After talking about the players that protect the quarterback, we head over to visit their biggest threats. There have been plenty of incredible defensive ends in college football over the last few years. Ohio State boasted two Bosa brothers (Nick and Joey), but their best one yet might still be on the roster. The Big Ten produces five players in this list, and all are in the Top 10. That’s scary for quarterbacks in the conference.
25. Patrick Johnson, Tulane
2018 Stats: 49 tackles, 14.0 TFL, 10.0 sacks, four forced fumbles
Willie Fritz brought in talent on offense, but the Green Wave boast a solid defense too. Johnson brings versatility as a defensive end/linebacker hybrid, and should disrupt opposing offenses once again.
24. Mike Danna, Michigan
2018 Stats: 65 tackles, 14.0 TFL, 8.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries
How do you replace Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich? Well, you don’t, but you try. Danna, transferring from Central Michigan, gives the Wolverines one of the most productive defense ends from last year. The question becomes if he can handle the Big Ten after coming from the MAC. Defensive coordinator Don Brown’s one of the best at his job, so finding a role for Danna shouldn’t be a problem.
23. Kendall Coleman, Syracuse
2018 Stats: 32 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 10.0 sacks
Dino Babers got the offense going, and that side gets most of the attention. But the defense can ball too. Coleman’s partner also made this list and you’ll see why Coleman sees more one on one matchups.
22. Carlos Basham, Wake Forest
2018 Stats: 64 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 4.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries
Nicknamed “Boogie”, Basham certainly can do just that. At 6’5″, 275 pounds, he possesses a great frame, but also can run. Scouts will love his motor to chase down the play, while also quick to win his matchup. He came on strong in the second half of the season, and postseason honors appear to be imminent. He’s one of the sleeper defensive ends in the country.
21. Raekwon Davis, Alabama
2018 Stats: 55 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks
Davis is tough to miss. At 6’7″, 305 pounds, teams instantly know where he lines up simply based on size. He surprised many by returning for his senior year, but the Crimson Tide needs his experience. Alabama’s going through yet another cycle of lost talent, so some stability is needed.
20. Khalid Kareem, Notre Dame
2018 Stats: 42 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks
The middle of the defensive line needs two new starters, but the defensive ends provide little concern. Kareem’s speed on the edge causes problems for the tackles he faces. Notre Dame’s defense excelled last year and, even with the loss of a few big names, should do well again in 2019.
20. Isaiah Chambers, Houston
2018 Stats: 10 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 4.5 sacks
Stats don’t tell the whole story. Chambers dominated for four games, but an injury kept him out the remainder of the season. As you can see, 60% of his tackles were for loss. He was on pace for 19.5 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks. That’s worth noticing. Houston’s defense must improve after an abysmal 2018, and Chambers gives them a great weapon.
19. Joe Gaziano, Northwestern
2018 Stats: 44 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles.
Northwestern’s defense returns good talent, including a couple playmakers. Gaziano’s one of them. How do they continue to be underrated and still overachieve? Talent like Gaziano who exceed expectations will do that consistently. Good luck blocking him. Even if you do, Paddy Fisher’s right behind him to clean up the play.
17. Jabari Zuniga, Florida
2018 Stats: 45 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 6.5 sacks
Replacing Jachai Polite becomes the first priority for this defense, but Zuniga figures to be next in line. Florida’s line remains experienced even without Polite, so they just need a leader to step up.
16. JaQuan Bailey, Iowa State
2018 Stats: 46 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 8.0 sacks
Bailey returns with 31.0 tackles for loss and 18.0 sacks for his career. His total sacks tied a school record, and he’ll obviously break it this year. How good were the Cyclones last year? They only allowed 10 rushing touchdowns. That all starts up front, and continues this season.
15. Reggie Walker, Kansas State
2018 Stats: 35 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, four forced fumbles
All four starters return on the defensive line for the Wildcats, giving new head coach Chris Klieman a group to lean on this year. Walker’s his leader on the defense, and will add more awards to his resume by the end of this season.
14. Bradlee Anae, Utah
2018 Stats: 47 tackles, 14.0 TFL, 7.5 sacks
No longer the underdogs, Utah’s looking to make serious noise this year. That shouldn’t be a problem on defense. Anae is one of seven returning starters, including all four on the line. How will the Utes respond to being favored? We will find out fairly quick.
13. Rashad Weaver, Pittsburgh
2018 Stats: 47 tackles, 14.0 TFL, 6.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles
When Weaver entered the starting lineup as a freshman, the Panthers were extremely young. Now, that group’s grown up. Weaver’s the best defensive player on the team, and needs his teammates to step up. Pat Narduzzi’s a defensive mind, so expect his star player to thrive again.
12. Julian Okwara, Notre Dame
2018 Stats: 39 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 8.0 sacks, one interception
Remember when we said the outside of the Irish defensive line was fine? This is why. Okwara gives the defense another threat on the edge. Tackles won’t like facing the Notre Dame defensive ends, and running up the middle might be the best option for opposing offenses.
11. Xavier Thomas, Clemson
2018 Stats: 33 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks
Thomas received a ton of hype this offseason thanks largely to the four guys before him. Clemson’s defensive line was one of the best ever, and Thomas managed to be productive as a backup. Now, all four starters are gone and Thomas could be a leader. Is he the next great thing for the Tigers? They’ll need him to be with only one player from the front seven returning.
10. Jonathan Garvin, Miami
2018 Stats: 60 tackles, 17.0 TFL, 5.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries
While many are excited about Virginia Tech transfer Trevon Hill, Garvin’s putting up great numbers. Miami’s defense returns a ton of talent, giving the Canes one of the best in the country. Their top defensive end appears to be the next great pass rusher, and the turnover chain should find its way to him a few times again this year.
9. Rashard Lawrence, LSU
2018 Stats: 54 tackles, 10.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks
He’s going to move to defensive tackle at some point in his football career, but for now he’ll be one of the best defensive ends. Last time we saw him, he was dominating UCF’s line. He’s poised for a big year, and the Tigers defense show tremendous potential.
8. Nick Coe, Auburn
2018 Stats: 26 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks
Auburn’s line will be tough in 2019. Their first test against Oregon will tell us all we need to know. Coe’s a Top 10 talent, but he’s not the best lineman on his team. Still, he’s disruptive and will play the BUCK position for the Tigers.
7. Carter Coughlin, Minnesota
2018 Stats: 48 tackles, 15.0 TFL, 9.5 sacks, four forced fumbles
Coughlin’s the only returning starter on the line, but he’s one of the best in the Big Ten. His NFL stock should rise a lot with another year and he’ll add to his 18 career sacks. The Gophers received a label as a potential dark horse team, they have the talent to raise some eyebrows. With one of the best defensive ends in the country, their defense should thrive.
6. Alton Robinson, Syracuse
2018 Stats: 39 tackles, 17.0 TFL, 10.0 sacks, three forced fumbles
Like we said before, Syracuse’s defense will be solid this year thanks to their two defensive ends. Robinson’s speed causes major problems for offenses, and it’s tough to keep him out of the backfield. If your quarterback seems like he doesn’t have much time to throw against the Orange, it’s because Robinson’s breathing down their neck.
5. Curtis Weaver, Boise State
2018 Stats: 43 tackles, 15.0 TFL, 9.5 sacks
Weaver exploded as a freshman, and continued that play last year. He’s already racked up 28.0 tackles for loss and 20.5 sacks in two years. Boise State continues producing efficient defensive players, and Weaver’s the latest. We get a glimpse of his NFL potential in Week 1 against Florida State.
4. Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State
2018 Stats: 54 tackles, 20.0 TFL, 8.0 sacks, two forced fumbles
The numbers speak for themselves, and Penn State’s defense will be good. Gross-Matos makes a living by setting up camp in the offensive backfield. There aren’t many lineman that can block him, and leaving him unblocked continues to be the worst idea. Like we said, Big Ten defensive ends dominate this group, and the top five could fluctuate.
3. Chase Young, Ohio State
2018 Stats: 33 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 9.5 sacks
Both Bosa brothers came and went for the Buckeyes, but there’s a reason fans aren’t worried. Nick Bosa got hurt for the entire season, forcing Young to be the leader of the line. He showed why he could be the best defensive end Ohio State’s ever seen. Teammates and coaches speak of his No. 1 overall pick potential, and that hype proves to be justified with his play.
2. AJ Epenesa, Iowa
2018 Stats: 37 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 10.5 sacks, four forced fumbles
When Epenesa committed to the Hawkeyes, it made a ton of noise. A former five star committing to Iowa? That’s unheard of, and simply doesn’t happen. His decision paid off, and now he’s one of the best in the country. Even with the loss of Anthony Nelson, the Hawkeyes line shouldn’t worry much.
1. Kenny Willekes, Michigan State
2018 Stats: 78 tackles, 20.5 TFL, 8.0 sacks
Willekes brings JJ Watt vibes with his elbow brace and his play. The brace almost makes him more intimidating, but that’s not what worries offenses. It’s his play. The Spartans offense needs a ton of work, but their defense will keep them in every game. Michigan State returns a star at each level, and Willekes starts to fun up front.
Others to Watch
Jaelan Phillips, Miami: Transfer from UCLA who brings five star talent out east. Phillips might find it tough to play with a ton of talent at the position.
Bobby Roundtree, Illinois: He won’t play in 2019, and probably not ever again, but we want to recognize him. He recorded 13.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks last year, but now finds a new battle ahead of him. Prayers up to Roundtree on his road to recovery.
LaBryan Ray, Alabama: The next Alabama great? Who knows, but Nick Saban’s track record indicates Ray’s most likely next.
Marlon Davidson, Auburn: Can you find a bigger defensive line in the country than Auburn’s? Probably not. The Tiger front four average 298.8 pounds.
Trevon Hill, Miami: Transfer from Virginia Tech who has NFL potential. Should be a good fit for the Hurricanes defense.