20 College Football Defenders Who Will Be Dominant in 2013
Dominant defenders in college football are not commonplace by any stretch of the imagination. Out of the 120-plus FBS football programs, less than 16 percent are represented on this list.
Some teams have a wealth of talent and have more than one player listed, while other teams have none. For a defender to be dominant, there have to be a medley of circumstances occurring at once.
The defender has to be a cut above the rest of his teammates, or else the team will dominate and the player will simply be another faceless contributor to a massive juggernaut.
The defender must produce at a level that will get him noticed. Finally, his stats must support that he is a specialist in some way.
Whether he's great one-on-one, as a pass rusher or as a ball hawk, the defender must dominate in one or more areas to be considered a threat worthy of making the list.
In rare cases, the player can be part of a tandem in one area of the defense. If that's the case, then two players may have lower numbers than others, but their combination threat is enough to get them spots here.
Here are the 20 defenders who will dominate the 2013 season, presented in alphabetical order (by last name).
On the Radar
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There are two defenders who fans should keep an eye on throughout the 2013 season, but neither will likely be truly dominant until at least halfway through the season.
Su'a Cravens is a starting safety for the USC Trojans, and he will probably be the best defensive player on the field other than Morgan Breslin. Cravens won't be dominant until at least halfway through the season, but he's one that could surprise beginning in Week 1.
The same things are all true of Georgia's new starting safety, Tray Matthews. Matthews has the potential to be a starting true freshman on a national championship team. Since the rest of the defense is fairly experienced, Matthews may dominate from Week 1.
Cravens is ahead of a senior on the depth chart, and Matthews is ahead of a redshirt junior. That alone easily puts them both firmly on the radar for 2013.
Anthony Barr, UCLA Bruins
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Anthony Barr switched to defense prior to the 2012 season, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions the coaches could have made.
Barr finished 2012 as a Second-Team AP All-American from his outside linebacker slot. To say that Barr will be dominant is a bit of an understatement.
In his first season as a linebacker, Barr compiled 82 tackles (60 solo), 21 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, five pass breakups, four quarterback hurries, four forced fumbles and one blocked kick.
After that stellar performance as one of the nation's leading pass-rushers, Barr will be one of the best linebackers in the country in 2013.
Morgan Breslin, USC Trojans
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Coming from a defense that didn't fare well in conversation, it may surprise you to know that there was someone of his skill level on the team at all.
Breslin will end the season as a consensus First-Team All-Pac-12 selection, and he will make a great case for the All-America Team as well.
Regardless of whether USC dominates, Breslin will dominate for the Trojans all season long.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama Crimson Tide
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Ha Ha Clinton-Dix racked up 37 tackles (23 solo), half a tackle for loss, four interceptions, a forced fumble and four pass breakups.
His numbers were not incredible, but he will be taking on more of a leadership role this coming season. He will shine for Alabama, and he will be one of the key players on a defense that lost some major contributors to the NFL.
Look for Ha Ha to make a run for the All-America Team. If he misses, he will at least land on the All-SEC Team at the end of the season.
Clinton-Dix has another partner in crime who will need to step up, but he will be covered later in the piece.
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina Gamecocks
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Jadeveon Clowney is one of the greatest defenders in recent memory, and he'll have a banner year in 2013. Clowney tallied 54 tackles (40 solo), 23.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, three forced fumbles (one recovered), two pass breakups and five quarterback hurries.
Clowney is a rare talent, and he is playing through the 2013 season due to the mandatory three-year rule. He is required to stay for one more season before taking off for the NFL. Had he been able to leave this past season, he would have been the No. 1 pick even as a sophomore.
Clowney has been dominant since before he even reached college. Don't expect that to change one bit in 2013.
Scott Crichton, Oregon State Beavers
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Crichton threw down 44 tackles (23 solo), 17.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks, three pass breakups, one quarterback hurry, one forced fumble and one blocked kick during his sophomore run through 2012.
While the Oregon State Beavers won't be the Pac-12 favorites heading into 2013, they will definitely be dark-horse candidates for the conference title.
Crichton will be the most dominant defender for the Beavers, and he will have a spot on the All-Pac-12 Team at the end of the season.
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon Ducks
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Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is an excellent cornerback for the Oregon Ducks. He gained 63 tackles (44 solo), four interceptions (one returned for a score), 16 pass breakups and six forced fumbles in his sophomore season (2012) alone.
Olomu is on one of the most underrated defenses in the country, and it's because of the headlining offense that plays when he's on the bench.
Olomu may go unheralded throughout the season, but he will end up a finalist on many lists this coming season. He's almost guaranteed a spot on the All-Pac-12 Team this December.
Devonte Fields, TCU Horned Frogs
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Devonte Fields is easily one of the best defensive ends in the Big 12 and in FBS football. Fields may be overshadowed by other ends, but he is definitely not unnoticed.
Fields is one of the biggest reasons that TCU has a legitimate shot at the Big 12 title in 2013. He finished the 2012 season with 53 tackles (34 solo), 18.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, four pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles.
Oh, by the way, he was a freshman at the time. Don't look for him to stop dominating the college football field until he's in the NFL. Granted, that will have to wait until Week 3, when he returns from his suspension.
Jordan Hicks, Texas Longhorns
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Jordan Hicks and his buddy in the next slide are two of the biggest reasons that Texas' defense isn't going to suck in 2013.
Texas fans are hoping that he remains healthy for the entire season, as he missed a total of 10 games in 2012. Hicks is a great linebacker, but we'll go back to 2011 for his sophomore campaign to show you what he could be capable of.
In 2011, Hicks racked up 55 tackles (30 solo), four tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, four pass breakups and one quarterback hurry. Those numbers aren't exceptional, but his raw talent was on display.
If you want to look at what he contributes to the team, just look at how horribly Texas did without him in 2012. A 9-4 season may be great for some teams, but Texas fans are not used to being out of contention for a national title.
The 'Horns were in the 2005 and 2009 games. Stats, history and trends don't mean a thing, but even LSU had the 2003, 2007 and 2011 trend working for it. The Tigers just happened to face a revenge-minded Alabama in the 2011 game.
Don't sleep on Texas. With Hicks dominating the linebacker slot, these Longhorns could be in for a major turnaround in 2013.
Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas Longhorns
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Jackson Jeffcoat is the other dominant Longhorn returning from injury in 2013. He missed seven of Texas' 13 games last year after tearing his right pectoral muscle against Oklahoma.
Jeffcoat posted 28 tackles (16 solo), 9.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, one pass breakup, five quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles before going down for the season. Since he split after six games, multiply every one of those numbers by two to get a decent idea of how he would have done without the injury.
Jeffcoat is another reason that Texas could surprise a myriad of people by earning at least a share of the 2013 Big 12 title.
C.J. Mosley, Alabama Crimson Tide
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Mosley finished 2012 with 107 tackles (66 solo), eight tackles for loss, four sacks, two pass breakups, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown), one forced fumble (one recovery) and three quarterback hurries.
That's not too shabby for a guy coming from the linebacker slot, especially considering Alabama's dominant inside game last season. Mosley will be the highest-drafted defender from Alabama at the end of next season.
Dominating defense is Alabama's M.O., and Mosley is going to be the most dominant defender in the country aside from Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina.
Louis Nix III, Notre Dame Fighting Itish
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Nix is the point man on a defensive line that has two anchors. (Stephon Tuitt is coming later on.) Nix is the nose guard who logged 50 tackles (20 solo), 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, five pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and one forced fumble in 2012.
That was good enough to get Notre Dame into the BCS National Championship Game against Alabama last season, which we will not discuss for obvious reasons.
Regardless of what Notre Dame does as a team, Nix will be one of the highest defensive players drafted this coming cycle if he chooses to declare. Currently, he's listed as the second-best defensive end of the 2015 class (behind Jadeveon Clowney).
Fans would be shocked to see either one of those two wait until 2015 to get paid to play.
Ed Reynolds, Stanford Cardinal
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Ed Reynolds will be the highlight of the Stanford Cardinal defense in 2013. He's a game-changer at the safety position, as his stats will confirm.
Reynolds got 47 tackles (28 solo), five pass breakups and six interceptions. Three of those interceptions were pick-sixes, and he averaged 50 yards per interception return.
Whether it's for a touchdown or not, a 50-yard interception return is a game-changer by definition. Reynolds may not have received all the recognition he deserved last season, but that won't happen in 2013.
Even if Stanford is eliminated from conference contention early in the season, expect to see Reynolds in everything from the Senior Bowl to watch list conversations for any award he qualifies to receive.
Marcus Roberson, Florida Gators
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Marcus Roberson didn't have the most impressive stats in 2012, but he was part of a true defensive unit at the time. With safeties Josh Evans and Matt Elam both being drafted this past April (and half the rest of the defense), look for Roberson's digits to vastly improve in 2013.
In 2012, Roberson logged a modest 23 tackles (18 solo), one tackle for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, two interceptions and 12 pass breakups.
What this tells us about him is that he's already a lethal opponent in space. Over 78 percent of his tackles were solo; he caused three turnovers and he had almost as many pass breakups as he had solo tackles.
You don't want to meet him on a route, because you will likely lose the battle. Again, expect his numbers to improve a lot in 2013. If not, it will probably be because other teams' coaches have deemed his side of the field unusable to their quarterbacks.
Hakeem Smith, Louisville Cardinals
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Hakeem Smith is going to be the most dominant player on the Louisville roster, aside from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Smith amassed 73 tackles (43 solo), 2.5 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups and one forced fumble in 2012. It bears mentioning that was basically his worst season to date. He did better in both 2011 and 2010, but 2013 is his senior season.
There are many factors that play into the prediction that he will dominate in 2013, but the main one is that it's his last season. Frustration from the fact that he's mildly slipped, combined with it being his final audition for the NFL, will cause him to enter beast mode early and often.
Expect Smith to rise up draft boards, American Athletic Conference individual rankings and possibly appear on some national award finalist lists through December 2013.
Smith will dominate, in short, because he has no other choice but to do so, and he has the talent to fulfill that need.
Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama Crimson Tide
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Vinnie Sunseri is the complement to Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from earlier in the show. These two beasts will form the core of the Alabama secondary.
While it may take them a couple of games to shake off the rust from not playing since January, big things will happen once they're all limbered up again.
Sunseri and friend will have a breakout game against Texas A&M in Week 3. Regardless of the outcome of the game, these two will be a big part of the reason that Alabama works its way back into the Top 10 before the season is over. (A loss to A&M will effectively shut the Tide out of the national title game, but not the BCS.)
Sunseri raked in 54 tackles (35 solo), six tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one fumble recovery, two interceptions, three pass breakups and two quarterback hurries during the 2012 run to the SEC (and national) title.
Sunseri has been working his butt off since he got to Tuscaloosa, and his junior season (2013) will be the first time he makes consistent headlines with his brother-in-arms, Clinton-Dix.
Will Sutton, Arizona State Sun Devils
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Will Sutton is the most recognizable name on the Arizona State Sun Devils' roster, and with good reason.
Sutton blasted away the Pac-12 competition with 63 tackles (40 solo), 23.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, five pass breakups, one quarterback hurry and three forced fumbles last year. He earned the Pac-12's Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year award for that performance.
He was a 2012 consensus All-American, and he will repeat the feat in 2013. Even with some heavy competition from all over the country, Sutton will remain one of the most dominating individuals in the nation.
Arizona State fans will miss him in 2014; that's certain.
Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
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Stephon Tuitt is the other defensive lineman for Notre Dame who will alleviate the loss of Everett Golson. Sure, the Fighting Irish aren't going to the national title game in 2013, but Tuitt will make sure that the defensive line isn't to blame.
Tuitt co-anchored the defensive line last season to the tune of 45 tackles (22 solo), 11 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, one pass breakup, nine quarterback hurries, one blocked kick, two forced fumbles and one 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
Tuitt will be the other reason that Notre Dame's defense finishes in the top 25 this season, regardless of the team's final win-loss record.
Kyle Van Noy, BYU Cougars
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Kyle Van Noy is going to dominate almost every game in which he plays. He gave everyone a preview of what he has in store for 2013 when he absolutely took the San Diego State Aztecs to school in the Poinsettia Bowl almost completely by himself.
Van Noy accrued 52 tackles (37 solo), 22 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, five pass breakups, eight quarterback hurries, two interceptions (one returned for a score), six forced fumbles, two blocked kicks and a fumble recovered for a touchdown.
Van Noy is a dominant linebacker, and he's one of the best in the country hands-down. The only real question about Van Noy is how high he can get himself on draft boards via the upcoming combine.
Jason Verrett, TCU Horned Frogs
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Aside from Devonte Fields, TCU has another dominant defender on its 2013 depth chart: Jason Verrett. Verrett collected 63 tackles (46 solo), five tackles for loss, 16 pass breakups, six interceptions and a blocked kick in 2012 alone.
While some may sneer at his numbers, the fact is that this kid played in the Big 12 last season after joining TCU while it was in the Mountain West Conference.
MWC football and Big 12 football are worlds apart, despite what a Boise State fan might tell you about its BCS game against Oklahoma in 2007.
TCU has a shot at the Big 12 title. With a win over LSU in the season opener, there is really no ceiling on the Horned Frogs' potential in 2013. Unfortunately, Devonte Fields will be missing from the TCU lineup that day.
Luckily, Verrett will be there to pick up the slack. If he's as good as he can be, that game can still go down as a "W" for TCU.
Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State Wildcats
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Ty Zimmerman is alphabetically the last dominant defender on this list. He is a brute in space as his stats will show you: 50 tackles (39 solo), three tackles for loss, five interceptions, one fumble return and two pass breakups.
He doesn't have the most complete stat sheet of anyone on this list, but a 39-to-11 ratio for solo vs. tandem tackles is huge. He's a brute in the open field, and you might as well run toward the sideline as run to him with the ball.
At least you'd avoid the monster hit from the 204-pound beast with a 4.54 40-yard time. That's a hit that you should get paid to take.
Zimmerman could be the marquee player on the Kansas State roster. With Collin Klein gone, the Wildcats definitely need their entire defense to dominate. In the pass-happy Big 12, Zimmerman's mettle will be greatly tested this season.
He will deliver on his end of the bargain.