to the BCS national championship.

18. Jarvis Jones, Georgia -- A two-time consensus All-American in 2011 and 2012, Jones became a star at Georgia after transferring from USC. During 2012, he won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award and the Jack Lambert Trophy, which is given annually to the nation’s top linebacker. He posted 28.0 sacks in 34 career games.

17. Vernon Hargreaves, Florida -- Hargreaves immediately shined as a freshman, making first-team All-SEC in 2013. Over the next two years, he became a first-team All-American as well. In three years, Hargreaves intercepted 10 passes, forced one fumble and recorded 3.0 tackles for loss while also posting 27 pass defenses.

16. Landon Collins, Alabama -- The Alabama safety contributed as a freshman to the Crimson Tide’s second championship in as many years during the 2012 season. He blossomed as a sophomore and then became an All-American player and member of the first-team All-SEC in 2014. Collins recorded 99 total tackles, including 4.5 for loss and three interceptions during his junior season.

15. Derrick Brown, Auburn -- It’s difficult to place newer players in the context of the historically great athletes from SEC football, but Brown deserves to be mentioned with the best from the last 20 years. He earned the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award last year and made the first All-SEC team. Brown played extremely well as a sophomore too, making the second-team All-SEC in 2018.

14. Morris Claiborne, LSU -- In just two seasons, Claiborne intercepted 11 passes and returned one of them for a touchdown. During his final college season in 2011, he won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award, became a unanimous All-American and took home the Jim Thorpe Award. Claiborne made second-team All-SEC in 2010 as well.

13. Nick Fairley, Auburn -- As important as Cam Newton was to the Tigers offense in 2010, Fairley was equally important to the defense and arrived at Auburn as a transfer. In the national championship game against Oregon, Fairley posted five tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He won SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors and the Lombardi award in 2010 as the best overall player in college football.

12. Jonathan Allen, Alabama -- The first of a few Alabama players on the list, Allen put together an absolutely tremendous career with the Crimson Tide. He helped them win the national championship in 2015 and then won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award in 2016. Allen also won the Lombardi award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, and Chuck Bednarik award during the same season. He was a unanimous All-American in 2016 and made the first-team All-SEC team three times.

11. Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina -- The freakish athlete had all the ability to be much higher on this list, but a disappointing 2013 season while entering the year with Heisman expectations hurts Clowney in history. In 2012, he became the best defender in college football, setting school records with 13.0 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss. He became an All-American and won the Ted Hendricks Award while finishing as a finalist for many other accolades. He didn’t live up to the hype during his swan song, but he still went first overall in the 2014 NFL Draft.

10. Devin White, LSU -- With tremendous speed, White earned a spot on the first-team All-SEC twice and became a consensus All-American in 2018. During that season, he also won the Butkus award, as the nation’s best linebacker. White posted 133 total tackles as a sophomore, which is fourth-most for a single season in the SEC.

9. Josh Allen, Kentucky -- Like many of the defenders on our list, Allen won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and made the All-American team in 2018. He also won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Chuck Bednarik award that season while he made second-team All-SEC in 2017. Allen became the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

8. John Henderson, Tennessee -- Henderson played half of his college career before 2000, but we’re going to count him, especially since his best seasons were after the millennium started. Henderson was consensus All-American along with first-team All-SEC in 2000 and 2001. He also won the Outland Trophy in 2000.

7. Patrick Peterson, LSU -- Becoming a starter late during his freshman season, Peterson became a first-team All-American by the end of his sophomore season. As a junior, he made the All-American team again along with first-team All-SEC in 2010. During the same season, he won the Jim Thorpe award and the Chuck Bednarik award.

6. C.J. Mosley, Alabama -- Experiencing both personal and team success immediately at Alabama, Mosley became a consensus Freshman All-American in 2010 and then was part of a national championship winner during his next two seasons. In 2012, he became a member of the first-team All-SEC and All-American team. In 2013, he won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award and the Butkus award as the best linebacker in college football.

5. Tyrann Mathieu, LSU -- Nicknamed “Honey Badger,” Mathieu is one of the few defenders on our list to become a Heisman Trophy finalist. He excelled as a freshman and then became the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and Chuck Bednarik award winner during his sophomore campaign in 2011. Unfortunately, fans didn’t get to see Mathieu play his junior year, as LSU dismissed him ahead of the 2012 season due to violating team rules.

4. Patrick Willis, Ole Miss -- A two-time All-American, Willis was a tackling machine for the Rebels, posting 265 total stops in his final two seasons. He made first-team All-SEC twice and won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award in 2006. Willis retired early from the NFL, but with five All-Pro bids, he will likely still be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day.

3. Eric Berry, Tennessee -- Earning a pair of unanimous All-American nominations, Berry won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 and the Jim Thorpe Award in 2009. In a three-year career, he posted 245 total tackles, including 17.5 for loss, with 14 interceptions. Berry became the No. 5 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and went on to star in the NFL.

2. Glenn Dorsey, LSU -- The top two spots on this list are interchangeable, as Dorsey can arguably lay claim to the title of most dominant SEC defender over the last two decades. He became an All-American and first-team All-SEC player as a sophomore, and then in 2007, he cleaned up at award ceremonies with the Lombardi award, Outland Trophy, Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Lott Trophy. Dorsey made All-American and All-SEC again too and led LSU to a national championship as well.

1. David Pollack, Georgia -- Pollack isn’t a consensus top choice for this list (as Tim Tebow was for the offense), but he lands here because he’s the most decorated defender in the SEC over the last 20 years. A three-time All-American and first-team All-SEC player, Pollack won the Ted Hendricks award twice, Chuck Bednarik award and Lombardi award, as the best player in college football, in 2004. He was also the SEC Defensive Player of the Year in 2002 and 2004.