Top 100 Defenders In College Football
By Joe Coughlin
In case you missed it, check out our Top 100 offensive players in college football.
John Q. Normal probably knows the name Clowney, the South Carolina defensive end widely regarded as the best talent in the country — on either side of the ball. But Mr. Normal may not know the other gentlemen who light up offensive stars like gasoline-started bonfires.
That's why we're here. No need to do the research yourself. We got you. Sporting arenas aren't the only place where bragging rights matter. You want to be the lord of the living room and know exactly who picked that pass off for TCU. You lean back and say, "That Jason Verrett's a helluva player." Then, enjoy the slow turns that ease your way from your ensemble of less-knowledgeable pals. It's good being you.
Take a load off, put those feet up, grab a cold one and take a look at college football's 100 brightest defensive talents. You're welcome.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, Jr. DE, South Carolina
He's a football legend, and he's not legal. Clowney reportedly makes his offensive line look like statues. He had the hit heard 'round the world. And he once caused Zeus to fumble his lightning bolt. Truth is, how can Clowney ever live up to this hype? I don't think he can ... and he's STILL the best defender in the game.
2. Anthony Barr, Sr. LB, UCLA
Barr couldn't find a position at UCLA. Wide receiver, tight end, running back? None of them worked too well. So, as a junior, he jumped to the other side of the ball — and lit the world on fire. He totaled 80-plus tackles, 13.5 sacks and 20-plus TFL as a linebacker. He's 6-4, 250 and is a star. If a defensive Heisman candidate outside of Clowney, emerges look to Barr.
3. Will Sutton, Sr. DT, Arizona State
Sutton is No. 3 and it's closer than you think. Clowney had 13 sacks — so did Sutton (for a whopping negative 102 yards). Clowney had 23.5 tackles for loss — so did Sutton. Sutton is an interior lineman, though. Similarly, however, he moves around, can track down ball-carriers and reads plays extremely well. He's only 6-1, which keeps him off many lists, radars, etc. He shouldn't be.
4. Kyle Van Noy, Sr. LB, BYU
Van Noy may not have been on many radars until he stole the show at the County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl: 1.5 sacks, 8 tackles and an interception he ran back for a score. He gets in the backfield and is a menace. He may be the best in the land at chasing from sideline to sideline. Behind Barr mostly because of strength.
5. Bradley Roby, Jr. CB, Ohio State
Roby is a special corner. He had 1.73 passes defended/game (19 total) last year, leading the nation. Not only can he fly, but the guy closes like no one else at his position. He has a nose for the football and gets in great position. They won't throw as much his way this year and he's suspended for the opener, but it won't matter.
6. Stephon Tuitt, Jr. DE, Notre Dame
At 6-7, Tuitt is as imposing as it gets coming off the edge, but his athleticism is the key. He is disciplined enough to hold his spot and then can shift with his much smaller opposition. His 12 sacks a year ago were Top 5 in the nation and this year, he'll play without a sports hernia!
7. C.J. Mosley, Sr. LB, Alabama
Mr. Everything on the 'Bama defense, Mosley made 107 tackles a year ago to go with four sacks and a pair of picks. He's as reliable as they come in the middle with the talent to make the big play. Mosley is the key cog in the nation's best defense.
8. Jackson Jeffcoat, Sr. DE, Texas
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.
9. Devonte Fields, So. DE, TCU
A rising star, Fields already is one of the pass-rushing elite. He's extremely nimble and athletic and finds creative ways to elude and manipulate blocks. Some more weight will give him a bull rush to complete the repertoire.
10. Loucheiz Purifoy, Jr. CB, Florida
One of the fastest athletes in the country, Purifoy is a pure cover guy. He's a potential first-rounder at corner, but has spent plenty of time working out on offense.
11. Scott Crichton, Jr. DE, Oregon State
Crichton can be every bit as good of a pass-rusher as Fields and Tuitt and maybe even in the same photo as Sutton and Clowney. He's got a good speed rush and one of the better power surges in FBS.
12. Louis Nix III, Sr. DT, Notre Dame
An out-and-out bruiser. At 357 pounds, he is more than a gap-clogger. Nix is lightning quick off the ball and puts himself in great position nearly every snap. From there, he is outstanding with his arms and has a serious motor.
13. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr. CB, Oregon
Ekpre-Olomu is instinctual and talented, two things that lead to big success at his position. Twenty passes defended and four picks stand out, but his six forced fumbles (he was a high school safety) make him a Top 15 guy.
14. Jason Verrett, Sr. CB, TCU
If Ekpre-Olomu is 13, Verrett's gotta be right with him. While getting less air time, Verrett goes about his business, but not quietly. He led the nation with 22 passes defended to go with six picks and 63 tackles. He is a ball hawk with impeccable balance and agility.
15. Ryan Shazier, Jr. LB, Stanford
Shazier finished in the Top 10 in five Big Ten categories: tackles (115), tackles for loss (17), pass break-ups (11), sacks (5) and forced fumbles (3). The guy is all over the field, using his speed and burst to run around and by blocks rather than blow them up. He gets free and tracks down anyone on the field.
16. Morgan Breslin, Sr. DE, USC
A quarterback hunter, Breslin made his debut last year by constantly being in Pac-12 backfields. He's a speed rusher and is hard to control. In the new system at USC, he'll be an outside backer, which suits him just fine.
17. Trent Murphy, Sr. LB, Stanford
The large (6-6, 260) linebacker is the second of many Cardinal on this list. He was Stanford's leader in tackles for loss with 18 and sacks with 10 and headlines a defense that allowed fewer than 20 points a game for one of the most dynamic conferences.
18. Lamarcus Joyner, Sr. DB, Florida State
You'll also see plenty of Seminoles, who have some NFL-capable talent. Joyner saw most of his time at safety in 2012 and thanks to speed and awareness, covered an incredible amount of ground. FSU was the top program in defensive pass efficiency in 2012. Joyner was a big reason why. He'll get more looks at corner in 2013.
19. Max Bullough, Sr. LB, Michigan State
The Spartans will have the best defense in the B1G and one of the best in the country. Behind it all will be Bullough, a prototypical Mike linebacker who does everything and anything. He can cover, smush the run, chase the run, shed blocks and come back to set up the next play.
20. A.J. Johnson, Jr. LB, Tennessee
Name the FBS leader in MLBOTDs? (Which, of course, stands for middle linebacker offensive touchdowns.) In a remarkable display of athleticism, Johnson scored six times in the Vols' version of the Wildcat last year. On defense, he stacked up 138 tackles. He's a tackling machine and has added bulk to help him absorb and deliver hits.
21. Anthony Johnson, Jr. DT, LSU
22. Chris Borland, Sr. LB, Wisconsin
23. Aaron Colvin, Sr. CB, Oklahoma
24. Jeremiah Attaochu, Sr. DE, Georgia Tech
Attaochu's move from outside linebacker could pay big dividends for a defense that was atrocious in 2012.
25. Ty Zimmerman, Sr. S, Kansas State
26. Ed Reynolds, Sr. S, Stanford
27. Aaron Lynch, So. DE, South Florida
Big and agile, Lynch will be back on the radar this year after sitting out a year after a transfer from Notre Dame, where he was one of, if not the, best defenders as a freshman.
28. Ha Ha Clinton Dix, Jr. S, Alabama
29. Christian Jones, Sr. LB, Florida State
30. Shayne Skov, Sr. LB Stanford
How do you not love this guy? 100-percent effort brought with a mo-hawk. Skov doesn't turn off his beast mode and it comes with 250 pounds (times acceleration to get force).
31. Dominique Easley, Sr. DT, Florida
32. Darqueze Dennard, Sr. CB, Michigan State
33. Aaron Donald, Sr. DT, Pittsburgh
34. Kerry Hyder, Sr. DL, Texas Tech
35. Yawin Smallwood, Jr. LB, Connecticut
With 120 tackles and 15 for loss in 2012, Smallwood is one of the best inside backers in the country, even if he plays in the American Athletic Conference.
36. Craig Lotson, Sr. S., LSU
37. Chris Smith, Sr. DE, Arkansas
38. Timmy Jernigan, Jr. DT, Florida State
39. Mario Edwards Jr., So. DE, Florida State
He's a former No. 1 recruit (2012) and will get full-time looks as a sophomore. He's headed for a big year, especially with Jernigan at his side.
40. Jordan Jenkins, So. LB, Georgia
41. James Gayle, Sr. DE, Virginia Tech
42. Calvin Barnett, Sr. DT, Oklahoma State
43. Ross Cockrell, Sr. CB, Duke
44. Jake Ryan, Jr. LB, Michigan
Rehabbing an ACL tear will keep him off the field until October, but when he's back, look out. The guy is an absolute monster in the middle.
45. Andre Hal, Sr. CB, Vanderbilt
46. Carl Bradford, Jr. LB, Arizona State
47. Ra’Shede Hageman, Sr. DT, Minnesota
48. Adrian Hubbard, Jr. LB, Alabama
This kid is already climbing draft charts and has all the measurables to be a star. If he puts it together, he'll be All-SEC with CJ Mosley.
49. Andrew Jackson, Sr. LB, Western Kentucky
50. Marcus Roberson, Jr. CB, Florida
51. Deion Barnes, Jr. DE, Penn State
52. Khalil Mack, Sr. LB, Buffalo
A real heavy hitter, Mack has been making plays in backfields since for three years. He tracks plays as well as he finishes them.
53. Ben Gardner, Sr. DE, Standford
54. Quadre Diggs, Jr. CB, Texas
55. Jack Tyler, Sr. LB, Virginia Tech
56. Benardnick McKinney, So. LB, Mississippi State
He got plenty of experience as a frosh, piling up 100-plus tackles. He is one on the rise.
57. Lamin Barrow, Sr. LB, LSU
58. Price Shembo, Sr. LB, Notre Dame
Coach Brian Kelly told the media they are "missing the boat" on Shembo. He could be the next ND star.
59. Deion Belue, Sr. CB, Alabama
60. Jonathan Brown, Sr. LB, Illinois
61. Kareem Martin, Sr. DE, North Carolina
62. Justin Gilbert, Sr. CB, Oklahoma State
63. E.J. Gaines, Sr. CB, Missouri
Senior has gotten better every year, and quarterbacks are learning, throwing his way less and less.
64. Jeremy Grove, Jr. LB, East Carolina
65. Bryce Hager, Jr. LB, Baylor
66. Denzel Nkemdiche, So. LB, Mississippi
67. Alvin "Bud" Dupree, Jr. DE, Kentucky
Moving from outside backer, Dupree will be a ton to deal with as a speed rusher on the edge. Should see sack totals in the double-digits.
68. Eric Kendricks, Jr. LB, UCLA
69. Jordan Hicks, Jr. LB, Texas
70. Antonio Morrison, So. LB, Florida
Tons of love for my suburban Chicago counterpart. He doesn't hit ball-carriers, he pops them. He'll take Bostic's MLB spot in his second year.
71. Chaz Sutton, Sr. DE, South Carolina
72. Hakeem Smith, Sr. S, Louisville
73. Shaun Lewis, Sr. LB, Oklahoma State
74. Ben Heeney, Jr. LB, Kansas
75. Ryan Carrethers, Sr. DT, Arkansas State
He's 310 pounds and made CBS's "freaks list." Amazing athlete who shouldn't be able to do the things he does from the interior.
76. Bene Benwikere, Sr. CB, San Jose State
77. Vic Beasley, Jr. DE, Clemson
80. Jake Fely, Sr. LB, San Diego State
Fely had 90 tackles and seven sacks for a respectable defense. He and SDSU will be better in '13.
81. Leonard Williams, So. DE, USC
82. Dante Fowler, So. DE, Florida
83. Bennett Jackson, Sr. CB, Notre Dame
84. Eddie Lackey, Sr. LB, Baylor
85. Nikita Whitlock, Sr. DT, Wake Forest
Whitlock is only 5-foot-9, but plays the run and pass effectively from the interior line.
86. Jake Fischer, Sr. LB, Arizona
87. Greg Blair, Sr. LB, Cincinnati
88. Chidera Uzo-Diribe, Sr. DE, Colorado
89. DeDe Lattimore, Sr. LB, South Florida
90. James Morris, Sr. LB, Iowa
91. Daniel McCullers, Sr. DT, Tennessee
Talk about a big man on campus. McCullers is 6-8 and 350 pounds. He has the technique to get leverage with that weight and is athletic enough to hold strong.
92. Derron Smith, Jr. S, Fresno State
93. Travis Raciti, Jr. DT, San Jose State
94.Jemea Thomas, Sr. GB, Georgia Tech
95. Calvin Pryor, Jr. S, Louisville
96. Roosevelt Nix, Sr. DT, Kent State
97. Jamal Merrell, Sr. LB, Rutgers
98. Isaiah Bruce, So. LB, West Virginia
Look out for this one. After 90 tackles as a frosh, Bruce has already become a team leader.
99. Ronald Pollard, Jr. LB, Florida
100. Deshazor Everett, Jr. CB, Texas A&M