The Roundup's Position Rankings continue with the big beauties on the defensive front. Arguably the most difficult area to recruit and develop talent. If you've got a dominate front, chances are you're real good on defense. If you don't, add a digit to the scoreboard.
The Horned Frogs lost three major contributors up front from their 2015 squad. Davion Pierson, Terrell Lathan, Mike Tuaua all graduated but the cupboard isn't bare. Josh Carraway returns at defensive end and brings back 9 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. Carraway was an All-Big 12 performer in 2015.
Carraway is joined by James McFarland who missed 2015 with a broken toe. McFarland led the Frogs in sacks in 2014, meaning the leading sack producers from 2014 and 2015 return for TCU. McFarland is listed as an "or" on the depth chart with JC transfer and former Boise State player Mat Boesen. Boesen was a four star recruit out of JC who ran afoul of the law in his time at Boise State was was kicked off the squad. Tipa Galeai, a 6'5 230 pound sophomore surprised coaches with his ability as a true freshman, earning playing time. He'll be a big part of the rotation in 2016.
Nebraska transfer Aaron Curry returns inside after a successful 2015. He and sophomore Breylin Mitchell will hold down the interior of the line with Junior Chris Bradley and sophomore L.J. Collier providing depth. Joseph Broadax is the only defensive lineman on the depth chart weighing over 300 pounds, Curry and Mitchell are both 270 so the Frogs are bit undersized up front.
The Roundup is sure that's all part of Gary Patterson's plan, but for now it's a little problem. See what we did there. That problem could be mitigated if 6'4 330 pound Ross Blacklock contributes early. He's a people mover with better feet than his frame indicates. Blacklock is raw but Patterson and his staff have a great track record of developing defensive lineman.
TCU front was really hit or really miss in 2015. Great at some things, terrible at others. Hence the rainbow heat chart. On neutral down and distance, the Frogs weren't good, they didn't make plays behind the line of scrimmage but were above average at short yardage. With all the injuries and losses from 2015, the fact that TCU line held up so well is a testament to coaching and depth. If TCU is healthy in 2016, the depth developed in 2015 could make this a dominate group.
|TCU||Adj. Line Yds||Std. Down Line Yards||Pass. Downs Line Yards||Opp. Rate||Power Success Rate||Stuff Rate||Adj. Sack Rate||Std. Down Sack Rate||Pass. Down Sack Rate|
2. Texas A&M
The Aggies may have the best defensive end duo in college football in Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. The two combined for 19.5 sacks and 34 tackles for a loss. Hall has put on weight and gotten up to 270 pounds. Qualen Cunningham and James Lockhart give the Ags a fair amount of depth at the end position. Along with Jarrett Johnson, the Aggies have a very deep rotation of long, athletic defensive ends.
Teams, especially later in the year, attacked Hall and Garrett via the run. Even though both are great pass rushers, the defensive ends will need to improve against the run in 2016. The Aggie front as a whole will need to improve against the run. For as much as they were able to rush the passer, the Aggies couldn't stop the run on neutral down or distances or passing downs. In the SEC West that's a problem.
Inside the Aggies should be a year older and better with the explosive Daylon Mack. Mack is down 25 pounds from last year and has one of the quickest first steps in the country. George Ranch's Kingsley Keke had a big time spring at brings good size to the interior of the A&M front. Zaycoven Henderson and Hardreck Walker add depth and size up front.
This may be the deepest and best offensive front since the early 90's on the A&M campus. Freshman Justin Madubuike and Alton Robinson may get a rare luxury of redshirting to gain experience and put on weight.
John Chavis wants long versatile athletes, he's got them this year throughout the depth chart. Chavis' defenses are known as spread killers in part because of the flexibility his personnel have allowed him to play with. Chavis runs a conventional 4-3 but can shift to a 3-4 without changing personnel and, against spread teams, can deploy his 3-2-6 to confuse and disrupt. A&M doesn't have the linebackers that Chavis drew on at LSU, more on that later, but the Aggies do have six to eight top rotation players up front plus two ball hawking safeties that can cover a multitude of sins.
|Texas A&M||Adj. Line Yds||Std. Down Line Yards||Pass. Downs Line Yards||Opp. Rate||Power Success Rate||Stuff Rate||Adj. Sack Rate||Std. Down Sack Rate||Pass. Down Sack Rate|
Houston's defensive front are large, athletic, and deep. Defensive end Cameron Malveaux checks in at 6'6 270 anchors one side of the defensive line while Nick Thurman 6'4 290 anchors the other. Malveaux started 13 games in 2015 with 8.5 tackles for loss. Thurman contributed five tackles for loss in a reserve role.
Inside the Cougars bring back 2nd team All AAC performer B.J. Singleton. Singleton checks in at 6'4 315 pounds. The Cougars 3-3-5 attack asks the nose to occupy space and allow the linebackers to flow and fill. Singleton is talented enough that he requires a double team to deal with him. Jerard Carter provides depth inside.
On the outside sophomore Zach Vaughn will be a rotation player as will Ed Oliver, perhaps the highest recruited Cougar in some time. Oliver out of Westfield checks in at 6'4 290. Houston depth chart is made up of giant humans. The Cougars aren't dealing with any undersized contributors. Everyone on the two deep weighs in at 270 or more.
Todd Orlando's 3-4, 3-3-5, and even 4-3 scheme allows his linebackers and defensive front to work in unison to disguise and play aggressively but the key is disciplined gap control and having the size to be versatile. In 2015 the Cougars found themselves at an elite level stopping the run, especially in neutral down and distance.
|Houston||Adj. Line Yds||Std. Down Line Yards||Pass. Downs Line Yards||Opp. Rate||Power Success Rate||Stuff Rate||Adj. Sack Rate||Std. Down Sack Rate||Pass. Down Sack Rate|
Texas has a nice mix of experience and blue chip youth on the defensive front. This might be a situation where the youth are more talented than the experience. After the departures of Hasaan Ridgeway and Desmond Jackson the 4-3 will be fronted inside by Paul Boyette Jr. and Poona Ford. Both Boyette and Ford played a significant number of snaps for the Horns in 2015 and Boyette looked to the be the best of the bunch at spring practice and could emerge as an NFL prospect given his size and decent athleticism. Ford, while not a run stopper, he is a decent pocket pusher. His height, at 5'11, makes his ability to play with leverage more critical. Other than Boyette and Ford the Horns return all of one defensive tackle who saw the field in 2015, Chris Nelson.
Texas will have to rely on any of five very highly regarded freshman to play in the rotation up front. The most likely to contribute is Jordan Elliott out of Westside in Houston. Elliott is a monster at 6'4 318 pounds and every school that had a brain and a scholarship recruited him. Other freshman to keep an eye on are De'Andre Christmas and Chris Daniels from Euless Trinity. DC Vance Bedford is on record saying that his freshman will be thrown in early and often.
Outside the Horns are looking for someone to provide a consistent pass rush and, more importantly, help stop the run for a defense that was pretty horrible at both. Charles Omenihu and Bryce Cottrell are fighting things out for the starting job on one side, while at the other or "Fox" defensive end returning starter Naashon Hughes and converted linebacker Bracken Hager hold down the fort. Both Hughes and Hager might be pushed down the pecking order by one of the talented freshman. Erick Fowler is one such fish, undersized but explosive out of Manor. Another option may be Andrew Fitzgerald out of Flour Mound Marcus who has good size at 6'5 250. Fitzgerald has a nice motor and should be part of the rotation.
The 2015 Horns were statistically very good at getting after the quarterback. The Horns got to that echelon thanks to blitz pressure and some exotic schemes from an underrated DC in Bedford. Against the run, Texas was bad, just bad. When teams wanted to run, they ran. Surprising because the perceived strength of the Longhorns were defensive tackles Hasaan Ridgeway and Desmond Jackson. Texas has to stop the run in 2016 and that starts up front.
|Texas||Adj. Line Yds||Std. Down Line Yards||Pass. Downs Line Yards||Opp. Rate||Power Success Rate||Stuff Rate||Adj. Sack Rate||Std. Down Sack Rate||Pass. Down Sack Rate|
Baylors depth chart is ever evolving, especially since the end of spring practice. The biggest change was obviously Art Briles, the losses of the defensive line are tough to deal with as well. Some of the losses the Bears knew were coming, notably the departure of Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings, Beau Blackshear, and Jamal Palmer, the four starters from 2015. That group was the best in the Big 12 and one of the best in college football in 2015. The sting of those losses was added to when projected starter Brian Nance was ruled academically ineligible in the early summer then projected defensive tackle starter Jeremy Faulk was dismissed from the team around the same time. Things are brand new in Waco ready or not.
The Bears played a lot of 3-4 in the spring, moving away from their more often used 4-3, that move might be more practical now. Byron Bonds, a three year letterman returns inside. Bonds missed the spring due to injury but should be back for the fall. Sophomores Ira Lewis and Andrew Morris give depth inside. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett played a bunch of guys up front last year whether by design or because of the early season blowouts, so he's looking at a roster with experience.
At defensive end, K.J. Smith is the most experienced of the bunch. Smith started three games in 2015, including one at defensive tackle, in 2014 Smith started eight games for the Big 12 champs. He has the size and versatility to cause problems for offensive tackles. Greg Roberts looks to slide into Nance's position, at 6'6 and 260 he's a handful as well. Smith and Roberts give the Baylor staff flexibility as they can move in, out, and around the defensive front. Xavier Jones, a sophomore out of Magnolia West looks like he'll be a rotation guy along with Jamie Jacobs.
For as talented, or perhaps hyped, as Baylor's defensive ends were in 2015, they weren't very productive. The move to the 3-4 takes the pressure emphasis away from the defensive ends. The scheme relys on movement and a defensive line that can occupying multiple blockers to free up more athletic linebackers to make plays. Roberts is actually more suited for the 3-4 given his length and decent weight to engage and occupy double teams.
|Baylor||Adj. Line Yds||Std. Down Line Yards||Pass. Downs Line Yards||Opp. Rate||Power Success Rate||Stuff Rate||Adj. Sack Rate||Std. Down Sack Rate||Pass. Down Sack Rate|
6. Texas Tech
Death, Taxes, and Tech can't stop the run. We don't see that changing in 2016. We used to chalk this up to Tech's offense and all the pressure it places on Tech's defense, but Tech has been bad for so long it may be the water in Lubbock. Could be gluten.
Tech has a decent and developing young player in defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko, just a sophomore, but he's battle tested. Fehoko did enough to garner an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 selection. The Red Raiders also brought in a couple of FBS transfers including Michigan man Ondre' Pipkens who looks like a player inside. Pipkens, a 5-star recruit at Michigan, never met the expectation and his departure from Ann Arbor wasn't exactly amicable. Broderick Washington provides depth, a redshirt freshman from Longview, coaches like his toughness and how he takes coaching.
Gary Moore needs to step up and provide some pressure outside from the "rush" defensive end position, stepping in for Pete Robertson and his 18 sacks in two years. Moore was actually recruited as a wide receiver out of high school so we'd assume he's a plus athlete on the edge. On the other side Zach Barnes and Notre Dame transfer Kolin Hill are interchangeable after the spring. Hill Schertz Clements product played as a freshman at Notre Dame and had two sacks. He's bulked up from 230 to 255 so he should hold up better against the run.
Tech was bad, terrible actually against the run. A bottom feeder. In the Big 12, that's death, hence a Red Raider team that twice scored 50 points or more and lost. David Gibbs has this edge - he's getting a year two, which is more than most Tech coordinators. Gibbs wants his defense to play outside in, funneling plays to the interior and encouraging strips and turnovers. Year two should be better, if only because the Red Raiders have more potential playmakers up front than at any time in the past three to four years.
|Tech||Adj. Line Yds||Std. Down Line Yards||Pass. Downs Line Yards||Opp. Rate||Power Success Rate||Stuff Rate||Adj. Sack Rate||Std. Down Sack Rate||Pass. Down Sack Rate|
The good news? Rice returns 10 of 12 players from their defensive line rotation in 2016. The bad news? Rice didn't stop anyone in 2015. Literally anyone. North Texas averaged 7 yards a snap against the Owls. North Texas lost to FCS Portland State 66-0. The transitive property of terrible makes us think this is bad, real bad.
The Owls are undersized on the edge and it shows in their ability to stop the run. Brian Womac at 6'2 235 is the most accomplished of the group with 11.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2015. Derek Brown isn't bad on the other side either. Brown and Womac had four sacks each in 2015. The Owls' depth gets some help as Rice gets back Greyson Schantz who was lost early in 2015 due to an ACL tear.
Inside life will be tough, Preston Gordon flashed as a true freshman, but not enough to give much hope stemming the tide inside. Sophomore Zach Abercrumbia from Dallas Skyline provides another option inside. At 6'2 290 he's one of the biggest Owls. Another sophomore Carl Thompson saw significant action as a true freshman. Senior Grant Peterson who was lost in 2015 to injury gives the Owls some interesting size inside at 6'6 and 260. For what it's worth Peterson was pretty disruptive as a key contributor from the defensive end position in 2014.
Rice should be better in 2016, Chris Thurmond has been a pretty good defensive coordinator and his 4-2-5 scheme actually suits this personnel grouping, with a number of options and versatility up front. The 4-2-5, and yes, we've said this before, starts with stopping the run. When your 117th in standard down line yards, in other words, a neutral down and distance, you aren't stopping the run well enough to dictate to your opponent. They're dictating to you. Thompson and Peterson give the Owls some interesting options inside and Brown and Womac are athletic enough to cause problems outside.
|Rice||Adj. Line Yds||Std. Down Line Yards||Pass. Downs Line Yards||Opp. Rate||Power Success Rate||Stuff Rate||Adj. Sack Rate||Std. Down Sack Rate||Pass. Down Sack Rate|
If SMU wants to make the next step they'll need to field a semi-competent defense. That starts up front. The Mustangs lose three of their top four defensive lineman to graduation, including their best interior player (Zach Wood) and lost two more players to transfer in the offseason. SMU was terrible defensively in 2015, their defensive line returns some elements that might push the needle towards competent.
Justin Lawler leads the list. At 6'4 260 Lawler is a all conference candidate after his 2015. Lawler started all 12 games last season and had a team high 64 tackles with 5 sacks. Jarvis Pruitt looks like the candidate that makes the most sense to line up opposite Lawler. The 'Stangs depth at defensive end is largely inexperienced, so chances are positions will be written in pencil rather than pen to give coaches flexibility.
Inside the Mustangs will call on athletic freak Mason Gentry, a player in the mold of former Mustang Margus Hunt. At 6'6 and 296, Gentry started all 12 games but had little production to show for it. 2015 South Carolina transfer Deon Green returns for his senior year after three starts last season. Depth is better inside as senior three year letterman Zelt Minor is back along with sophomore Keyfer Roberts to add support. A couple of new additions, JC transfer J.T. Williams and true freshman Ken McLaurin arrive on campus to help. McLaurin was a coveted recruit with offers from Big 10, Big 12, and SEC schools.
Van Malone moved the Mustangs to a 4-2-5 from a 3-4. Rule one of the 4-2-5 is to stop the run. SMU couldn't do that or much of anything else. To pull off the 4-2-5 you need big athletes that can run. SMU doesn't have many of those. Maybe they have more in 2016 and the Mustang defense improves, it's hard to imagine them being worse.
|SMU||Adj. Line Yds||Std. Down Line Yards||Pass. Downs Line Yards||Opp. Rate||Power Success Rate||Stuff Rate||Adj. Sack Rate||Std. Down Sack Rate||Pass. Down Sack Rate|
The Miners make a big move from Scott Stoker's 4-2-5 to Tom Mason's 3-4. If my math is correct that means fewer lineman. The move also means new roles and responsibilities for the UTEP D-line. Mason's defenses are aggressive, blitzing units. At SMU Mason blitzed as much as 70% of the time. 3-4 defensive lineman are responsible for occupying blockers while linebackers bring pressure. Right off 3-4 ends need to be bigger, that can be problem in the first year of scheme.
UTEP is making some personnel changes to fit the scheme. Two-year starter Nick Usher as well as Silas Firstley and Lawrence Montague, former defensive ends, are now outside linebackers. The new defensive ends, Brian Maduezim (nicknamed "Mad Dog") and Mike Sota, are inexperienced and new. Maduezim has four career tackles and Sota has played in all of one game. Oh and both are moving out from defensive tackle.
Gene Hopkins and Christian Harper will back up and play in rotation, neither are experienced, Harper moved over from offensive line in 2015. The ends are bigger, which is kind of the point, even if they've never played the position. Speaking of big, 6'7 255 pound freshman Keith Sullivan may make an appearance on the Miner front at well. Sullivan, an Aldine Davis product, was a three star prospect out of high school.
Inside senior Gino Bresolin, and his 26 starts move to the nose. Skye Logan, a former JC transfer from 2015, backs up Bresolin in the middle. Christian Richardson at 6'3, 300 pounds could play inside or out based on need, but he's listed as a defensive end to start 2016.
|UTEP||Adj. Line Yds||Std. Down Line Yards||Pass. Downs Line Yards||Opp. Rate||Power Success Rate||Stuff Rate||Adj. Sack Rate||Std. Down Sack Rate||Pass. Down Sack Rate|
The thinnest position on the UTSA roster is still thin. Real thin. Of UTSA's best defensive ends in 2015 only one returns. He's pretty good though. Meet Marcus Davenport, tall, rangy, athletic, and almost totally unknown outside the 210 area code. Davenport is 6'6 and 235 and a two year starter at defensive end. He's a preseason All-CUSA pick with huge upside.
Kevin Strong Jr. steps in at the other defensive end position, he's 6'3 and 290. He played defensive tackle in 2015 and wasn't bad contributing 2.5 sacks to the cause from inside. Senior Ben Kane backs him up.
Inside redshirt freshman Baylen Baker is 6'5 and has bulked up to near 300 pounds. He had a great spring and looked really good in the spring game. He's joined inside by seven time starter Jonathan Tuiolosega. King Newton and Vontrel King-Williams back up Baker and Tuiolosega. King-Williams at 320 is a load and King Newton Nate's kid so there's that.
UTSA was terrible up front in 2015 Bad at just about everything. If you can't stop the run, and we sound like a broken record, you can't play defense. On standard, no frills downs, UTSA was wet toilet paper at stopping the run. They were consistent at least with a near complete inability to pressure the passer.
New defensive coordinator Pete Golding comes over from Southern Miss where he coached safeties. Prior to that he was defensive coordinator at Southeastern Louisiana and Delta State. He'll be more aggressive and run a number of multiple fronts. That's one reason why an athlete like Davenport may benefit from the change, he'll move around and play as more of a hybrid DE/OLB.
|UTSA||Adj. Line Yds||Std. Down Line Yards||Pass. Downs Line Yards||Opp. Rate||Power Success Rate||Stuff Rate||Adj. Sack Rate||Std. Down Sack Rate||Pass. Down Sack Rate|
11. North Texas
The Mean Green ranked in the triple digits in every defensive line advanced statistic in 2015. Opponents rushed for 5.4 yards a carry, 239 yards a game and 38 rushing touchdowns. The Mean Green were dead bleeping last in CUSA at stopping the run. They were gashed.
UNT is reloading inside in 2016 after losing Austin Orr to graduation and Sir Calvin Wallace left the program in the spring. Up front the nose will be manned by T.J. Tauaalo, a sophomore with redshirt freshman R.D. Wegmann giving depth. Tauaalo had 27 tackles and 2.0 tackles for a loss and half a sack in 2015.
The guy that is an all hotel lobby team but could be so much more is defensive end Malik Dilonga. Dilonga played in all 12 games last year and with 6'4 264 size, he looks the part. He ended 2015 with 18 tackles and three sacks. If he can step up, his contribution would help immensely. That hasn't happened for the senior to date. Senior Jareid Combs looks the part as well at 6'3 258, but again, like Dilonga, has produced. Junior Andy Flusche and Senior Jerrian Roberts give depth. UNT picked up a late defensive line commit in JC transfer Raveon Hoston a 6'4 246 summer enrollee who could be a rotation player.
Coaches are excited about the prospects of Joshua Wheeler who they'll use as a hybrid defensive end/linebacker. The Tyler Junior College transfer, originally from Grand Prairie, flashed in the spring and will be asked to play a rush edge linebacker and at times a fourth defensive lineman.
Co-defensive coordinators Mike Ekeler and Troy Reffett will use a base 3-4 and 3-3-5 as a springboard to multiple fronts. The move to the 3-3-5 is as much out of necessity than anything else as the Mean Green don't have the depth up front to sustain a three or four man interior rotation. UNT's defensive ends have size, which is ideal for the three man fronts. The Mean Green can't survive with undersized defensive ends and every player on the defensive end depth chart are 250 pounds or more. The size is nice, the production is still a work in progress.
|North Texas||Adj. Line Yds||Std. Down Line Yards||Pass. Downs Line Yards||Opp. Rate||Power Success Rate||Stuff Rate||Adj. Sack Rate||Std. Down Sack Rate||Pass. Down Sack Rate|
12. Texas State
Texas State didn't stop many people in 2015. The Bobcats were one of the most accommodating fronts in all of the FBS. The Cats ranked in triple digits in most defensive statistical categories including dead last in opponent success rate - meaning opponents did what they wanted to do to the Bobcats.
The Bobcats move from a 4-2-5 to a 3-4 under new defensive coordinator Randall McCray. That means finding someone to play the nose. Dallas McCarty looks like the most nose ready player on the roster. Two freshman may push McCarty for playing time. 6'2 270 pound Ramon Readus from McKinney Boyd was a big catch for the Bobcats in 2016's freshman class. Readus is a three start prospect who has bulked up to play inside. 6'0 270 pound fireplug John Lilly from Strake Jesuit has the size as well. Ideally freshmen, especially on the interior, would redshirt but the Bobcats don't have that luxury.
Outside the Bobcats are also young. Jordan Mittie and Cody Casey are both redshirt freshman, both have decent size but each will be seeing their first action. On the other side Stan Kanu and Ishmael Davis, both sophomores will see action. Kanu transferred in from Henderson State who redshirted in 2014 and didn't see action in 2015. Davis moves to a down position after playing linebacker in 2015.
McCray's defense will play a more aggressive style than its predecessor. The move to the 3-4 is probably forced, the Cats don't have the bodies, especially at defensive end, to play that style, but they are recruiting like crazy and besides, Withers doesn't seemed concerned with results right now, he's more focused on a culture change at Texas State. He'll let McCray's defense go at its own pace. That pace won't be very good this season.
|Adj. Line Yds||Std. Down Line Yards||Pass. Downs Line Yards||Opp. Rate||Power Success Rate||Stuff Rate||Adj. Sack Rate||Std. Down Sack Rate||Pass. Down Sack Rate|