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Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry, Leonard Fournette and Alex Collins are all game-changing running backs. With all four players returning, the Southeastern Conference will lean on having physical and instinctive defensive tackles. Defensive coordinators take pride in seeing players stuff the run, as well as creating pressure on quarterbacks. Yours truly of Touchdown Alabama Magazine now breaks down a list of the top five defensive tackles returning to the SEC this fall.


5. Taiwan Johnson

  • Team: Arkansas Razorbacks
  • Classification: RS Junior
  • Size: 6-foot-2, 273 pounds

Summary: Taiwan Johnson will look to anchor Arkansas’s defensive line, after seeing Trey Flowers and Darius Philon go to the NFL Draft. Johnson was moved to nose guard during fall camp and started in all 13 games last season. He posted 26 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Johnson added two fumble recoveries to his stat sheet, including one that went for a score. His 4.5 sacks tied him for third on the team. Johnson’s totaled 29 stops in 16 games.


4. Montravius Adams

  • Team: Auburn Tigers
  • Classification: Junior
  • Size: 6-foot-4, 296 pounds

Summary: Auburn returns Carl Lawson from a knee injury, but Montravius Adams will be its leader on the front line. Adams saw action in 13 games last season, and finished fifth on the team in the tackles (43). He had eight tackles for loss, three sacks, 17 quarterback hurries, a fumble recovery and an interception. His 17 quarterback hurries led Auburn’s defense in 2014.

Adams’s has accounted for 63 tackles, two sacks and 24 quarterback hurries in 25 games.


3. Chris Jones

  • Team: Mississippi State Bulldogs
  • Classification: Junior
  • Size: 6-foot-5, 308 pounds

Summary:  Look no further than Chris Jones to set the tone defensively for Mississippi State in 2015. He’s the next man up with Preston Smith and Benardrick McKinney both in the NFL.

Jones collected 26 tackles with 3.5 for loss in 13 games last season. He chimed in with three sacks, two pass breakups and eight quarterback hurries. Jones’s versatility allows him to play at both defensive tackle and defensive end.  He’s recorded 58 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, five pass breakups and 18 quarterback hurries in 26 career games at Mississippi State.


2. Robert Nkemdiche

  • Team: Mississippi Rebels
  • Classification: Junior
  • Size: 6-foot-4, 280 pounds

Summary: 2015 should give Robert Nkemdiche more reasons to prove why he was nation’s No.1 overall recruit and top defensive line prospect in 2012. Nkemdiche played in 13 games last season, accounting for 35 tackles, four tackles for loss, two sacks and a pass defended.

Mississippi returns Trae Elson, Tony Connor and C.J. Hampton to its secondary, but it wants to generate more pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Nkemdiche had an All-American season as a freshman in 2013. He tallied 34 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks and two pass breakups.


1. A’Shawn Robinson

  • Team: Alabama Crimson Tide
  • Classification: Junior
  • Size: 6-foot-4, 312 pounds

Summary: Alabama is tabbed to have the best defensive line in the nation in 2015, and it all starts with A’Shawn Robinson. He and teammate Jarran Reed have a chance to position themselves as first round picks in the 2016 NFL Draft with a solid performance this fall.

Robinson plays defensive tackle in the team’s nickel and dime packages, but he’s positioned at defensive end when Alabama goes to its base defense (3-4 alignment).

He finished with 49 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three pass breakups, four quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and a blocked kick in 14 games last season. Robinson earned first-team Freshman All-American honors from Sporting News in 2013. He led Alabama in sacks (5.5) and totaled 38 stops with eight tackles for loss. Robinson put in five quarterback hurries and a blocked kick in 13 games as a freshman. He’s posted 56 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, nine quarterback hurries and three pass breakups in 27 career games (15 starts).


SEC honorable mention DTs: Davon Godchaux (LSU), Gerald Dixon, Jr (S. Carolina) and Melvin Lewis (Kentucky)


Stephen M. Smith is a staff writer and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine, Pick Six Previews and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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