B/R CFB 250: Top 25 Defensive Ends

Bleacher Report College Football StaffFeatured ColumnistJanuary 5, 2015

B/R CFB 250: Top 25 Defensive Ends

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    B/R Media Lab

    Bleacher Report's CFB 250 is an annual ranking of the best players in college football, regardless of NFL potential. Brian Leigh and Kynon Codrington have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed that list to 250 and sorted by position. Today, we present the Top 25 Defensive Ends.

    Other CFB 250 Positions

    Defensive end was the deepest, most talented position in college football during 2014.

    Declarative statements such as that are often hyperbolic, but this one is not. It is simply the truth. As many as 14 players could have made a convincing argument to land in the top five. And many of the top 14 have already announced they'll return next season. 

    Part of this depth has to do with the way we defined "defensive end." Certain players who are technically listed as linebackers were included if they played the majority of snaps with their hand down. Even though they are capable of standing up and playing linebacker, it feels more honest to call them 9-technique ends.

    Before we start, please note that these players were graded as college linemen, not on how they project as NFL linemen.

    Targeted skills such as run defense are important at both levels, but there is a difference between college run defense and professional run defense. If a lineman is strong enough to set the edge in the SEC or the Big 12, it doesn't matter that he can't set the edge against the NFC North. At least not here it doesn't.

    This is all about his college performance.

    Note: If two players finished with the same grade, a subjective call was made based on whom we would rather have on our team right now.

25-21. Edwards, Harold, Golden, Anderson, Dickson

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    Associated Press

    25. Mario Edwards, Florida State

    76/100

    Pass Rush: 34/50; Run Defense: 36/40; Motor: 6/10

    When he’s on, Mario Edwards can be special. The former blue-chip recruit played the best game of his career in the 2014 BCS National Championship Game and followed with a few standout performances this season. But those “few” were also few and far between. He is simply not consistent enough to rank any higher than he does. He has the physical tools to be a menace—especially against the run—but hasn’t shown the mental faculties.

    24. Eli Harold, Virginia

    80/100

    Pass Rush: 40/50; Run Defense: 33/40; Motor: 7/10

    Eli Harold is a bouncy defensive end with rare length and athleticism. He has the ideal frame for a pass-rusher: 6’4”, 250 pounds with long arms and electric burst. He doesn’t play as physically as one would like, sometimes struggling to get off blocks in run support, but it’s not as if he’s a liability on the ground. And when he flashes, he looks like an All-American.

    23. Markus Golden, Missouri

    81/100

    Pass Rush: 41/50; Run Defense: 32/40; Motor: 8/10

    Markus Golden and Missouri’s other starting defensive end—whom we’ll get to later on in this list—combine to form the best pass-rushing tandem in the country. Golden came on strong at the end of the year and used his speed to make consistent plays in the backfield. He is an athletic freak who plays hard and only needs some small mechanical tweaks to become a superstar. 

    22. Henry Anderson, Stanford

    81/100

    Pass Rush: 40/50; Run Defense: 34/40; Motor: 7/10

    Henry Anderson is the consummate Stanford front-seven player. He is big (6’6”, 287 lbs), strong, tough and underrated. He bullies opposing linemen with his physical nature and refined technical skill set. Whether he’s collapsing the pocket against the pass or setting the edge against the run, he’s the type of player winning teams rely on.

    21. Xzavier Dickson, Alabama

    81/100

    Pass Rush: 42/50; Run Defense: 32/40; Motor: 7/10

    Xzavier Dickson is a complete defensive lineman who lacks the big name or highlight-reel reputation of his former Alabama teammates but played a heck of a season in 2014. He has speed to rush the passer from the outside and strength to push the pocket from the inside, and he played a huge role in landing Alabama the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff.

20-16. Maggitt, Ott, Flowers, Valles, Mauldin

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    USA TODAY Sports

    20. Curt Maggitt, Tennessee

    81/100

    Pass Rush: 42/50; Run Defense: 31/40; Motor: 8/10

    Curt Maggitt was one of the best stories of the 2014 season, returning from a torn ACL to lead Tennessee in sacks (11). More than 12 months of rehab did not take a toll on his explosiveness, which remained intact as he shot off the edge and tormented SEC linemen with his speed rush.

    19. Drew Ott, Iowa

    82/100

    Pass Rush: 41/50; Run Defense: 33/40; Motor: 8/10

    Drew Ott played third fiddle behind Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat on Iowa’s defensive line, but he was just as good as his teammates during 2014. He is a scrappy pass-rusher with a high motor who flashes more downs than he doesn’t. And because of his size (6’4”, 270 lbs), he is strong enough to crash the edge and funnel tailbacks back inside against the run.

    18. Trey Flowers, Arkansas

    82/100

    Pass Rush: 41/50; Run Defense: 33/40; Motor: 8/10

    Trey Flowers was the emotional heartbeat for an improved Arkansas defense. When the Razorbacks got hot at the end of the season, upsetting LSU and Ole Miss in back-to-back weeks to make a bowl game, Flowers was in the middle of everything. He is a sound, strong, disciplined pass-rusher and a fantastic leader along the line. 

    17. Max Valles, Virginia

    83/100

    Pass Rush: 43/50; Run Defense: 33/40; Motor: 7/10

    Max Valles is a linebacker/end hybrid who can rush both with his hand down or standing up. He is 6’5”, 240 pounds and knows how to use his long frame to rip past offensive tackles. After an impressive sophomore season (in which his final two games were two of his best), Valles is a player to keep an eye on in 2015.

    16. Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville

    84/100

    Pass Rush: 42/50; Run Defense: 34/40; Motor: 8/10

    Lorenzo Mauldin had big shoes to fill after AAC Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smith left for the NFL this offseason. But the drop-off from one to the other was negligible, and the same could be said for Louisville’s defense as a whole. Mauldin led the charge with 13 tackles for loss in 11 regular-season games as the Cardinals made their ACC transition look smooth.

15. Preston Smith, Mississippi State

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    43/50

    Preston Smith is a powerful lineman who can rush the passer from multiple spots. He does his best work as a 5-technique, using length and power to beat tackles on the outside. But he also has the size (6’6”, 270 lbs) to play 1-technique on passing downs, beating guards and tackles with his quickness off the ball. He is not the type of athlete who can cross up a tackle in space, but his versatility makes him a valuable weapon.

    Run Defense

    34/40

    Smith is an active run defender whose size makes him a force on the edge. He does not draw constant double-teams but makes teams pay for single-blocking him by turning runs back inside. He is not fast enough to pursue and make plays on the edge, but he is willing to do all the dirty work that sets up his linebackers for tackles.

    Motor

    8/10

    Smith gets a check mark for motor, although the depth of Mississippi State’s front seven plays a role in keeping him fresh. Regardless, it is rare to see him take a play off. He plays with an edge for a defense that embraced its role as the underdog in 2014.

    Overall

    85/100

    Smith came on strong at the start of the season, becoming the first player in conference history to win three consecutive SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week awards. He didn’t maintain that pace in the latter three-fourths of the year, but he still played well enough to crack the top 15 defensive ends. He was a big part of Mississippi State’s resurgent year.

14. Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    42/50

    Shilique Calhoun is not a high-volume sack producer, but he understands his role in the pass rush. He squeezes the pocket and occupies his assignments to free up the rest of the defense in blitz packages. He has the length and hands to disengage from a tackle and finish a broken play.

    Run Defense

    36/40

    Here is where Calhoun excels. He has a big, thick frame (6’5”, 256 lbs) and the strength to hold the edge, which opens tackling lanes for Michigan State’s linebackers. But he also has the long arms and explosiveness to split gaps and make plays in the backfield. As a cherry on top, he has the speed and coordination to catch running backs on the edge or from behind. 

    Motor

    8/10

    Calhoun plays with the angry, chip-on-his-shoulder edge that typifies all Spartans defenses. He sprints through the whistle and rarely takes a play off. Whether he’s chasing the ball 20 yards downfield or suplexing a player in the backfield, he knows how to finish each down with conviction.

    Overall

    86/100

    Calhoun broke out with three touchdowns in two games at the start of the 2013 season, and even though he hasn't scored since, he has parlayed that into a pair of fine seasons for Sparty. His stats are ho-hum, but they do not tell the story of how much he does for this defense. He is one of the most complete defensive linemen in the country.

13. Dante Fowler Jr., Florida

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    44/50

    Dante Fowler Jr. is technically a “Buck” linebacker but does his best work with his hand down as a 6-technique. He is 6’3” and 261 pounds with long arms and a rare blend of speed and power that makes him difficult to handle off the edge. More than that, though, he is a hand-to-hand technician with a deep array of pass-rushing moves who knows how to get to the quarterback. He wins with leverage and has the body control to dip around offensive tackles.

    Run Defense

    33/40

    Fowler has the strength to occupy blockers and the hands to rip away and make plays on his own. But he also has a tendency to play over-aggressive to the point of recklessness, which at times has cost Florida in run support. If he learns to stay true to his assignments, he can turn into a high-level run defender. Until then, his gap discipline weighs him down.

    Motor

    9/10

    Even when his offense has struggled, Fowler has maintained a consistent high energy level and refused to give up on a game. He is deranged in the most flattering way, willing to sacrifice his body for the good of the team. Frequent three-and-outs from the Gators offense have tested Fowler’s endurance, resolve and motor the past three seasons. To say he’s passed those tests would be an understatement.

    Overall

    86/100

    Fowler is a special athlete with a high motor and the will to keep improving. He got better each year he was in Gainesville and will be missed as he transitions to the NFL. He was a perfect fit for Will Muschamp's multiple-front defense because he can line up anywhere along the front seven. There are not many players who can say that. 

12. Shawn Oakman, Baylor

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    43/50

    Shawn Oakman is a solid pass-rusher, but that is a disappointment. There is no reason he shouldn’t be great. His size (6’9”, 280 lbs) and athleticism are a rare combination—players this big and strong are rarely this controlled and fluid—but he doesn’t have the technique to make consistent plays. His pure strength is too much for many tackles to handle, but there are some who know how to deal with him. 

    Run Defense

    36/40

    Oakman does a lot of things well against the run. He is strong enough to hold the edge despite his size (i.e., high center of gravity) and violent enough to shed blocks when need be. He has also shown a penchant for making plays in the backfield, recording 8.5 non-sack tackles for loss in 12 regular-season games. Baylor was one of six teams in the country to hold opponents under three yards per carry during the regular season.

    Motor

    7/10

    The biggest knock on Oakman is his motor. He doesn’t have the temperament of a down-to-down wrecking ball, taking plays off with regularity. He relies on size and strength to mask his effort and is fine with playing “well” instead of dominating. When he flashes, he looks like no other lineman in the country. But he doesn’t flash as often as he should.

    Overall

    86/100

    Oakman is a frustrating player to evaluate. It is hard to divorce what he is from what he should be. What he is, however, is still one of the best linemen in the country. His ceiling is so much higher—why is he not competing for the Outland Trophy?—but it’s not fair to hold that against him. He was still the star of a very good Baylor front seven. And he still made quarterbacks quiver in their cleats on every play.

11. Alvin Dupree, Kentucky

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    Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    44/50

    Alvin Dupree is one of the most versatile pass-rushers in the country. His signature trait is explosiveness—beating tackles off the edge with a lightning first step—but he converts his speed to power and has an underrated bull-rush move. He has a decent frame (6’4”, 264 lbs) and is athletic enough to stand and play outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment.

    Run Defense

    34/40

    Dupree is solid but unspectacular against the run. He is strong enough to hold his own at the point of attack but is sometimes overwhelmed by bigger tackles. He doesn’t occupy space and free up linebackers as well as some of the other ends on this list, but he makes up for that with his speed and ability to make plays on his own. He finished second on Kentucky with 74 tackles this season.

    Motor

    8/10

    Dupree led by example the past two seasons, helping Kentucky’s defense improve—however slowly—by playing hard on every snap. He is a relentless pass-rusher who learned from his time as a linebacker to never give up on a play and chase ball-carriers from sideline to sideline.

    Overall

    86/100

    Kentucky’s defense has been unremarkable for most of the past decade, but Dupree and fellow end Za’Darius Smith gave it a pulse the past few seasons. His numbers were impressive as they were and might have been even better if not for offenses scheming around him. He is a rare athlete and a terrific leader whose influence on the younger Wildcats should be felt in Lexington long after he departs for the NFL. 

10. Dadi Nicolas, Virginia Tech

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    46/50

    Dadi Nicolas is a freak athlete and one of the hardest players to block in the country. He has a light frame (6’3”, 231 lbs) but explodes off the line and is able to rip and dip with speed around the edge. He “only” had nine sacks during the regular season but made his impact felt with an absurd 25 QB hurries. Even when he didn’t bury the quarterback, he found a way to leave his mark on a play.

    Run Defense

    33/40

    Nicolas is a hard worker who understands leverage and makes himself a viable run defender. He gets his hands beneath opposing tackles’ shoulder pads and fights to set the edge. He is also a savvy play-diagnoser who stays at home instead of crashing when he shouldn’t. All of this helps Nicolas combat his lack of size in run support. He will never shed blocks or push the pile well enough to excel in this area. But he has been coached well enough to not struggle, either.

    Motor

    8/10

    Nicolas plays well under bright lights. He had two sacks against Ohio State and five QB hurries (to go with one sack) against Virginia. He is an intense competitor who doesn’t drain his energy in the first three quarters so he can play his best football in the fourth.

    Overall

    87/100

    Nicolas is one of the most underrated players in the country and a big reason for Virginia Tech’s success—on defense!—the past two seasons. He tweeted in December that he will return for his senior year, which is huge news for Frank Beamer, Bud Foster and the rest of the Hokies coaching staff (and fanbase). If he gains some weight this offseason but doesn’t sacrifice any of his explosiveness, he’s an early favorite to lead the nation in sacks in 2015.

9. Derek Barnett, Tennessee

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    45/50

    Derek Barnett is a gifted young pass-rusher with the speed to give offensive linemen problems. He fires off the line and dips his shoulder to get around the edge and make plays. He has a big frame (6’3”, 267 lbs) but doesn’t have a deep array of power moves. He is at his best working outside-in.

    Run Defense

    34/40

    Barnett is a big-play run defender. He led the SEC with 10.0 non-sack tackles for loss this regular season, using the aforementioned speed to knife through the line and make plays. He is not as useful on a down-to-down basis, struggling at times to shed blocks or anchor the edge. If he adds strength to his frame this offseason, he should improve. But for now, he is a little "boom or bust." 

    Motor

    8/10

    Barnett has a motor that doesn’t quit. He plays as well (if not better) on the road as he does at home, and he gets stronger as the game wears on. He spearheaded Tennessee’s comeback win at South Carolina with a third-down sack at the end of the fourth quarter and a crucial sack in overtime. If he senses a tired opponent, he attacks.

    Overall

    87/100

    Tennessee’s 2014 recruiting class was supposed to be the group that changed the program. Barnett was supposed to be a contributor in that, but he wasn’t supposed to be the star. His freshman season, though, stacks up with the best by a defensive player in SEC history. He is already good enough for the Vols to build their defense around, and he only stands to improve with added time around college coaches.

8. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    45/50

    Myles Garrett broke Jadeveon Clowney’s SEC freshman sack record (11.5 in 13 games), needing only nine games to register 11 sacks. He has a massive, chiseled frame (6’5”, 255 lbs) and converts power to quickness on rip moves and spin moves. His numbers, however, are inflated by level of competition. Eight of his 11 regular-season sacks came against Lamar, Rice and Louisiana-Monroe. He was a fraction too slow to beat bigger, better tackles off the edge and not quite strong enough to rely on his power moves with consistency. But all of that should come with time and experience.

    Run Defense

    34/40

    Garrett was billed as a pure pass-rusher who might need time to become an early down run defender. But he was better than his billing in this regard, playing well on the edge and crashing down in run support. The Aggies struggled to execute their run fits behind him, but Garrett did his job to occupy blockers and had the speed to make some plays on his own. He still plays a little too high, which mitigates his pure strength, but that, again, should come with time and experience.

    Motor

    8/10

    It’s nice to see a highly regarded freshman who doesn’t read his press clippings. Garrett plays as hard as any member of the Aggies defense, earning the respect of his teammates with more than just his 5-star billing. He chases quarterbacks through the duration of his pass-rushing snaps but also runs downfield to make tackles in run support. 

    Overall

    87/100

    Garrett was the No. 2 overall player (and top-ranked defender) on the 247Sports composite rankings and did not take long to justify that title. He is a fully grown man in the trenches, which is scary because he appears to still be growing. If he learns to stay low and hones the minor flaws of his technique, he can make the All-America team as soon as next season. If he doesn’t, he’s already an All-Conference-type performer. 

7. Randy Gregory, Nebraska

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    Credit: 247Sports

    Pass Rush

    47/50

    Randy Gregory is a tall, lanky pass-rusher (6’6”, 240 lbs) with some of the longest arms in the country. He doesn’t have great quickness off the edge but is so good with his arms that he doesn’t need it. His power is unique for a player so long, and he understands how to disengage from a tackle with hand placement. He sets up his opponent, then rips inside or outside and gets to the quarterback.

    Run Defense

    34/40

    Gregory is solid but flawed as a run defender. He has the power to shed blocks and the speed to track most running backs around the edge, but he struggles with play diagnosis. Opponents take advantage of his mental flaws by beating Nebraska on misdirection plays, neutralizing his physical advantage by forcing him to think. He must learn to watch the play instead of the ball if he ever wants to be a true three-down lineman.

    Motor

    7/10

    That Gregory does not win with burst is sometimes a product of effort. He plays hard most downs but has a tendency to take plays off. Some of this might be attributed to injuries, which nagged him his entire junior season, but it still raises minor concerns. He is too good to finish the regular season with seven sacks in 10 games (even if he also recorded 10 QB hurries).

    Overall

    88/100

    Gregory has been a productive college player but is probably best suited for the NFL, where he won’t command as many double-teams and has a chance to become a superstar. His power, arms and pass-rushing technique are rare to see from a player so inexperienced. If he works on his motor and his game awareness—two things that fall distinctly under the purview of “coachable traits”—there will not be a good way to stop him.

6. Emmanuel Ogbah, Oklahoma State

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    46/50

    Emmanuel Ogbah wins with quickness and power. He is a difficult mismatch for most offensive linemen because he knows how to use both skills. At 6’4”, 270 pounds, he has the size and strength to bull rush a tackle or even get pressure from inside. But he also has the long arms and explosiveness to disengage and get around the edge. He finished second in the Big 12 with 11 sacks and first with 78 sack yards this regular season.

    Run Defense

    35/40

    Ogbah is not the greatest run defender, but he’s useful for his versatility. He is strong enough to hold the point of attack or set the edge but also has the speed to make plays on his own. He is still raw and learning how to use leverage, which can sometimes get him into trouble. But for the most part, he does his job. 

    Motor

    8/10

    When he’s feeling it, Ogbah is a machine who can’t be stopped. He channeled his inner Hulk against Florida State in Week 1 and later in the season against Kansas. He feeds off making early plays, growing stronger with each sack, hurry, hit or tackle for loss. If he could bring that same intensity each week, he would rank even higher.

    Overall

    89/100

    Ogbah was a valuable rotational lineman in 2013 and stepped into a leadership role this season. The defense on the whole regressed, but that was to be expected given how many players Oklahoma State lost (pretty much everyone). He was a deserving recipient of the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year award, which is scary because he hasn’t reached his ceiling. A little more fine-tuning could turn him into an All-American.

5. Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    48/50

    Hau’oli Kikaha is the best pure pass-rusher in the country. He led the nation in sacks (19) during the regular season, but looked even more impressive on tape than on paper. He comes flying off the ball and often turns the corner before the tackle even gets a hand on him. And even when the tackle can get a hand on him, he has functional power and knows how to rip or swim through the block and get to the quarterback.

    Run Defense

    33/40

    Kikaha does not play the run as well as the pass. Washington lets him stand up and play linebacker—which is technically how he’s listed on the depth chart—but no matter where he lines up, he struggles to shed downhill blockers in space. He compensates by making so many plays in pursuit, but it is still something he must work on.

    Motor

    9/10

    Kikaha is a violent competitor with a nonstop motor. He feeds off the energy of the home crowd but also gets fired up for electric road environments (e.g., recording 2.5 sacks at Oregon in 2014). The bigger the moment, the harder Kikaha plays.

    Overall

    90/100

    For a while it looked like Kikaha might be star-crossed. He tore his ACL in 2011, rehabbed it all offseason, then tore it again in fall camp the following year. But he stayed on the field in 2013, then came back in the best shape of his life as a senior. He is an easy player to root for and a not-so-easy player to go up against.

4. Nate Orchard, Utah

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Pass Rush

    47/50

    Nate Orchard is a disruptive pass-rusher whom Utah counts on in multiple roles. But he’s at his best when he plays the Wide 9 and is allowed to focus on attacking the quarterback. He is a daunting blend of size (6’4”, 255 lbs) and quickness who understands how to convert speed to power. His 1.46 sacks per game led the nation during the regular season.

    Run Defense

    35/40

    Orchard reinvented his body during his four years at Utah, filling out his frame to become a viable run defender. He added 60 pounds of muscle after beginning his career as a wide receiver and now has the mass to hold his own at the point of attack. He doesn’t diagnose running plays as well as one would like and only had 2.5 non-sack tackles for loss during the regular season, but he does enough things well to earn high marks.

    Motor

    9/10

    Utah has a high-motor defense, and Orchard is its unquestioned leader. The rest of the unit looks up to him and draws its passion for the game from his. He was a team captain in 2014 and proudly wore the “C” below his left shoulder. It’s hard to find a player more deserving of that honor.

    Overall

    91/100

    Orchard helped Utah make its first bowl game as a member of the Pac-12, and he did it in impressive fashion. He had four sacks in a road win at UCLA and 3.5 sacks in a road win at Stanford, toppling two of the league’s most established powers. He is a heat-seeking missile on passing downs who beats blockers in multiple ways and does not shy away from the burden of leadership. 

3. Shane Ray, Missouri

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    47/50

    Shane Ray is a one-dimensional pass-rusher who doesn’t need a second dimension. His speed is so good that right now, he doesn't need to improve on winning with power. He has an explosive first step that makes it difficult for tackles to get in front of him, and even on the rare chance they do, he counters with a lightning-fast spin move.

    Run Defense

    35/40

    Ray is an active run defender who makes plays, once again, with his speed. He is great in pursuit or knifing through the line to blow up a tailback for negative yards. His frame (6’3”, 245 lbs) limits how well he can set the edge and impedes him from playing 5-technique, but he is actually quite strong for a 7-tech. According to Mike Huguenin of NFL.com, Ray can bench press 430 pounds.

    Motor

    9/10

    Ray is a hustle guy at heart who wears a scowl on his face and plays angry. He is relentless in pursuit, whether it be a quarterback or running back he’s after. He was ejected from the SEC Championship Game after a targeting call on QB Blake Sims, although the play, while properly flagged, is not what one would call “dirty.” His motor is a nine out of 10, but he needs to learn to keep it in check. 

    Overall

    91/100

    Ray was a productive backup in 2013 and was expected to play at a high level this season. But no one could have foreseen the leap he made from productive backup to conference Defensive Player of the Year. He and Markus Golden formed an even better duo than Kony Ealy and Michael Sam and are the biggest reason for Missouri’s back-to-back SEC East titles.

2. Vic Beasley, Clemson

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    RICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press

    Pass Rush

    47/50

    Vic Beasley is a unique athlete who wins with speed off the edge. He plays with his hand down and surprises offensive tackles with his burst off the ball, shooting past their outside shoulder and into the backfield. He has the frame of a 3-4 outside linebacker (6’3”, 235 lbs) with long arms to disengage and rip, and he even added some power stuff to his game in 2014.

    Run Defense

    36/40

    Beasley added muscle to his frame this offseason, and the improved strength showed up in run support. He was solid but inconsistent in 2013, winning tackles for loss with his speed but getting moved off the point against power-running concepts. This year, though, he set a harder edge and helped Clemson shut down every running back it saw (sans Todd Gurley). The Tigers allowed just 2.78 yards per attempt during the regular season. 

    Motor

    9/10

    Not long ago, Clemson was known for having a soft, low-motor defense. Beasley is one of the main instigators who flipped that reputation. He plays hard on every snap and is willing to track a quarterback once he leaves or steps up in the pocket. His conditioning was a (small) problem in 2013 but did not present an issue this season.

    Overall

    92/100

    Beasley’s numbers took a small drop in 2014, but after an All-America season in 2013, that can be forgiven. And even though it didn’t always show up in the box score, he was a better all-around player as a senior than he was the year prior. Where once he only won with speed, he now wins with a little bit of everything. He is the physical and emotional leader of what might have been the best defense in the country.

1. Joey Bosa, Ohio State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Pass Rush

    46/50

    Joey Bosa is a violent pass-rusher who overwhelms tackles with power. He has the frame of an undersized 5-technique (6’5”, 278 lbs) but the speed and quickness of a 7-technique. He excels playing the “longstick” and consistently beats blockers on the edge. It is rare for a player this young (true sophomore) to have such a deep arrangement of pass-rushing moves. 

    Run Defense

    37/40

    Bosa sets a hard edge, winning with leverage to control and command his blocker. He gets a solid push off the line to force the running back inside. But his best attribute is the ability to shed blocks and split defenders and make plays in the backfield. As well as he plays team run defense, he plays individual run defense even better.

    Motor

    9/10

    Motor is the first thing that comes to mind when one brings up Bosa's strengths. He is a mad man who plays with an endearing amount of heart. He also has a habit of playing well on the biggest stages, whether it be the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game or an overtime nail-biter at Penn State.

    Overall

    92/100

    Bosa came on strong at the end of his true freshman season and parlayed that into a dominant sophomore year. You would be hard-pressed to find a more advanced underclassman in the country—even if you stretch back a decade. He is the type of player one can build a defense around, which is precisely what Ohio State has done.