Position Rankings: Defensive Line

The Roundup's position preview continues with our look at arguably the most important position in football, defensive line. More than any other position, a defensive lineman can effect a game. He can stop the run, penetrate into the backfield, knock passes down, create havoc plays with sacks or tackles for loss. 

In todays game the key is to stop the run and pressure the quarterback with as few resources spent as possible. Putting an offense behind the sticks is statistically the greatest neutralizer after turnovers. Let's take a look at the Roundup's D-lines. 

1. Houston

Std. Downs Run Rank DL Havoc Rank Power Success Rank Stuff Rank TFL Per Game Rank Yards Per Carry Rank
93 30 32 4 14 2

Ed Oliver is one of the best defensive players in college football and he's still so young. If he can stay healthy, and that's hard to do playing with his motor inside, he's a pretty sure bet for All-American status and other post season awards. He's an athlete in the same vein as a Warren Sapp but with a physicality and mean streak rarely seen in combination. He can hurt you in so many ways. He penetrates with speed and quickness, bull rushes, and even if he doesn't get back to the quarterback he plays somewhat akin to a volleyball middle blocker, batting balls at the line. 


Film Study: Ed Oliver

Elite get off and leverage. Wins with that combination. Great anticipation. If lineman get their hands on him, they can neutralize. Gets hands up on rush. Pursues downfield. Incredible athlete. 


What is Oliver's ceiling? We don't know, if he gets much better he'll be one of the great interior lineman in recent memory. Think Ndamukong Sun but, you know, less of a dick. By the way Houston ranked 2nd in yards per rush allowed behind Alabama. That's an elite of elite level of smothering the ground game. 

Nick Thurman will get the start at defensive end. He's 6-4, 290 pounds. Thurman made five starts as a junior. Zach Vaughn looks like he'll be a rotation player in 2017 after starting once in 2016. At 6-5, 280 Chauntez Jackson is on the all hotel lobby team, but he missed 2016. If he can contribute that's a huge bonus.

Jerard Carter started nine games at defensive end last season, he's sidelined with an injury until at least mid-season according to coach Applewhite. He's from just across I-45 from Oliver's high school stomping grounds, having played at Spring Dekaney. The Cougars were also stung in June when the NCAA refused to clear 4-star defensive end Bryan Jones. Jones could have plugged in and may have been a starter by seasons end. His potential was immense and he was the jewel of Major Applewhite's first recruiting class. 

Houston received some good news when A&M transfer Reggie Chevis announced he was heading to 3rd Ward as a graduate transfer. Chevis is a nice rotation player who never got enough playing time at A&M after moving positions a couple of times. Aymiel Fleming is listed as Oliver's backup coming out of spring ball. There's obviously a big drop off between one of the best defensive linemen in the country and his backup.    

2. Texas

Std. Downs Run Rank DL Havoc Rank Power Success Rank Stuff Rank TFL Per Game Rank Yards Per Carry Rank
43 41 81 91 16 50

Texas returns a lot of pieces from last season. They should fit well in Todd Orlando's attacking 3-4. Last year Texas was pretty good up front, ranking the top 50 in Standard Run Down Rank, Havoc Rank, Tackles for Loss Game, and yards per carry rank. 

The Horns return two starters up front including senior Poona Ford. Ford is a multiyear starter for Texas and a decent fire hydrant inside to hold up against the run. At 5'11 he doesn't have ideal size, but apparently Herman can't find ideal size on his roster. He blasted his defensive line in the spring for being too short and out of shape. Ford was named to the preseason All-Big 12 squad this week.

Big time 2016 recruit Jordan Elliott transferred late in the spring leaving a depth issue inside, but Chris Nelson returns after starting eight games in 2016. He flashed in the spring and moves outside to defensive end. 

Outside we're excited to see what converted linebacker Malcolm Roach does at defensive end. Easily one of the most physical players in the Big 12, Roach could be an impact player at 270. D'Andre Christmas the sophomore out of New Orleans returns and should see a bigger role, moving outside to defensive end. 

Chris Daniels is a very highly regarded inside player out of Euless Trinity. With Elliott transferring, Daniels and Gerald Wilbon will both get a crack at backing up Ford. This group will benefit from Orlando and the new scheme. While they aren't ideally sized, they are talented and should come into fall camp in better shape. 

3. Baylor

Std. Downs Run Rank DL Havoc Rank Power Success Rank Stuff Rank TFL Per Game Rank Yards Per Carry Rank
25 74 126 66 17 54

All Big 12 selection K.J. Smith is the undisputed leader of Baylor's defensive line. Smith's numbers are hard to argue with, he put up twelves tackles for loss including seven sacks. He added seven QB hurries in 2016. Smith has moved around the defensive line during his career, but he'll stay outside for his senior season. In Matt Rhule's defense, the "defensive end" position is an edge setter who has to hold up against the run. Smith is more tailored for that duty. 


Film Study: K.J. Smith

Undersized but plays with great leverage. Relentless pursuit. Played inside and out in 2016, better outside. Disciplined player. Sets edge. Needs to diversify pass rush to give a different look that his bull rush. 


Baylor can rightfully claim one of the deepest line rotations in the country with Michael Johnson at one defensive tackle, backed up by talented sophomore Tyrone Hunt.  At the other inside position, Ira Lewis looks to build on a nice 2016 season with 320 pound Bravion Roy providing relief. Lewis started seven games last season and contributed three sacks. 

Smith is backed up by Greg Roberts who started ten games last season.  Jaime Jacobs and his three starts are also listed backing up Smith. Roberts should be better than his film indicates. He's got the long arms that line coaches dream of, but lets people get to his body too often and establish control. 

The rush end position requires versatility to drop into coverage and also rush the passer, switching roles down to down at times. Rhules's Temple teams used Hassan Reddick at the position. He's going to make a ton of NFL money. Senior Brian Nance, who sat out last season is listed at the rush end/hybrid position. Nance has taken a circuitous route to his starting gig, but he's a freak athlete. The key is how he performs under the lights. Xavier Jones will back up Nance, the junior comes in 245 pounds but he can move well.

4. Texas A&M

Std. Downs Run Rank DL Havoc Rank Power Success Rank Stuff Rank TFL Per Game Rank Yards Per Carry Rank
68 18 8 6 4 63

You don't lose two NFL defensive ends, including the number 1 overall pick and come out unscathed. A&M's defensive line will look different no doubt, but can it be as effective, just in a different way. 

Senior Qualen Cunningham has waited in Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall's shadows, so has Jarrett Johnson, the senior from Katy.  The seniors get their shot in the limelight as THE pass rushing options for the Aggies. They aren't short on potential or ability, but they are short on time in the limelight. 

Inside the Aggies have a decent rotation that will only get better as their young players on the second unit grow up. Zaycoven Henderson, Daylon Mack, and Kingsley Keke will rotate inside.  Keke has been the most consistent of the three, but not the most explosive. That title belongs to Mack. He does things that cause a double take with his combination of brute strength and explosiveness. His arm length and height issues cause him some trouble, but he's a powder keg that can go at anytime.

Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Justin Madubuike is a pup growing into his frame and developing a skill set. T.D. Moton, a four star from Louisiana redshirted in 2016, and he should get reps inside. He's a run stuffer. 

Cunningham and Johnson will be backed up by Landis Durham and Michael Clemons. Durham is a converted linebacker. He's explosive, but the question will be how he handles the run. Clemons is a JC transfer. At 6-6, 260, he's a rangy, long armed option who was a four star recruit for the Aggies in February. He's explosive, but as with all JC players, the question will be whether his skills translate to the FBS. 

5. TCU

Std. Downs Run Rank DL Havoc Rank Power Success Rank Stuff Rank TFL Per Game Rank Yards Per Carry Rank
47 28 102 108 39 53

So much of TCU's defensive line success will depend on whether Ross Blacklock, Joseph Broadnax, Chris Bradley and L.J. Collier can hold up in the middle of TCU's defense. Last season the Frogs were good at creating havoc plays in offensive backfield, but when opponents needed short yardage or lined up and ran at the Frogs, they found lanes.

Blacklock is a four-star redshirt who chose the Frogs over Alabama and Texas A&M among others. At 6-4, 326 pounds he's a load inside. Broadnax made three starts last season goes 300 plus pounds. He made 23 stops and 1.5 sacks last season. Collier is undersized at 279, but has good arm length and quickness. Bradley is a salty veteran who made nine starts last season. He came out of the spring listed as the backup to Collier, but they'll both see a lot of time. 

Those four provide a decent rotation, provided Blacklock is as advertised.

At defensive end TCU replaces seniors Josh Carraway and James McFarland plus transfer Tipa Galeai. The Frogs return a pretty good player in Matt Boesen who accounted for six sacks last season and eight tackles for loss in 2016 after transferring from Long Beach Community College. 

On the other side Louisiana Monroe transfer Ben Banogu is eligible after sitting out 2016. He was named to the Sun Belt's All-Newcomer team with five sacks and fourteen tackles for loss in 2015. Whether those numbers translate to the Big 12 is question that needs answering. Four-star redshirt Isaiah Chambers will provide depth along with four-star sophomore Brandon Bowen

6. UTSA

Std. Downs Run Rank DL Havoc Rank Power Success Rank Stuff Rank TFL Per Game Rank Yards Per Carry Rank
59 53 51 82 57 61

The Roadrunners return almost every contributor from 2016's defensive front. That unit actually played very well, finishing in the top 60 in almost every line stat. The Roadrunner fortunes begin with the physically gifted Marcus Davenport who plays a rush defensive end/linebacker hybrid. He'll spend time standing up and with his hand on the ground. Davenport is all of 6-7 and has increased his weight 30 pounds in two season to 255.

He's mirrored by Kevin Strong who's a very good edge setter at 295. A seventeen game starter, Strong is steady, though not disruptive. That's ok given what he's asked to do. Franklin Uesi  will once again play a rotation role for UTSA, something the senior from Pleasant Hill, California did all last season. 

Sophomore Solomon Wise from Coppell was a highly regarded 2016 signee who will probably be making his first start in the opener against Houston. Wise played in eleven games last year and his ability to hold up against the run will be put to the test. Fellow sophomore Jerrod Carter-McLin will provide depth for Wise. Carter-McLin, from powerhouse Carthage, saw action in twelve games as a reserve last year. 

Inside Roadrunner fans are excited to see whether Baylon Baker continues to develop into a handful. Baker, who is best described as country strong, had another nice spring. He and King Newton will be responsible for getting a push inside. 

7. SMU

Std. Downs Run Rank DL Havoc Rank Power Success Rank Stuff Rank TFL Per Game Rank Yards Per Carry Rank
74 37 117 73 54 103

Justin Lawler has made himself into one of the best pass rushers in the AAC. The senior from Pottsboro earned first team All-AAC for his 2016 performance. Lawler made a living in opposing backfields with fifteen tackles for loss including six sacks. He added 65 total tackles, good enough for second on the team. 


Film Study: Justin Lawler

Good motor, pursues well. SMU used him on the boundary side later in the season. Serviceable dropping in coverage. Strong against the run. Struggles vs. better tackles in pass rush.


At the other defensive end Delontae Scott is a raw but athletic option. Nick Horton missed ten games last season due to injury. Scott and Horton will fight for playing time in fall camp. 

Inside the Mustangs are trying to piece together a rotation from players that have played all over the front. Demerick Gary  played inside and out during his true freshman campaign. He looks like he'll stay at defensive tackle. Gary flashes a lot of ability on film, but he's still a bit light to hold up against bigger interior players. Redshirt sophomore Chris Biggurs will play DT as well. Biggurs played a lot of minutes in 2016. 

Mason Gentry, a senior, started 22 games from 2014 to 2015 but was supplanted in 2o16. He's back at the top of the depth chart at nose guard. Fellow senior J.T. Williams will fill that role as well. Gentry and Williams give two very different looks. Gentry is 6-6 with long arms who needs to play with leverage. His length gives SMU an advantage against the pass. Williams goes 6-1, 280 pounds and can be a one-gap defender in the middle of the line. 

8. North Texas

Std. Downs Run Rank DL Havoc Rank Power Success Rank Stuff Rank TFL Per Game Rank Yards Per Carry Rank
6 11 77 114 72 111

North Texas had a surprisingly effective defensive line in 2016. Second year defensive coordinator Troy Reffett along with then co-coordinator Mike Ekeler took a lot of disparate parts and made them into a cohesive unit. Reffett will need to perform a similar transformation in 2017, but he has the benefit of more workable numbers this season.  

Inside T.J. Tauaalo moves to nose tackle full time with Kansas State transfer Bryce English getting work as well. English was a highly productive high school player out of DeSoto, but his height caused bigger schools to back off. He's a smart player who can use leverage to reestablish the line of scrimmage. In Reffett's defense the nose guard is asked to play the 0-tech, drive the center and generally occupying blockers. 

North Texas wants their defensive ends to set the outside edge and contain. Roderick Young started twelve games in 2016, eleven at nose, one at defensive end. He'll move outside to defensive. He possess ideal size against the run on the edge.


Film Study: Roderick Young

Physical player. Great gap control. Needs to work on conditioning. Must work on dealing with double teams. When fresh, he's a handful. When he gets tired, his technique disappears. Very good get off and disruption.


At the other defensive end Andy Flusche came out of spring as the starter. All CUSA Freshman selection LaDarius Hamilton will push for playing time as well. Tillman Johnson is going to be part of the rotation. Johnson set a freshman record two seasons ago with 5 sacks.

North Texas has options on the defensive line and a lot of guys who can play in different roles. 

9. Texas Tech

Std. Downs Run Rank DL Havoc Rank Power Success Rank Stuff Rank TFL Per Game Rank Yards Per Carry Rank
66 119 97 101 125 124

In the aftermath that was Texas Tech's 2016 season the defense was a smoldering wreck. The offseason didn't help as Tech lost the biggest recruit of the Kingsbury era, Breiden Fehoko, to transfer. While Fehoko's hype never translated, he started every game in his Tech career. Ondre Pipkins graduated, leaving Tech with a void in the center of its defense. The Red Raider coaching staff has cycled through four defensive line coaches in Kingsbury's tenure with Terrance Jamison taking over this season for Kevin Patrick. 

The Red Raider will look to improve on last years results with Broderick Washington at defensive tackle. The Longview native transitioned from offensive to defensive line his first two years in Lubbock and now he's counted on to hold down the middle of the defense.  He'll get help at the other tackle slot from senior Mychealon Thomas. Thomas is a load at 326 pounds and is a classic gap occupier. 

Zach Barnes and Joe Wallace will provide depth inside. Barnes is undersized at 250, but he can get upfield. Wallace, out of Skyline, played a lot as a true freshman. 

At end Kolin Hill returns after eleven starts in 2016. The Notre Dame transfer is the leading returning tackler among defensive linemen with fifteen. He also added three tackles for loss. North Texas transfer Eli Howard exits the spring as the starter at the other end. He sat out last year after transferring. The versatile Taylor Nunez will see time at defensive end as well. He's been primarily a special teams contributor until this season. Kolin's brother Kaleb Hill a Boise transfer is listed as a backup at defensive end as well. He sat out last season due to the NCAA's transfer rules. 

Tech signed one defensive lineman in the 2017 class, Nelson Mbanasor. With Tech's numbers and experience issues, he will get a shot to contribute. 

10. Rice

Std. Downs Run Rank DL Havoc Rank Power Success Rank Stuff Rank TFL Per Game Rank Yards Per Carry Rank
26 51 65 90 61 119

Rice transitions from Chris Thurmond's 4-2-5 to Brian Stewart's attacking 3-4. The transition means that Rice will need to find players on its roster to fill out new roles, most notably, moving from a four man based defensive end to a bigger 3-4 defensive end. Ideally a 3-4 defensive end is going to weigh 270 and up and play a one gap attack. It's a different approach and mirrors Wade Phillips' units in the NFL. At the snap, rather than reading, defensive lineman are attacking a gap. 

At end Rice has a several viable options, undersized, but viable. Blain Padgett is a wrecking ball who should do well in the new attacking scheme. The junior from Hardin-Jefferson goes 6-5, 25o. He has all conference potential. On the other side are seniors Graysen Schantz and Brian Womac. Womac and Schantz split starts in 2016. 

Inside the Owls will use Preston Gordon and Carl Thompson at the nose. Gordon started ten games in 2016 while Thompson started four. Gordon is a bit light at 280 to hold up inside but Rice will be relying on movement and speed to make the necessary plays. Zach Abercrumbia played quite a bit last season and, like Thompson, gives Rice a little more girth inside. 

Roe Wilkins made five starts at tackle in 2016, but at 265 he may be a better fit outside. The Owls added Trey Schuman during the 2017 recruiting cycle and his size gives him a chance to compete for playing time at end. 

11. UTEP

Std. Downs Run Rank DL Havoc Rank Power Success Rank Stuff Rank TFL Per Game Rank Yards Per Carry Rank
53 122 95 117 126 111

The evolving UTEP defense enters year two of Tom Mason's 3-4 alignment. UTEP's line was one of the more passive groups in the FBS. As a unit the defensive line managed just six sacks. Right now the group remains void of playmakers. UTEP will look for production from their linebackers, but the defensive line can pitch in and help. We just wonder who? UTEP will have a fresh look with several 2016 starters moving to backup roles in favor of younger players. 

UTEP has two distinct flavors of defensive ends. On one side 300 pounder Chris Richardson plugs in with Mike Sota backing him up. Richardson made All-CUSA Freshman last season and improved as the season went along. He started the Miners' last two game. He has good upside. Sota made nine starts at defensive end last season. At 285, he's a load as well. 

On the other side, the lighter side, Christian Buckingham is penciled in as the starter. He runs about 250 pounds and played high school football in Korea. Behind him veteran Gene Hopkins provides experience with five starts in 2016. Buckingham and Hopkins will provide better pass rush options than their counterparts on the other side. If you're looking for improvement Buckingham might the 

Inside Denzel Chukwukelu is an intriguing prospect at 6-4 and close to 300 pounds. Chukwukelu solidified his standing with a good spring. Physically he's got everything you need, the question will be can he play with the proper leverage to stifle the run inside. Behind him defensive end Sky Logan moves inside to give the Miners a more athletic, attacking option. 

12. Texas State

Std. Downs Run Rank DL Havoc Rank Power Success Rank Stuff Rank TFL Per Game Rank Yards Per Carry Rank
23 118 64 76 95 96

There's nowhere to go but up for Texas State's defensive front. The Bobcats were among the worst in the FBS in yards per carry and sacks. The 2016 Bobcat defensive front was undersized and under experienced. The 2017 version will at least be bigger and a year older. Bigger is the key. Jordan Mittie has gone from 235 to 270 pounds. Ishmael Davis was 223 last season, he's 260 now. Dean Taylor was 230 as a true freshman, now as a sophomore he's tilting the scales at 280. 

Mittie started at nose guard as a 235 freshman. Against Arkansas State in the season finale, no defensive line starter tipped the scales at more than 240 pounds. 

The biggest addition, literally and figuratively, is Sami Awad a space eater at 300 pounds from Trinity Valley. Awad was second team All Conference last season at Trinity Valley. The nose position is such a critical area in Randall McCray's 3-4 and Awad's presence is an immediate upgrade. Behind Awad is RS Freshman John Lilly. Two true freshman should factor in as well, Kenedale product Gjemar Daniels and Cuero Gobbler Caeveon Patton. Daniels is a one gap fire hydrant at 5-11, 315 pounds. Patton is a very good athlete out of Cuero and is more college ready at 6-2 and 285 pounds. 

At defensive end Davis will hold down one side with Jeff Banks backing him up. Banks made the move from tight end and like everyone else on the defensive front added girth, jumping from 212 to 240. 

On the other side Mittie and Taylor will be in rotation. Mittie is the most productive returner up front. We love Taylor's frame and arm length. As Withers continues to revamp his roster, look for Texas State to continue to add longer, bigger athletes to McCray's odd man front. 

The Roundup...

Posted on July 13, 2017 and filed under Baylor, Houston, North Texas, Rice, SMU, Southwest Round-Up, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas State, Texas Tech, UTEP, UTSA.