B/R CFB 150: Top 24 Defensive Ends

Bleacher Report College Football StaffFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2017

B/R CFB 150: Top 24 Defensive Ends

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    Alabama DE Jonathan Allen
    Alabama DE Jonathan AllenKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Bleacher Report's CFB 150 is an annual ranking of the game's best players, regardless of NFL potential. Authors David Kenyon, Brian Pedersen and Barrett Sallee have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list down and sorted by position. Today, Pedersen presents the top 24 defensive ends.

    Other CFB 150 Positions

    The skill positions still get most of the hype, but the real glamour position in college football may just be defensive end.

    Despite record offensive numbers put up on an almost annual basis, the collection of strength and speed that enables some defensive players to come off the edge and attack the quarterback is tremendous. Without a standout edge-rusher, there's not much a team can do to slow down an offense, and the defensive ends we've picked out are all masters of this craft.

    The following rankings are based primarily on one's skills as a college player rather than how he would fare in the NFL. Though these players may be using this time to develop their game for the pro level, primarily they are focused on helping their teams succeed.

Players 24-21: Hendrickson-Wormley

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    Tyquan Lewis
    Tyquan LewisChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    24. Trey Hendrickson, Florida Atlantic

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 51 tackles (15 for loss), 9.5 sacks, two pass breakups, eight QB hurries, one forced fumble, four blocked kicks

    Florida Atlantic's poor 3-9 season meant many people missed what the 6'4", 270-pound Hendrickson did in 2016, but his opponents didn't. His 20.5 percent pass-rushing productivity ranked first among all 4-3 defensive ends, per Pro Football Focus.

            

    23. Ja'Von Rolland-Jones, Arkansas State

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 57 tackles (21 for loss), 13 sacks, seven QB hurries, one forced fumble

    Roland-Holmes tied for fifth nationally in sacks and tied for eighth in TFLs. The 6'2", 244-pound edge-rusher helped Arkansas State win a second consecutive Sun Belt Conference title in 2016.

            

    22. Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 57 tackles (21.5 for loss), 10 sacks, one pass breakup, seven QB hurries, three forced fumbles

    The 6'4", 275-pound Chubb tied for sixth in the country in tackles for loss, getting at least two in six different games in 2016. His 3.5 tackles for loss in a rain-soaked win over Notre Dame in October also included three sacks.

        

    21. Chris Wormley, Michigan

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 39 tackles (8.5 for loss), 5.5 sacks, five QB hurries

    A starter since midway through the 2014 season, the 6'6", 302-pound Wormley made it tough for opponents to run outside. He rated sixth among 4-3 ends against the run with only two missed tackles all season, per Pro Football Focus.

Players 20-16: Lewis-Willis

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    Jordan Willis
    Jordan WillisPeter G. Aiken/Getty Images

    20. Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 29 tackles (10.5 for loss), eight sacks, two pass breakups, five QB hurries, three forced fumbles

    Ohio State's 28 sacks were its fewest since 2011, and without Lewis that number would have been even lower. The 6'4", 266-pound Lewis had the seventh-best pass-rushing productivity among 4-3 ends, per Pro Football Focus.

        

    19. Tarell Basham, Ohio

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 49 tackles (15 for loss), 10.5 sacks, two pass breakups, 12 QB hurries, one forced fumble

    Per Pro Football Focus, the 6'4", 262-pound Basham rated fourth-best among 4-3 defensive ends in pass-rushing productivity while also helping Ohio rank fifth in FBS in run defense. That effort enabled the Bobcats to reach the Mid-American Conference title game.

        

    18. Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 50 tackles (13 for loss), 4.5 sacks, one pass breakup, 12 QB hurries, two forced fumbles

    Teammate Myles Garrett got most of the attention, but if not for Hall on the other end, Texas A&M's defensive line wouldn't have been as formidable. The 6'6", 270-pound Hall didn't have the raw stats, but he was vital to the Aggies getting pressure on the quarterback.

           

    17. Carroll Phillips, Illinois

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 56 tackles (20 for loss), nine sacks, three QB hurries, one forced fumble

    The 6'3", 240-pound Phillips worked his way up from junior college to second in the Big Ten in tackles for loss. He had at least two tackles for loss in six of Illinois' 12 games in 2016.   

         

    16. Jordan Willis, Kansas State

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 52 tackles (17.5 for loss), 11.5 sacks, one fumble return, three pass breakups, four QB hurries, three forced fumbles

    Graded by Pro Football Focus as the top overall edge-rusher, the 6'5", 258-pound Willis was the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year. He had three multi-sack games in 2016, including in critical conference victories over Texas and Texas Tech.

Players 15-11: Reddick-Charlton

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    Arden Key
    Arden KeyJonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    15. Haason Reddick, Temple

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 65 tackles (22.5 for loss), 10.5 sacks, one interception, three pass breakups, three QB hurries, three forced fumbles

    Temple's first conference title since 1967 was paced by its defense, which allowed 18.4 points per game. The 6'1", 230-pound Reddick patrolled the edge against the run and the pass with equal effectiveness, tying for third nationally in tackles for loss.

             

    14. Hunter Dimick, Utah

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 54 tackles (21 for loss), 14.5 sacks, seven pass breakups, one QB hurry, one forced fumble

    The 6'3", 272-pound Dimick followed up an injury-plagued 2015 with a tremendous final season, one that saw him tie for third in FBS in sacks. He spearheaded a Utah defense that averaged 3.31 sacks per game, tied for sixth-best in the country.

             

    13. Christian Wilkins, Clemson

    Class: Sophomore

    2016 Stats: 48 tackles (13 for loss), 3.5 sacks, 10 pass breakups, five QB hurries, one blocked kick

    At 6'4", 310 pounds, Wilkins played at the size of a nose tackle, but his speed and agility were too good for Clemson to keep him on the interior. But his instincts against the run were still present on the outside, as he ranked 11th among 4-3 ends in that category, per Pro Football Focus.

        

    12. Arden Key, LSU

    Class: Sophomore

    2016 Stats: 56 tackles (14.5 for loss), 12 sacks, three pass breakups, 11 QB hurries, three forced fumbles

    Key ranked second in the SEC in sacks despite playing only 11 games, and he helped LSU finish 10th nationally in total defense. On a veteran-laden unit, the 6'6", 238-pound Key often made the biggest plays. He'll be the leader of the Tigers defense in 2017.

         

    11. Taco Charlton, Michigan

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 42 tackles (13.5 for loss), 10 sacks, two pass breakups, eight QB hurries

    Charlton missed two games early in the season because of injury, but he still tallied nearly 22 percent of Michigan's sacks and was its most productive defensive lineman. The 6'6", 272-pound Charlton was playing his best football at the end, tallying 7.5 tackles for loss in the Wolverines' final three games, including three against rival Ohio State.

10. Ejuan Price, Pittsburgh

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    Joe Sargent/Getty Images

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 45 tackles (23 for loss), 13 sacks, one pass breakup, 14 QB hurries, three forced fumbles, one blocked kick

    Undersized and oft-injured, Ejuan Price's career almost came to an early end after chest and back injuries eliminated almost three full seasons of action. Between 2012 and 2014, the 6'0", 255-pound Price played only six games and sat out two campaigns entirely, only to come back with a vengeance in 2015 and continue that rise this past fall.

    Price had 11.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss in 2015 and then, after being awarded a medical redshirt for a sixth season of football, somehow improved on that performance. He ranked second nationally in tackles for loss this past season and had seven multi-sack games in his career, including five against Louisville's Kyle Bolin and future Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson in November 2015.

    Although Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi told Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in November that Price became "a better run defender" this past season, the way he attacked the edge remained his biggest strength. Price played 96.3 percent of the Panthers' 485 passing snaps in 2016 and had only four missed tackles all year, per Pro Football Focus.

9. Solomon Thomas, Stanford

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    David Madison/Getty Images

    Class: Redshirt sophomore

    2016 Stats: 62 tackles (15 for loss), eight sacks, one fumble return, seven QB hurries, one forced fumble

    After seeing what he did this season, it's hard to imagine Stanford had no use for Solomon Thomas as a true freshman in 2014 and opted to redshirt him. That Cardinal team logged 46 sacks but went 8-5the program's worst record of this decadesomething the 6'3", 273-pound Thomas might have been able to prevent if the coaching staff had given him a shot.

    Thomas was instead brought along slowly, and that approach paid off in the form of a monster 2016, one that was tremendous from start to finish, as he led Stanford in tackles, sacks and tackles for loss. His final college play exemplified what he could do when he chased down North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky for a sack on a two-point conversion to clinch a 25-23 win in the Sun Bowl.

    Thomas' run-stopping ability was his best skill, however. Pro Football Focus named him the top player in that area for 2016, crediting him with 37 solo run stops.

    "Solomon is that rare combination of athletic ability, speed, mentality and technique," coach David Shaw said, per Tom FitzGerald of the San Francisco Chronicle. "He's one of those guys who doesn't stay blocked."

8. Carl Lawson, Auburn

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 30 tackles (13.5 for loss), nine sacks, 24 QB hurries, one forced fumble

    A fully healthy Carl Lawson is a scary thing, but prior to 2016, it was also somewhat of a rarity. He played every game as a true freshman in 2013 before missing the following season with a knee injury. He came back in 2015 but was limited to seven games because of a hip injury.

    The 6'2", 253-pound Lawson avoided further issues this past season and was able to show his full potential, resulting in Pro Football Focus' fifth-best pass-rushing grade among edge defenders. He played all but nine of Auburn's 356 pass-rushing snaps and was credited with 67 total pressures, second-most in the country.

    While he didn't always create a negative play, Lawson's constant pressure from the outside caused opponents to alter their plans, resulting in the Tigers allowing just 17.1 points per game.

7. DeMarcus Walker, Florida State

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 68 tackles (21.5 for loss), 16 sacks, one fumble return, two pass breakups, four QB hurries, three forced fumbles, one blocked kick

    Florida State has yet to update DeMarcus Walker's online bio to reflect what he did during the 2016 season, but when it does, it could just take the first line of the 2015 paragraph—which includes "put together his finest season as a Seminole"—and duplicate it because it still applies.

    The 6'4", 280-pound Walker managed to outperform his breakout junior campaign with an even better senior season, one that saw him rank second nationally in sacks and tie for sixth in tackles for loss. His 26.5 sacks the last two years are the most in FBS.

    The ACC Defensive Player of the Year graded eighth-best among edge-rushers in pass rushing, while his 8.1 percent run-stopping rate tied for fifth among 4-3 ends, per Pro Football Focus.

6. Charles Harris, Missouri

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    Ed Zurga/Getty Images

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 61 tackles (12 for loss), nine sacks, one fumble return, two pass breakups, 10 QB hurries, two forced fumbles

    The defensive line at Missouri has been a breeding ground for NFL talent the past decade, and Charles Harris may end up being the next great player from that group. That is still uncertain, but what is irrefutable is how important he was to the Tigers in 2016 when their normally stout defense became far more porous.

    Missouri allowed 31.5 points per game this past season, nearly double its rate of 16.2 the year before, yet the 6'3", 260-pound Harris wasn't the reason for that decline. He led the team in sacks and tackles for loss for the second consecutive season while registering more than 30 quarterback pressures for a second year in a row, per Pro Football Focus.

    Harris' best move is the spin off the edge, something he used quite often to get to the quarterback. It enabled him to dominate against passers who used deep dropbacks, such as when he had three sacks against Georgia and a combined 4.5 in a two-game stretch in November against South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

5. Harold Landry, Boston College

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    Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 51 tackles (22 for loss), 16.5 sacks, one interception, four pass breakups, six QB hurries, seven forced fumbles

    If not for its defense, Boston College would have had no shot at making a bowl game in 2016. And if not for Harold Landry spearheading that unit off the edge, the Eagles defense would have broken more than it bent.

    The 6'3", 250-pound Landry led FBS in sacks and caused opponents to lose 143 yards on those takedowns. That included three sacks in the bowl-clinching win at Wake Forest in the regular-season finale and a combined three against notable ACC quarterbacks Deshaun Watson of Clemson and Deondre Francois of Florida State.

    Landry had Pro Football Focus' fifth-best pass-rush grade among 4-3 defensive ends and the second-best pass-rush productivity. Such a performance would have made him a hot commodity in the 2017 NFL draft, but instead Landry announced he was returning for his senior season.

    "The sky is the limit with his potential," BC coach Steve Addazio said in a school release.

4. Takkarist McKinley, UCLA

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    Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 61 tackles (18 for loss), 10 sacks, six pass breakups, three QB hurries, three forced fumbles

    Takkarist McKinley got a late start to his FBS career, playing a year of junior college and then arriving at UCLA midway through the 2014 season. But since he's gotten on the field, it's been hard to keep the 6'2", 265-pound McKinley off it with the way he was able to dominate against the run and the pass.

    Rated by Pro Football Focus as the 10th-most productive pass-rusher and eighth-best run-stopper from an edge-rushing position, McKinley wasn't the prototypical player who would pin his ears back and fly toward the backfield. Instead he managed to see everything ahead of him as he burst forward, resulting in only five missed tackles on 636 defensive snaps, per PFF.

    "Everything you want in a player in terms of mindset, attitude, toughness, work ethic and just killer instinct," coach Jim Mora said, per Dan Greenspan of the Associated Press. "He's really special."

    McKinley had more tackles for loss than any other two UCLA players, accounting for nearly 28 percent of the team's tackles for loss.

3. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M

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    Butch Dill/Getty Images

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 33 tackles (15 for loss), 8.5 sacks, one pass breakup, 10 QB hurries, two forced fumbles, one blocked kick

    Injuries can have a significant impact on college football, and Myles Garrett discovered just how much a sprained ankle can affect things. First hurt in late September, the 6'5”, 270-pound Garrett missed the next game and sat out another later that month while hobbling through almost every other contest in 2016.

    And yet he still ranked seventh in the SEC in tackles for loss and ninth in sacks while grading out as the fifth-best defensive end in the country working out of a 4-3 alignment, per Pro Football Focus.

    "Myles is the best big athlete that I've ever been on the field with," Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis said, per ESPN's Sam Khan Jr. "You don't find guys that are 6'5”-plus that can bend and turn and run. He can do that better than any big athlete I've been around."

    Garrett, who set the SEC freshman sack record in 2014—breaking the mark previously set by South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney—finished his career with 32.5 sacks and 48.5 tackles for loss.

2. Derek Barnett, Tennessee

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 56 tackles (19 for loss), 13 sacks, one interception, five pass breakups, 16 QB hurries, two forced fumbles

    Even before becoming Tennessee's career sack leader in his final game, Derek Barnett was already arguably the best defensive end the Volunteers have ever had. Getting that 33rd sack to pass Reggie White in the Music City Bowl only solidified his place in program history.

    The 6'3", 265-pound Barnett was an instant success in Knoxville with 10 sacks as a freshman, and he had at least that many in each season while also racking up 52 tackles for loss. And he didn't pad those numbers against lesser competition, getting 12 of his 13 sacks in 2016 and 29 of his 33 total against SEC opponents.

    "My opinion, he's the best defensive end in the country," Tennessee coach Butch Jones said after the Music City Bowl, per Omaha.com. "Best defensive player in the country. And he just works: He works his craft every single day, ultra, ultra competitive."

    Pro Football Focus tabbed Barnett as college football's best pass-rusher by virtue of his amazing 16.1 percent pass-rushing productivity rate and the fact he never graded below average in a game in 2016.

1. Jonathan Allen, Alabama

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 69 tackles (16 for loss), 10.5 sacks, three fumble returns, two pass breakups, 15 QB hurries, one blocked kick

    At 6'3", 291 pounds, Jonathan Allen should be listed as a defensive tackle. But that's assuming someone of his size doesn't have the speed and athleticism to come off the edge and disrupt in the same manner as if he's plowing through the middle, and you'd be dead wrong.

    Allen can line up anywhere and find a way to be involved and wreak havoc, as Alabama's 15 opponents in 2016 and most of those in the previous seasons can attest. This past year, there was rarely a game where his name wasn't mentioned as being integral to a big defensive play, particularly in helping the Crimson Tide score an amazing 11 defensive touchdowns.

    He scored two of those on a pick-six against Ole Miss and a fumble return against Texas A&M. The former allowed Allen to showcase tremendous speed by outrunning everyone for a 75-yard score.

    Pro Football Focus considered him to be not just the best defensive player in the country but also the best overall player due to his great work against both the pass and the run, and so many aspects of Allen's game stand out. Coach Nick Saban believes Allen's hands, and how he uses them, are his best attribute.

    “Jonathan can play with leverage, he's very athletic, so he can strike,” Saban said, per Charlie Potter of 247Sports.

       

    Statistics courtesy of CFBStats and recruiting information courtesy of Scout unless otherwise noted. All slides written by Brian J. Pedersen. Follow the author on Twitter at @realBJP.