Top Returning SEC Defensive Tackles For 2017

    Which returning SEC defensive tackles will stand out in 2017, dominating the trenches and attracting the most attention from all-conference voters.

    March 9, 2017

    Which returning SEC defensive tackles will stand out in 2017, dominating the trenches and attracting the most attention from all-conference voters.


    The SEC rarely faces a shortage of elite defensive tackles, the byproduct of perennially recruiting some of the best talent in the south and beyond. Still, the league is uncharacteristically light on sure things at the position in 2017. There’s talent, for sure, especially in places like Tuscaloosa, College Station and Athens. But there are variables as well that could affect the league’s depth at the position. Unknowns involving health, particularly as Missouri’s Terry Beckner and Tennessee’s Kahlil McKenzie return from season-ending injuries and Georgia’s Trenton Thompson works through personal problems that forced him to withdraw from classes last month.

    Top Returning SEC Defensive Tackles

    5. Kingsley Keke, Texas A&M

    Keke took a quantum leap in his development as a sophomore, a trend the Aggies hope will continue this fall. After playing sparingly as a rookie, he contributed 37 tackles, seven stops for loss, four sacks and four pass breakups as a full-timer in 2016. Keke possesses all of the physical tools of a next-level lineman, from his length and strength to his ability to beat his man off the snap. If he hones his technique, like improving his leverage, he could be an All-SEC performer.

    4. Zaycoven Henderson, Texas A&M

    Henderson was one of four Aggies with at least 10 stops for loss in 2016 … and the only one who’s still in College Station in 2017. The 6-2, 300-pound senior will be one of the anchors of a front wall that’ll be driven by the tackles, as the ends attempt to replace Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. Henderson also chipped in with three sacks last fall, though he’s rehabbing a right knee injury this offseason and must prove he can maintain his conditioning and burst.

    3. Terry Beckner, Missouri

    Beckner was on the verge of a breakout second season in Columbia last year, when it was cut short on Oct. 22 by a knee injury. He’ll spend this offseason trying to shed rust and recapture the form that helped make him a five-star recruit and a Freshman All-American. Beckner is an athlete who just happens to be 6-4 and 290 pounds. And his 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks as a five-game starter in 2015 are just a hint of his enormous potential at Mizzou now that he’s healthy.

    2. Trenton Thompson, Georgia

    The curious case of Thompson will be worth monitoring very closely this offseason. He’s currently not even enrolled at Georgia, withdrawing from the spring semester in February for what was described as a serious medical issue. Where this situation goes from here is a complete unknown. If Thompson gets healthy and returns to the Dawgs this summer, he has the potential to be one of the dozen or so best tackles in college football. In his last game, the Liberty Bowl win over TCU, he had three sacks in an MVP performance that appeared capable of serving as a catapult into the 2017 season.

    1. Da’Ron Payne, Alabama

    Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson are gone. The time has arrived for Payne and Da’Shawn Hand to become the new star linemen in Tuscaloosa. Payne is an old-school interior lineman, sans the bells or whistles. He is a no-nonsense mauler, with the violent hands and raw power of a 6-2, 319-pounder to outmuscle opposing blockers at the point of impact. Payne is liable to use this season as a three-month audition for consideration in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.

    MORE: Top Returning Defensive Tackles In College Football For 2017

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