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Some Of Us Are Smart, I Have Proof: '13 Top Defenders

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Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald was the best defensive player in college football in 2013. Photo by David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images.
Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald was the best defensive player in college football in 2013. Photo by David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images.

Defense rules. 

The Seahawks, Florida State, the '85 Bears, the Mighty Ducks (Golberg the goalie and all). Defense is what it's all about. 

In my last piece, I berated myself for letting Jameis Winston get past me, as he wasn't in my preseason 100. Same goes for postseason No. 2 Andre Williams. But now, I'm on the defense. 

While my preseason offensive ranks had their faults, the defensive ranks were pretty spot on. Here's the preseason 20: 

1. Jadeveon Clowney, Jr. DE, South Carolina

2. Anthony Barr, Sr. LB, UCLA

3. Will Sutton, Sr. DT, Arizona State

4. Kyle Van Noy, Sr. LB, BYU

5. Bradley Roby, Jr. CB, Ohio State

6. Stephon Tuitt, Jr. DE, Notre Dame

7. C.J. Mosley, Sr. LB, Alabama

8. Jackson Jeffcoat, Sr. DE, Texas

9. Devonte Fields, So. DE, TCU

10. Loucheiz Purifoy, Jr. CB, Florida

11. Scott Crichton, Jr. DE, Oregon State

12. Louis Nix III, Sr. DT, Notre Dame

13. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr. CB, Oregon

14. Jason Verrett, Sr. CB, TCU

15. Ryan Shazier, Jr. LB, Stanford

16. Morgan Breslin, Sr. DE, USC

17. Trent Murphy, Sr. LB, Stanford

18. Lamarcus Joyner, Sr. DB, Florida State

19. Max Bullough, Sr. LB, Michigan State

20. A.J. Johnson, Jr. LB, Tennessee

Some injuries worked their way into the equation and we all knew before the season Clowney couldn't keep it up (though, he is still ridiculous). But overall, the rankings are solid when placed next to the best defenders of 2013. 

Check 'em out: 

1. Aaron Donald, DE, senior Pittsburgh

Preseason rank: 33

Stats: 59 tackles, 28.5 TFL, 11 sacks, 16 hurries

A recognizable face — but only in opponents’ backfields. An absolute terror off the ball, Donald had one of the most dominant defensive end seasons in recent memories. And yes, I remember Jadeveon Clowney. Winner of the Nagurski Trophy and Budnarik Award for top defensive player, Donald led the nation in tackles for loss with a total that ranks third all time (since 2005).

2. Darqueze Dennard, CB, senior Michigan State

Preseason rank: 32

Stats: 62 tackles, 4 INTs, 11 passes defended

Hard to compare a cornerback and defensive end, but believe me when I tell you Dennard and Donald are comparable in their dominance. Dennard and his secondary mates were the reason teams had to TRY and run on the Spartans. Though, that didn’t get them anywhere. He’s a physical lockdown corner and his size will help him in the NFL.

3. C.J. Mosley, LB, senior Alabama

Preseason Rank: 7

Stats: 102 tackles (56 solo), 9 TFL, 5 pass breakups

Mosley lived up to expectations in his final season, winning the Dick Butkus Award. That’s never an easy thing, especially front and center at Alabama. Just as good in coverage as in run stopping, Mosley doesn’t miss tackles and has solid hands. He’ll make an NFL team happy.

4. Khalil Mack, LB, senior Buffalo

Preseason rank: 52

Stats: 100 tackles (56 solo), 19 TFL, 3 INTs (2 TDs), 7 pass breakups, 5 forced fumbles

If there was one mistake I had after re-reading my preseason ranks, it was Mack being so low. He’s as fundamentally sound a linebacker there is in the game. With passion and drive behind every snap, he doesn’t let himself fail.

5. Anthony Barr, LB, senior UCLA

Preseason Rank: 2

Stats: 66 tackles (43 solo), 20 TFL, 10 sacks, 6 FF (first in nation), 4 recovered fumbles

Barr may have been the most feared man on a football field this year. You never knew exactly where or how, but he was going to make an impact on the play. His six forced fumbles led the nation, and 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks both placed Top 10.

6. Trent Murphy, LB, senior Stanford

Preseason rank: 17

Stats: 62 tackles (37 solo), 23.5 TFL, 15 sacks, 1 pick (TD), 6 passes defended

Another Mr. Everything, Murphy was the leader of another dynamic defense. His 15 sacks led the nation and he set the Pac-12 record in tackles for loss (since 2005).

7. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, senior Texas

Preseason rank: 8

Stats: 82 tackles (40 solo), 19 TFL, 13 sacks, 1 INT, 4 passes defended, 2 FF

(Verbatim from my preseason report): “Quickness is the name of the game for Jeffcoat, who is a rarity because of his effectiveness in the run game from his end position. He has yet to achieve his potential in the pass rush (like his father, Jim, who had 100-plus sacks in the NFL), but was on his way before injury in 2012. He has the tools to get double-digit sacks.” Yep.

8. Ryan Shazier, LB, senior Ohio State

Preseason rank: 15

Stats: 144 tackles (102 solo), 23.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 4 passes defended, 4 FF

This guy is so fun to watch. Sideline to sideline or up the seam, he can track and finish off ball-carriers. His enormous tackles total was third in the NCAA. His 102 solos and 23 tackles for loss were both second.

9. Justin Gilbert, CB, senior Oklahoma State

Preseason rank: 62

Stats: 42 tackles (37 solo), 7 INT (2 TD), 7 PD

A playmaker. Gilbert can stick receivers like glue, make plays on the ball and take it to the house. He has eight career non-offensive touchdowns.

10. Marcus Smith, DE, senior Louisville

Preseason: N/R

Stats: 42 tackles (33 solo), 18.5 TFL, 14.5 sacks

Smith’s 14.5 sacks ranked second in the nation and his 18.5 tackles for loss weren’t too shabby either. Teddy Bridgewater wasn’t the only thing at Louisville. Smith led a raucous defense (No. 1 overall in nation) that helped Charlie Strong get the big job at Texas

11. Vic Beasley, DE, junior Clemson

Preseason rank: 77

Stats: 41 tackles (31 solo), 23 TFL, 13 sacks, 6 PDs, 4 FF

Uber athletic, Beasley can make up for his size disadvantage (225 pounds) by giving himself space and beating blocks with quickness. He did that quite often.

12. Michael Sam, DE, senior Missouri

Preseason rank: N/R

Stats: 48 tackles (31 solo), 19 TFL, 11.5 sacks, 2 FF

Despite a solid three-year start, Sam was a relatively unknown before bursting on the scene in 2013. The Tigers had a high-flying offense, but Sam and the pass rush is what made them a Top-10 team.

13. Lamarcus Joyner, DB, senior Florida State

Preseason rank: 18

Stats: 69 tackles (45 solo), 7 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 2 INT, 4 PD, 3 FF

Versatile and dominant, Joyner led a top-10 Seminoles passing defense in 2013. Made plays all over the field, not just the secondary.

14. Dee Ford, DE, senior Auburn

Preseason rank: N/R

Stats: 29 tackles (18 solo), 14.5 TFL, 10.5 sacks

Another one who likes to spend time in backfields, Ford improved his draft stock big time in 2013. He’s a late first-rounder.

15. Chris Borland, LB, senior Wisconsin

Preseason rank: 22

Stats: 111 tackles (72 solo), 8.5 TFL, 4 sacks

Only behind Shazier for solo tackle totals in the Big Ten. Prototypical middle linebacker — strong, thick, steady, smart.

16. Will Sutton, DT, senior Arizona State

Preseason rank: 3

Stats: 48 tackles (29 solo), 13.5 TFL, 4 sacks, INT, 3 PDs

Sutton was the victim of an outstanding 2012 (23.5 TFL, 13 sacks). Increased attention from offensive lines kept Sutton’s numbers at bay, but he’s still an amazing talent that freed up his teammates thanks to his prowess.

17. Shayne Skov, LB, senior Stanford

Preseason rank: 30

Stats: 109 tackles (62 solo), 13 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 4 PDs, 3 FF

With linebackers with Skov and Murphy, it’s no wonder the Cardinal boasted one of the nation’s best defenses.

18. Jason Verrett, CB, senior TCU

Preseason rank: 24

Stats: 39 tackles (31 solo), 2 INT, 14 PDs

His 12 passes defended led the Big 12. Verrett has impeccable ball skills and makes plays on the football. He had 22 PDs in 2012 to go with six picks.

19. Timmy Jernigan, DT, junior Florida State

Preseason rank: 38

Stats: 63 tackles (35 solo), 11 TFL, 4.5 sacks

When your team gives up 12 points a game, you’ll have multiple athletes on this list. Such is the case with FSU, and we find Jernigan here after his dominant season on the interior.

20. Shilique Calhoun, DE, sophomore Michigan State

Preseason rank: N/R

Stats: 37 tackles (20 solo), 14 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 1 INT (TD)

Another integral piece of the Spartans powerful defense, Calhoun was the Big Ten’s Defensive Lineman of the Year. Called “The Freak,” Calhoun has got it all and he’ll be in the preseason top-10 next year.

Next 10: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon; Leonard Williams, DE, USC; Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State; Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina; Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor; Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri; Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska; Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State; Jeremiah Attaochu, DE, Georgia Tech; Scott Chrichton, DE, Oregon State