Adrian Clayborn tops the list with pure physical strength
With over 100 FBS teams, some defensive playmakers tend not to get all the credit they deserve. Adrian Clayborn has been in the spotlight, primarily because of his monumental role in leading Iowa to a #2 rush defense ranking this season. But who else deserves to have high expectations leading into next years 2011 NFL Draft?
Let's break down some of these stand outs in no particular order.
Greg Jones stares down the Northwestern O-Line
Greg Jones, LB Michigan State
With the kind of gameplay Greg Jones embodies, the comparisons to Bart Scott and Thomas Howard are completely justified. Jones averages about 9 tackles a game, and has forced 3 fumbles in just 7 games for a powerful 8-1 Michigan State Spartan squad.
The question for Greg Jones is if he can adjust to the high tempo NFL game speed. I think he can and will. A guy commonly referred to as a "beast", Jones will be an impact player for any team.
Adrian Clayborn, LB Iowa
Most College Football enthusiasts have been inundated with numerous analysts talking up the defensive force that is Adrian Clayborn. Perhaps his best attribute is his sense of ownership. After a one point loss to Wisconsin, mainly because of a botched extra point, Clayborn laid the blame on himself, stating that he couldn't play the run as effectively as he hoped for. His leadership is felt throughout the Hawkeyes organization, and Clayborn will be a top 10 selection in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Adrian has 3 sacks so far in the tough Big Ten conference, and he is treated like NFL players Darelle Revis or Nnamdi Asomugha in relation to the amount of plays that are run in the opposite direction of Clayborn. He also has 168 career tackles, and looks to add to that for the remainder of the 2010 Iowa season.
Patrick Peterson, DB LSU
One of the premiere defensive backs in all the land, Peterson is a big reason why LSU's defense is always mentioned in the top 10. He only has a pair of interceptions on the year, but both came against a resilient Mississippi State team, who later beat Florida.
Peterson is a stout 6'1, 220, and has NFL scouts drooling over his physical play. For some reason, I see this guy playing for the Patriots. Don't ask me why, maybe it's just a vision.
Hosley goes up for a pick in the end zone against BC
Jayron Hosley, DB Virginia Tech
This is a guy you may not have heard about. However, you might want to take note. Hosley has racked up 5 interceptions this year, including 3 against a good NC State team, helping secure a victory. As a former DB in high school, I love the passes defended category, and Hosley apparently does too: he leads College Football with 11 passes broken up and intercepted, which together account for passes defended.
Robert Lester, DB Alabama
Before you object, I already took into account that he plays for an Alabama defense that makes life as a DB fairly easy. He makes this list for big play potential: 2 huge interceptions against the highly regarded Ryan Mallet puts Lester in the discussion for top DB in all of College Football.
Crushing Cam Newton
Da'Quan Bowers, DL Clemson
Greg Jones might be a beast, but Bowers is a straight up MONSTER. His size and strength are insane, his pursuit of the QB even crazier, as the picture shown alludes to. He leads College Football in sacks (10) and tackles for losses (17.5), and is guaranteed to grow much more once he hits the NFL.
Bowers has recorded sacks in every game but one this season, and most impressively, has brought down speedsters like Cam Newton in Auburn, Joshua Nesbitt in Georgia Tech, and Jacory Harris at Miami. His potential is still untapped, and he single handily almost turned the tide is what was a heart breaking defeat early in the year at Auburn.
I'll say Bowers is a for sure first rounder, and a top 3 D-line player in the country.
LB Dont'a Hightower
Relative of pro running back Tim Hightower, Dont'a has gotten a lot of press. Doubled with the fact that he plays for a former BCS championship team, Hightower has nothing but up-side. His stats don't exactly show his net worth so far this year, but keep in mind he plays for an all around powerhouse defense. Hightower has 121 career tackles, and looks to make an impact in the NFL.
DL Marcell Dareus
Marcell has 8 tackles for a loss, and 2.5 sacks so far this season. He's a big reason why Alabama is #2 in College football in points allowed. Big pressure on the QB, and the ability to chase them out of the pocket is his forte (3 QB hurries on the year).
Luke Kuechly, LB Boston College
Dubbed as the wonder boy, Kuechly leads the nation in tackles by 10. He's recorded 97 tackles (56 of which are solo), and is only a sophomore this season. He was named the ACC Defensive freshman of the year, and is already off to a solid season this year. Keep your eyes and ears open for this guy once he makes the leap to being a professional.
Jared Crick, DL Nebraska
Living in the shadow of Ndamukong Suh last year, Jared Crick is showing his true potential this year. He's recorded 3.5 sacks for a staggering -40 yards, and has been solid against the run all year. It's unsure how high he will be drafted, but the Junior defensive force will surely be an impact player in the future.
Ryan Kerrigan, DL Purdue
Kerrigan has recorded 6.5 sacks so far this season for a struggling Purdue team. However, his personal success should be recognized: Kerrigan is in the top 15 in the nation in sacks, and is also top three in tackles for a loss, with 16.5. His upside is gigantic, and this senior looks to bring his backfield pursuit specialties to the NFL next year.
Nick Fairley, DL Auburn
Nick Fairley makes the list primarily because of the his potential. He does sit at second in the country with 17 tackles for a loss, but with Fairley, it seems like motivation is going to be huge for him as far as growing into a NFL role player.
Prince Amukamara, DB Nebraska
Mel Kiper notes: "Safety size with cornerback lockdown skills". I like this guy a lot, but it was hard to get to him first after being torched by WR Justin Blackmon a couple weeks back. Prince stands at 6'1", weights 201 pounds, and looks to be an immediate impact for whoever drafts him.
Rahim Moore, S UCLA
Moore led the nation in interceptions last year with 10, has 14 in his career, and is off to a solid start this year. He is a junior for UCLA, and played great defense in UCLA's route of Texas.
Cameron Heyward, DL Ohio State
His stats aren't compelling enough to make your eyes pop out, but his size is: 6'6, 288 lbs. Heyward is a key component of that great Buckeyes defense, and will be a top 25 draft pick no doubt. He's also notched a sack and an interception on the year to go along with 22 tackles.
Jeremy Beal, DL Oklahoma
Beal is the reason why this list of impact players on defense is so hard to structure. He may leave Oklahoma as the all time sack leader, as he already has 6 on the year. Beal stands at 6'4, and weighs in at about 260. He is another guy that could go top 20 if he finishes up this year like he started it.
Last but not least,
Stephon Gilmore , DB South Carolina
I am patiently waiting for Gilmore to become a household name. His coverage is amazing, as he showed earlier this year in coverage on Alabama's Julio Jones. Kid's just a sophomore, and I look for his leadership to really make an impact next year for the Gamecocks.
Obviously, a list created will always fail to mention players that are more then deserving, and that, folks, is why Mel Kiper has a day job. I've limited the players I've chosen to those who are active this year, so if you are thinking "hey, there's a couple of North Carolina players.." yes, you are more then right. However, this list encompasses my personal favorites, as well as those I believe will be an immediate impact in the NFL, whether it be this year, or the 2012 NFL draft.
So let's hear it, who's someone you just have a gut feeling about: Someone who is going to step in the NFL and knock some heads. Well, maybe just lightly knock the heads, we don't want any suspensions. I mean come on, over half the hits are head to head and...Ok, I'll save that for another article.