CollegeFootballNews.com Preview 2017: Top 20 Defensive Ends
Who are the best defensive ends coming into the college football season? Here are the projected 20 top guys
20. Kylie Fitts, Sr. Utah
The 6-4, 265-pound former UCLA Bruin is coming back after getting knocked out for the year early on. The hype is growing after returning from his foot injury and now expected to become the next great Ute pass rusher.
19. CeCe Jefferson, Jr. Florida
A bit short for an NFL-caliber defensive end, the 6-1, 261-pound former super-recruit is way overdue to dominate. He’s a tough run stopper who came up with 30 tackles, but he only cranked up 1.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Watch out for this to be his breakout season.
18. Rasheem Green, Jr. USC
A 3-4 end or a 4-3 tackle, the 6-5, 280-pound versatile lineman can get into the backfield no matter where he plays. He blossomed last season with 55 tackles and six sacks as he’s starting to live up to his immense prep hype.
17. Justin Lawler, Sr. SMU
The 6-4, 266-pound pass rushing all-star has been terrific over the last two seasons following up a 64 tackle, four sack, nine tackle for loss season with 65 tackles, five sacks and 15 tackles for loss.
16. Nick Bosa, Soph. Ohio State
It’s possible he might be the best of the Buckeye defensive ends once he gets it all rolling. At 6-4 and 270 pounds, he’s big enough and versatile enough to move inside at times, but after coming up with 29 tackles with five sacks and seven tackles for loss in his first year, get ready for more on the outside.
15. Ja’Von Rolland‐Jones, Sr. Arkansas State
One of the Sun Belt’s best defenders over the past few seasons, the league’s Player of the Year is the top returning career sacker in college football with 30.5 with 44.5 tackles for loss. He’s not huge at 6-2 and 244 pounds, but good luck blocking him.
14. Da’Shawn Hand, Sr. Alabama
Yet another future high NFL Alabama draft pick from the defensive line, the 6-5, 280-pound veteran wasn’t much of a pass rusher last season, and he only finished with 21 tackles with two sacks, but he’s got ideal size and enough quickness to take over for Jonathan Allen as a terror in the backfield.
13. K.J. Smith, Sr. Baylor
After a few decent seasons, he cranked it all up into an all-star campaign last season making 67 tackles with seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss. At 6-1 and 260 pounds, he might not look the part of a next-level pass rusher, but that’s what he’s growing into.
12. Denzil Ware, Jr. Kentucky
Part outside linebacker, part defensive end, the 6-2, 245-pound veteran pulled off a huge sophomore campaign with 70 tackles with 6.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. Very quick and very active, he can produce in a variety of ways, but he’s at his best when turned loose into the backfield.
11. Jaylon Ferguson, Jr. Louisiana Tech
Louisiana Tech might be known for its offense, but the 6-5, 255-pound Ferguson might be the best player. After breaking out as a freshman with six sacks and 15 tackles for loss, he was unstoppable with 14.5 sacks and 49 tackles. In a pass happy Conference USA, he’s a killer.
10. Hercules Mata’afa, Jr. Washington State
The tone-setting leader of a strong Wazzu defensive front might not be huge at 6-2 and 255 pounds, but he’s tough as nails at getting into the backfield with 12 career sacks in his first two seasons with 24.5 tackles for loss.
9. Sam Hubbard, Jr. Ohio State
On just about any other team, he’d be the superstar defensive end to work the line around. On Ohio State, he’s part of a rotation. The 6-5, 265-pound academic all-star has ten sacks in his first two seasons with 74 tackles and 16 tackles for loss.
8. Marquis Haynes, Sr. Ole Miss
While he’s a bit undersized, the 6-3, 225-pound speed rusher could’ve turned pro early to grow into a specialist at the next level. Back after another all-star season, he came up with a career high 53 tackles with seven sacks of his career 24.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
7. Clelin Ferrell, Soph. Clemson
A bit out of the spotlight compared to last year’s offensive stars and the jaw-dropping talent at defensive tackle, Ferrell rose up and rocked as one of the team’s best pass rushers. The 6-5, 265-pound destructive force cranked up 50 tackles with six sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss for the national champs.
6. Duke Ejiofor, Sr. Wake Forest
At 6-4 and 270 pounds, he’s got the right size with a freakish combination of speed and skills. One of the nation’s top pass rushers, he came up with 50 tackles for 10.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss in an all-star season – and he’s about to do it all again for another good Demon Deacon D.
5. Dorance Armstrong, Jr. Kansas
One of the few positives on a miserable team, the 6-4, 246-pound force into the backfield came up with ten sacks and 20 tackles for loss with 56 tackles, blowing up against Texas with two sacks with 11 tackles. It might be another rough year for the Jayhawks, but Armstrong might be the Big 12’s top defensive player.
4. Bradley Chubb, Sr. NC State
The best player on one of the nation’s top defensive lines, the 6-4, 260-pound future NFL mainstay is steady against the run and improved at getting behind the line, coming up with 57 tackles with ten sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss. Now it’s salary drive time.
3. Harold Landry, Sr. Boston College
If he’s not the best player who decided not to take off for the NFL, he’s not far off. For a program used to cranking out fantastic defenses and tough playmakers, the 6-3, 250-pound do-it-all star is among the school’s greats, coming up with 16.5 sacks with 51 tackles and 22 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles last season.
2. Tyquan Lewis, Sr. Ohio State
The 6-4, 265-pounder graduated, and he could’ve been part of the Ohio State dominance of top NFL draft picks, but he’s back for one more year as the star of a stunning group of defensive ends. Big, fast, smart and explosive, he might have come up with just 29 tackles last season after getting 54 two years ago, but he was still fantastic with eight sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss.
1. Arden Key, Jr., LSU
While there might be some question marks about his banged up shoulder, and needing to crank up the production after missing spring ball, the spotlight is on to see if he really is ready to be a top five overall draft pick, if not No. 1. He’s a beefing up 6-6, 255-pounder, but he’s a destructive force in the backfield with 41 tackles and five sacks as a freshman, and 56 tackles with 12 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last year.