Apologies for the cliché, but as we all know, the game is centered on the quarterback. The money makers in the league are the quarterbacks themselves and those who protect them. And of course, those that get after the quarterbacks make a nice paycheck as well.
Whether by power, finesse or speed, the SEC is currently producing a whale of talent so far in the 2018 season. Kentucky’s Josh Allen came into the season as one of the highest rated preseason prospects in Wildcat history. He has only accentuated that praise thus far and is continuing to push for first round praise. Montez Sweat, Mississippi State, returned as one of the top edge rushers in the conference and hasn’t missed a beat five weeks into the season.
The sleeper of the group is Jachai Polite. The Florida edge rusher took advantage of opportunities across the defensive line and has burst onto the scene in Gainesville. The undersized defensive end prospect continues to wreak havoc in the trenches.
Josh Allen, Kentucky
When evaluating the SEC talent this preseason, I placed a borderline top 50 grade on Allen. As the season continues, Allen continues to prove he is a first-round talent. His raw skills with quickness created intrigue a season ago, but now Allen is putting together a finesse game and is slowly transforming into a polished pass rusher.
He uses his 6-foot-4 frame to keep blockers off his chest. While working against blockers, Allen’s vision in both areas of the game has improved. He keeps his eyes fixed on the development of play and attacks with impressive acceleration and a controlled path. The clip below indicates his pass rushing maturity knowing that he is too deep in the pocket and redirects his path to make something out of what could have been the end of his rep.
I like this from Allen. Knows if keeps pursuing he will get too deep and not be able to influence the play. Spins out of his block and creates a chance at the QB. pic.twitter.com/FRz1ctfWFE— Christian Page (@_ChristianPage) October 4, 2018
This preseason I wrote, “his power/strength at the point of attack is lacking, but that’s not his playing style. Allen must win off the edge with quickness whether that’s by winning off the snap with burst or using active hands to slap away the tackle’s counter.” Allen has proved that he is not only a speed rusher anymore. The senior continues to develop into a polished pass rusher showing the subtleties it takes to create pressure.
🚨FILM REVIEW KENTUCKY EDITION🚨— Brett Hudson (@Brett_Hudson) September 23, 2018
Josh Allen was just ridiculous last night pic.twitter.com/8o0elSMbJ2
Jachai Polite, Florida
Polite has already eclipsed his sack total from a season ago and is currently at the forefront of chatter in the draft world. Currently sitting with four sacks entering the weekend, Polite continues to prove his pass-rushing prowess against formidable SEC foes.
Polite showed promise last season with glimpses of athleticism, and potential and he seems to have now put the pieces together in 2018. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound defensive end wins instantly with his quickness off the snap. Polite gets to work early being able to gain an advantage with his initial quicks and then slipping through traffic with impressive flexibility.
From last year to this year, Polite has tightened up his path to the QB. He continues to show improved technique while showing the athleticism with flexibility and controlled lower body movements. pic.twitter.com/oAztk6gYdW— Christian Page (@_ChristianPage) October 4, 2018
The junior pass rusher is nowhere near a finished product; he is just getting started, which is scary. While continuing to work on his pass rush skills, Polite will always partner any pass rush move with closing speed and explosion. His quick jab step and ability to accelerate at an elite rate keeps him in every play even if initially stifled at the point of attack.
Sure, the right tackle does not get off an initial punch, but this clip shows how quickly Polite can get to Point A to Point B. Has some lower body explosion to attack and close with ease. #NFLDraft #Gators pic.twitter.com/BNXhyhSdsg— Christian Page (@_ChristianPage) October 4, 2018
Montez Sweat, Mississippi State
Entering the season, Mississippi State’s expectations were the highest they’ve ever been. With a 0-2 record heading into the weekend to play Auburn, it’s fair to say those expectations have fallen short of the mark. However, one expectation that remains true is that Sweat is one of the most feared edge rushers in college football.
As the conference’s returning sack leader with 10.5 in 2017, Sweat currently ranks third in the SEC with 4.5 on the season. Sweat wins with length and strength. At 6-foot-5 Sweat exercises his length to his advantage quickly snapping his upper body into the chest of the blocker. He showcases first round initial quickness ability with disciplined eyes and feet.
I had to watch this like 5 times before figuring out how Montez Sweat did this to him pic.twitter.com/5wkmLaxNwf— Mark Dulgerian (@MarkDulgerian) October 3, 2018
Sweat’s motor is impeccable. If Sweat notices he is initially caught in the mud, he will find ways around the contact to not get stuck. His lower body isn’t full of strength as some of his contemporaries in this class, but his recognition skills and consistent motor occasionally serve as a trump card for those inadequacies. Sweat’s length and prowess provide him with winning reps highlighted by quick initial movements accompanied by an effective leg drive and motor.
The SEC is usually headlined by dynamic defenders up front, and in 2018, the headlined prevails.