On Wednesday we covered the top offensive SEC players that will visit Kroger Field in 2021. Today, we’ll take a look at the best defenders that the Cats will face during its home conference matchups. New offensive coordinator Liam Coen will be calling plays against dynamic defenders on a weekly basis. Let’s take a closer look.
Missouri – Trajan Jeffcoat
The Tigers landed a new defensive coordinator from the NFL. Steve Wilks inherits a unit that saw a 12.9-points per game increase from 2019 to 2020. Mizzou’s best defensive player is Trajan Jeffcoat. The 6’3, 265-pound edge defender earned multiple preseason All-SEC honors and is an impactful pass rusher. He totaled six quarterback sacks last season and will be the Tigers’ most threatening pass rusher in UK’s first conference showdown.
Kentucky should have an answer for Jeffcoat. Darian Kinnard is an All-American and LSU transfer Dare Rosenthal has garnered first round grades at the tackle position. Jeffcoat will be facing the strength of the Wildcat offense against both the run and pass.
Florida – Kaiir Elam
The Wildcats will play home games against All-American cornerbacks in back-to-back weeks. First up is Florida’s Kaiir Elam. The 6’2, 195-pound defensive back is coming off an All-SEC sophomore year after recording 39 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 interceptions, 11 pass breakups, and 1 fumble recovery.
Elam is considered as one of the best cornerbacks in college football. With UK’s presumed emphasis on the passing game, Wildcat pass catchers will face off against the future first-round draft pick. Production matters at the cornerback position. Elam has manufactured impressive numbers for the Gators.
LSU – Derek Stingley Jr.
LSU’s pass defense ranked last in the nation after allowing 323 yards per game in 2020. For context purposes, Kentucky gave up 224 yards through the air last season. The Tigers’ inept pass defense was not due to a lack of talent. In fact, Coach O’s team sports the best cornerback duo in the nation in First Team All-American Derek Stingley Jr. and Third Team All-American Eli Ricks. Both are dynamic athletes and elite defenders.
Derek Stingley was the most decorated defensive freshman in LSU history after earning consensus All-American honors in 2019. He appeared in seven games a year ago, and again was named as an All-American after posting 27 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 5 pass breakups.
The eventual winner of the Kentucky quarterback competition will be faced with a tremendous challenge against the Tigers. Stingley Jr. is a shut-down corner with explosive play capability. He will be the highest NFL Draft selection to play against the Cats on Kroger Field in 2021. Derek Stingley Jr. is definitely worth the price of admission.
Tennessee – Matthew Butler
Tennessee’s max exodus via the transfer portal is well documented. While the Volunteers will likely improve offensively, their defense may see a decline in 2021. Defensive end Matthew Butler has been a mainstay for UT and has earned preseason All-SEC honors going into 2021. The super-senior has accumulated 105 career tackles, and 4.5 quarterback sacks. Butler has been a consistent team leader throughout Tennessee coaching change and personnel troubles.
Identifying a Tennessee defensive standout for the 2021 season was a difficult proposition. Star linebacker Henry To’o To’o led the Vols in tackles (76) and tackles for loss (10) last season. He’s one of several UT players to depart the program. Josh Heupel’s team will likely need to outscore its opponents given the uncertainty of his team’s defensive depth chart.
What Does All This Mean?
Kroger Field will host arguably the top defensive player in the nation when Derek Stingley Jr. and the LSU Tigers travel to Lexington. Florida cornerback Kaiir Elam is a future first round draft selection and is an All-American. Opposing SEC, defensive star power certainly outweighs their offensive counterparts.
First-year play caller Liam Coen will face four conference foes in Kroger Field. He’ll be tasked with countering three All-American cornerbacks. But, Coen will have the luxury of star power at offensive tackle and a dominant running back in Chris Rodriguez Jr. Should be fun.