The defensive side of football is purely reactionary, so it's the defenders who end up making the big plays.
Whether it be exploding into a big hit, out of a stance or downhill into a running lane, the best defenders get to where they need to be with explosiveness.
These five 2014 college football recruits have that type of explosive skill set.
Jabrill Peppers has the chance to be a truly transcendent college football defender. He's ranked as an athlete by 247Sports, but there's a great chance Michigan will play him at cornerback. At 6'1'', 205 pounds, he has the size to be physically dominant, but he can also turn, run and make a play on the ball in the air.
Peppers will be a force against the run, whether it be setting the edge or making a big tackle, but he also runs a 4.40 40, per 247Sports. What does that mean? Basically, not only will he be strong at the line of scrimmage, but he can cover a ton of space as well. Peppers will be able to cover the deep zone, and he's quick and agile enough to stay in a receiver's hip pocket through the route.
Whether he's making a huge hit at the line or running back an interception, Peppers will make explosive plays.
Andrew Brown has tremendous burst out of his stance. He has a quick first step and can shoot the gap, get into the backfield and pursue. He's also surprisingly agile for a defensive tackle.
Brown essentially plays with the quickness and aggressiveness of a linebacker, but he has the size of a defensive tackle. He has explosive hands and uses them to engage defenders, and he possesses a great repertoire of rush moves.
Brown will get penetration into the backfield, and he has the talent to finish plays behind the line.
Da'Shawn Hand has elite speed and explosiveness. There's not a quicker or more explosive defensive end in this class, and for that reason, Hand is going to be a big-time commitment, eventually.
He does a great job of getting off the ball, dipping his shoulder and turning the corner. He can simply outrun most offensive tackles, and once he gets an opening, he's quick enough to exploit it. That said, Hand is still strong enough to two-gap a defender, keep his shoulder free and set the edge as a defensive end.
He projects to be a great pass-rusher at the college level, but he'll be able to play strong against the run as well. Hand runs a 4.60 40, per 247Sports.
Hoza Scott isn't getting much press because he committed so early (December of 2012). While he may be flying under the radar, per say, he's easily one of the most explosive defenders in this class.
Scott is a pure outside linebacker. What that means is, he's athletic enough to play well in open space and dominate the edge, but he's physical and strong enough to scrape over and fill a lane.
He'll really excel as a pass-rusher, and that's where he has the potential to be explosive. His athleticism and speed allow him to pursue at a high level, and at 220 pounds, he'll intimidate some quarterbacks coming off the edge.
Scott can also drop back into coverage and make plays.
Solomon Thomas has the potential to be a complete defensive end in college. He's extremely explosive at the line of scrimmage, specifically in the way that he attacks a blocker. It's often times hard to get high school defensive ends to use their hands and explode into the chest plate of a blocker, but Thomas has that down.
He'll be able to push back the line of scrimmage and will demand double-teams. He's strong enough to hold his own at the line, and he's great at getting off blocks, reading the play and closing down the line against the run. He fights blocks and can get through the wash in pursuit of the ball.
Thomas is also deceptively fast and good in open space, so he'll be an above-average pass-rusher as well.