CFB250

B/R CFB 250: Top 18 Interior Defensive Linemen in College Football

Michael FelderNational CFB Lead WriterDecember 27, 2013

B/R CFB 250: Top 18 Interior Defensive Linemen in College Football

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    Editor's note: This is the 13th installment in Bleacher Report's CFB 250 for the 2013 season. This signature series runs through December, with National College Football Lead Writer Michael Felder ranking the best players at every position. You can read more about the series in this introductory article. See the CFB 250 page for more rankings.

    Much like offensive linemen are the most unheralded players on offense, so too are the big defensive tackles. In today’s game, these mammoth players are extremely critical to the success of an entire defense, yet they often go unnoticed by the casual fan who is worried about sacks and interceptions.

    These players allow linebackers to make tackles and give the defensive ends and hybrid linebackers a chance to make a play. Without good defensive tackle play, a defense struggles.

    In order to rank these players, we graded them on their ability to rush the passer and defend against the run. Pass rush is not merely about sacks; it is about players getting push and working to help their team pressure quarterbacks. In the run game, there is as much value in occupying two blockers as there is to shooting a gap and making a play.

    Defensive tackles have to do the dirty work, and sometimes that work doesn’t show up on a neat little stat sheet. If there were any ties, the edge went to the player we would rather have.

    Keep in mind, these defensive tackles are being rated on their performance in college, not NFL potential. But to see where these players may go in the NFL draft (whether they are eligible in 2014 or later), check out Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Miller's projections at the end of each player slide.

     

18. Beau Allen, Wisconsin

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    Pass Rush

    25/40

    Allen will push in the interior, but his main goal on passing plays is to make things easier for his teammates. When he can occupy two blockers in a passing situation, it helps the other players get a path to the quarterback.

    Run Defense

    55/60

    Run is where Allen—and the Badgers defense—excels. He clogs up the middle and allows his linebackers to run free to the football. Allen is tough to move in the middle and is one of the few true nose players in the college game.

    Overall

    80/100

    Allen is an early series nose. He helps the Badgers win on first downs so that he can get off the field on 3rd-and-long to give way to better pass-rush personnel. The nose tackle is a fighter in the middle and, with Wisconsin’s tendency to use line shifts pre-snap, he’s a tactician as well.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Seventh Round. Impressive strength, but that's all he brings to the table.

17. Ego Ferguson, LSU

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    Pass Rush

    28/40

    The junior is still finding his way in the passing game and is trying to figure out how to best assert himself in rush scenarios. He has yet to develop the ability to disengage consistently and lacks a true array of moves that would allow him to transition from pressing the pocket to attacking the quarterback.

    Run Defense

    53/60

    Ferguson is a plug in the run game. He has good size and strength that make him a reliable player on the interior. This is where he is at his best. Teams are forced to either double Ferguson or watch as he forces running backs to cut before they are ready.

    Overall

    81/100

    Ferguson improved against the run as he better understood how to play big in the middle and force interior offensive linemen off their route with his power. Against the pass, he is still working to develop into an impact player.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Early first round. Could play his way into the top 10 picks of the 2015 draft.

16. Brandon Ivory, Alabama

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    Pass Rush

    24/40

    Ivory is not much of a pass-rusher. In fact, when the Tide are facing passing downs or opponents who use the pass heavily, the tackle is pushed out of action because he brings little to the table to help in those efforts.

    Run Defense

    58/60

    Ivory is at his best against the run. The big junior leans on centers and forces teams to commit a guard to aid in run defense, which helps Alabama stop the run. He occupies two bodies, does not allow the linemen to get a lateral push on him and gives his linebackers chances to fill gaps.

    Overall

    82/100

    Although he is a one-dimensional player, Ivory does his job well. He clogs up the middle and keeps guards and the center from getting to the second level. That is what helps ‘Bama get stops in the run game.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Second round. Has the size and scheme versatility teams want.

15. Jibreel Black, Michigan

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    Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Pass Rush

    31/40

    Black is an underrated interior rusher of the quarterback. He is a senior who has mastered his craft and understands when to use certain rush techniques. He is a quality presser of the pocket, but when given a chance to disengage, he can rip and slap away hands to get a shot at the quarterback.

    Run Defense

    51/60

    Against the run, Black is again a savvy player. He pursues straight down the line well, pushes to keep bodies off his linebackers and splits defenders when necessary. The tackle can get upfield at times and works hard to stop being pushed laterally by the offense.

    Overall

    82/100

    Black is as steady of a player as they come nationally. He has a strong understanding and feel for the game that allows him to give his team exactly what it needs. He’ll split defenders, hold the point or disengage to make a play.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Undrafted free agent. Doesn't pop off the film as a defender.

14. DeAndre Coleman, California

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Pass Rush

    32/40

    Coleman is a big kid who is more athletic than offensive linemen anticipate. He is capable of running stunts to open up interior spaces, and he is capable of pushing the pocket with a solid use of his power.

    Run Defense

    51/60

    Teams are pushing away from Coleman in the interior with their runsand with good reason. He’s a big body who moves well and is capable of pushing linemen back into running backs and altering their path on any given play.

    Overall

    83/100

    He’s a good football player on a team that is in serious transition. He has transitioned well into the new scheme, but the Wolverines made the move a bit slower. Still, Coleman has found a way to make plays when possible.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Fifth round. Looks the part, but NFL blockers will handle him until he learns to play with leverage.

13. Ra'shede Hageman, Minnesota

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    Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Pass Rush

    29/40

    Hageman is inconsistent in his pass rush. He has the physical tools to be a threat, but has yet to polish his technique and work it consistently enough to be a continual problem for offensive linemen.

    Run Defense

    55/60

    Because Hageman is so athletic, he does have the ability to make plays almost at will in the run game by getting less talented linemen to create space for him. His first step and ability to explode off the ball generate space, and he can split blockers in order to disrupt play in the backfield.

    Overall

    84/100

    The Minnesota senior has improved his discipline in the run game, and it has benefited him and his team in a big way. If he could develop pass-rush moves, he would be an unstoppable force for the Gophers.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Early second round. One of the most naturally gifted players in the nation. Has to play with better leverage.

12. Anthony Johnson, LSU

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    Pass Rush

    32/40

    Johnson has not had the season many expected. Despite being very quiet in spots during the season, teams had to account for him in pass protection. He is a body who can push the pocket. When he’s engaged, he can break through double teams to make plays.

    Run Defense

    53/60

    Because he still brought his power to the table, Johnson was a tough player against the run. He forced teams to double team him and was capable of forcing runs to spill before backs were ready to get lateral.

    Overall

    85/100

    This was a lackluster season for Johnson and the bulk of the LSU defense. The team did not generate great pressure consistently, and that cost them in the back end with big pass plays. He flashed enough to warrant inclusion, but ultimately, with the tools Johnson has, he should be much higher.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Early second round. The athletic freak you want, but wish he played with better impact/production.

11. DaQuan Jones, Penn State

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    Pass Rush

    31/40

    Jones is a quality pass-rush guy from the interior of Penn State’s defense. He pushes the pocket and can disengage to get to the quarterback when he is in pass-rush situations. He is one of Penn State’s best options at trying to press the pocket.

    Run Defense

    54/60

    In the run game, Jones is one of the nation’s better defensive tackles. The senior has no problem engaging offensive linemen, holding them off his linebackers and stopping lateral movement. When he does move laterally, he brings power with him, pushing linemen back and stoning the run.

    Overall

    85/100

    Jones is more versatile than he often gets credit for at Penn State. He’s active against the pass and can do a lot against the run. He’s not a simple plug-in-the-hole player. He can push upfield, and that ability to contribute in different ways makes him a positive.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Third round. A huge man, but limited as a pass-rusher.

10. Timmy Jernigan, Florida State

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    Pass Rush

    30/40

    The Florida State tackle is a squeezer and occupier at the inside position. He directs traffic by controlling the center and pushing to draw the guard’s attention, with the hopes of pressing the pocket from the middle and freeing teammates to get to the quarterback. When quarterbacks find the pocket due to the outside rush, Jernigan can disengage and become a sack player.

    Run Defense

    56/60

    Much like in the pass sets, Jernigan is a man who looks to command a double team. The Seminoles have smallish interior linebackers who rely on speed, so it is his duty to ensure that those players get run-through lanes to make tackles. He does that job well and also brings a quickness to the nose position that allows him to be a bigger factor than most traditional players at the spot.

    Overall

    86/100

    Jernigan is not a prototype player at the nose of a largely 3-4 scheme, but his athleticism and power make it work for him. He brings the strength to occupy two blockers and the speed and quickness to split those same defenders to make a play.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Late second round. Has all the tools, but his impact doesn't stand out on film.

9. Jay Bromley, Syracuse

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    Liz Condo-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Pass Rush

    34/40

    Bromley uses his length and his quickness at his size (6'4", 293 pounds) to get good push in getting after the quarterback. He is comfortable running stunts that take him out wide and help defensive ends get inside rushes. He also gets great extension and has the power to walk centers and guards back into quarterbacks.

    Run Defense

    55/60

    The Syracuse tackle is not the plug on the inside that many other players are at his position. Rather, Bromley is a talented athlete who excels getting off the ball and disrupting the line of scrimmage. He can keep blockers off his body, steer linemen and then disengage to make plays in the backfield.

    Overall

    89/100

    Syracuse’s mediocre season has kept Bromley from playing games on a big stage, but it did not impact his effectiveness. He is a big, agile and long athlete playing tackle who is capable of creating problems for offenses.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Fourth round. Athletic and quick, but has to play stronger.

8. Derrick Hopkins, Virginia Tech

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

     

    Pass Rush

    34/40

    Hopkins possesses good quickness for a big man, and that quickness, combined with understanding leverage and power, allows him to move centers and guards out of the way in getting to the passer. He’s a strong player who fights through hands and rips to the interior to get to the quarterback.

    Run Defense

    55/60

    The Hokies senior is a problem for opposing teams’ run games. He works to occupy two players, pushing to free up his linebackers so they can fast flow to the football. As runs turn away from him, he pursues well and sits waiting for the cutback to make plays.

    Overall

    89/100

    Another in a long list of quality defenders for Bud Foster’s defense. Hopkins is the anchor of that interior. He is the biggest reason why the Hokies are stout against the run.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Seventh round. A solid nose tackle prospect, but doesn't offer much else.

7. Michael Bennett, Ohio State

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    Pass Rush

    36/40

    Bennett spends a lot of his time lined up in a 3-4 tackle position, which traditionally means playing the point of the defense. Unlike most interior tackles, he is a player who can beat his blocks and get to the quarterback, not just eat space and occupy blockers. Bennett can push the pocket from the inside and disengage to make plays on his own.

    Run Defense

    54/60

    The junior’s ability to be a space-eater is reflected in the production of his linebacking group as he frees Ryan Shazier up to make tackles. However, Bennett’s extra element is his tremendous power and quickness to get to the football on his own. That is what allows him to insert himself into plays.

    Overall

    90/100

    Bennett was a welcome surprise for the Buckeyes this season, as Ohio State found a much-needed, stout interior defensive lineman. As he figured out the defense, he came on strong in 2013 and showed he belongs near the top of the list of the nation’s best defensive tackles.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Late first round. Has a first step that will keep NFL offenses up at night. Stud potential.

6. Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech

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    Pass Rush

    35/40

    Maddy has played on fire in 2013and not just against the run. With the help of Derrick Hopkins, he’s pushed the pocket well and demonstrated an ability to disengage from linemen and find his way to the quarterback.

    Run Defense

    55/60

    The defensive tackle is one of the nation’s most active players in run defense. He filters runs to his linebackers, but he is also a player who can get penetration and generate his own disruptions. Maddy works leverage well, pushes linemen off the line of scrimmage and stones the run flow when he decides to push upfield.

    Overall

    90/100

    He’s a strong player who built on last year’s success to become one of the nation’s better defensive tackles. He fights through blocks to make plays, and he’s capable of occupying bodies to let his teammates flow and fill.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Sixth Round. Hasn't shown NFL-level strength consistently.

5. Louis Nix III, Notre Dame

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    Pass Rush

    35/40

    Nix is a strong player who requires two bodies in pass protection. Teams that try to occupy him with one run the risk of letting him walk the center back into the quarterback, and that is never a plus. Two on Nix is a win for Notre Dame, as the other rushers face favorable matchups.

    Run Defense

    55/60

    He is another big man who can run. Nix moves well laterally, all while working to maintain a good pad level and never losing his power. He is tough to move off the point, and when he eats up two blockers, he helps control the line of scrimmage.

    Overall

    90/100

    Nix’s 2013 did not go the way many Irish fans hoped. The senior was playing the best ball of anyone on the roster for much of the season. But as the rest of the cast was starting to pick things up, he went down to injury. He played well when healthy.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Late first round. The top nose tackle prospect in college right now.

4. Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina

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    Pass Rush

    37/40

    As Jadeveon Clowney drew double teams and opponents rolled away from him, it was Quarles who flashed in the biggest way for the Gamecocks. He showed an ability to shoot gaps in the interior and beat blockers to get to the quarterback.

    Run Defense

    54/60

    Quarles ate up runs to the interior. He did a phenomenal job of shedding blockers and making plays in the run game. Getting loose to make plays in the backfield was a must for the tackle as the Gamecocks’ linebacking corps struggled.

    Overall

    91/100

    Quarles took a big step in 2013, becoming a premier tackle in the SEC. He understands how to push from the inside and when to shed blocks to insert himself into the play. The Gamecocks tackle put together an outstanding season.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Third round. You have to wonder how much playing next to Clowney helped him out. Athletic ability is there.

3. Will Sutton, Arizona State

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    Pass Rush

    36/40

    Sutton struggled early in the season. The senior kept pushing the pocket, and although his numbers did not jump, he gave defensive line partner Carl Bradford plenty of playmaking chances.

    Run Defense

    55/60

    Against the run is where the speed element of the big man’s game comes into play. He’s tremendous in pursuit laterally. Even as he moves sideways, he does not lose his power. That allows him to push off guards, blast through backs and make tackles.

    Overall

    91/100

    Coming back to school has helped Sutton get to the Pac-12 championship game and cement his status as one of the top defensive tackles in the nation. He’s an athletic big man who can make plays against the run and a pass that someone of his size is usually unable to do.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Late first round. Has the quickness, but a poor '13 and smaller size won't help.

2. Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest

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    Pass Rush

    38/40

    As an undersized pass-rusher, Whitlock uses exceptional technique and underrated power to beat defenders. The senior has a knack for beating offensive linemen as they set up in pass protection, then working toward the ball. When he can’t do it with quickness, he also uses his leverage as a shorter player to walk blockers back into the quarterback.

    Run Defense

    53/60

    Whitlock is a big man who runs well for his size. He gets lateral in a hurry, and that allows him to stretch out runs from the inside out to benefit his team. He allows linebackers  to fill lanes, and when the opportunity arises, he disengages and makes a play himself.

    Overall

    91/100

    Those who have watched Whitlock play understand how he gets it done as an undersized interior player. He is a technician with tremendous power in his smaller frame who is still quick enough to beat linemen to the spot. He often commands a double team, but because he uses leverage and has great body control, he is a tough player to pin.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Sixth round. Give me this guy all day, but he's too small to play tackle in the pros.

1. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh

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    Pass Rush

    38/40

    Donald is the premier pass-rushing defensive tackle in the college game. It is rare that a player is able to generate such tremendous push up the middle from this position, but he can get pressure with his use of quickness to beat players to spots and power to push guards and centers back to the quarterback.

    Run Defense

    58/60

    Donald does not cheat his linebacker by simply shooting gaps to make plays. He plays good football, commanding a double team and then splitting players to make tackles on cutbacks and plays away from him. He moves down the line well for a big man.

    Overall

    96/100

    Donald is the class of the position, and it is hardly close in the tackle ranks. The opposing offenses know they have to stop him. Yet even with double and triple teams, Donald still makes plays. He has a mix of speed, technique and power that is tough for college offensive linemen to counteract. He’s the rare player with not only a go-to move and a backup plan, but an answer to teams that try to combat those moves.

    NFL Draft Projection

    Early second round. If he were two inches taller, we'd be talking top 10 overall pick.

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