B/R CFB 150: Top 21 Defensive Tackles

Bleacher Report College Football StaffFeatured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2017

B/R CFB 150: Top 21 Defensive Tackles

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    Bleacher Report's CFB 150 is an annual ranking of the best players in the game, regardless of NFL potential. Authors David KenyonBrian Pedersen and Barrett Sallee have studied, ranked and graded the top athletes in the country, narrowed down that list and sorted it by position. Today, Kenyon presents the top 21 defensive tackles.

    Other CFB 150 Positions

    Perhaps the most unappreciated players on the field, defensive tackles are often the most important pieces of a unit since run-stopping ability is paramount to a team's success. Pass-rush contributions are often a bonus, but it's also what separates the good from the great.

    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, their goals are predominantly centered on helping their teams succeed.

21-16: Bryant-McDowell

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    21. Omarius Bryant, Western Kentucky

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 37 tackles (9.5 for loss; 3.0 sacks), 18 hurries

    Throw on Western Kentucky film and odds are you're going to see Omarius Bryant being a nuisance. The powerful tackle rarely finished off the sack, but the sheer number of times he was in the quarterback's face cannot be ignored. Bryant, in his second season with the Hilltoppers, worked his way to a second-team All-Conference USA nod.


    20. Woody Baron, Virginia Tech

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 56 tackles (18.5 for loss; 5.5 sacks), five hurries

    During the middle of the season, Woody Baron compiled one of the nation's most impressive stretches. Unfortunately for him, only a select group of people realized what was happening. Between Oct. 15 and Nov. 12, the senior accumulated 13 tackles for loss en route to first-team All-ACC honors.


    19. Larry Ogunjobi, Charlotte

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 65 tackles (13.5 for loss; 3.0 sacks), 10 hurries

    Larry Ogunjobi is a gem of a defensive tackle. Hidden on the country's 105th overall defense, the senior routinely clogged running lanes. It's not a coincidence Charlotte soared to 35th nationally against the run. A first-team All-C-USA honoree, Ogunjobi notched his second straight 60-tackle season.


    18. Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 27 tackles (1.5 for loss; 1.5 sacks)

    A torn left ACL led to a medical redshirt for Eddie Vanderdoes in 2015. He returned to the field this season and regained his form as a top-notch run-defender. Although Vanderdoes' stats are nowhere close to "impressive" territory, his actual on-field performance fits the description. Vanderdoes declared for the 2017 NFL draft.


    17. Steven Richardson, Minnesota

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 31 tackles (11 for loss; seven sacks), two hurries

    Steven Richardson grabbed some headlines after racking up four tackles for loss against Colorado State. However, his top performance actually came in the season opener against Oregon State, which mustered just 89 yards on 34 rushing attempts. Richardson's output understandably never reached that ceiling again, but Minnesota enjoyed a high floor in his level of disruption.


    16. Malik McDowell, Michigan State

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 34 tackles (7.0 for loss; 1.5 sacks), five hurries

    Michigan State's 3-9 season took a toll on Malik McDowell, who—as MLive's Kyle Austin notescalled it a hard year both personally and collectively. McDowell was basically the only threat on MSU's defensive line, subsequently receiving extra attention on almost every snap. Nevertheless, the junior made a constant impact outside of the box score.

15-11: Tu'ikolovatu-Nnadi

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    15. Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, USC

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 53 tackles (2.0 for loss; 0.5 sack)

    According to Zach Helfand of the Los Angeles Times, Stevie Tu'ikolovatu spent part of the summer living in his car. Once the season started, the Utah transfer changed locations and began dwelling in opposing backfields. Tu'ikolovatu made a minimal impression as a pass-rusher, but USC hardly could've had a more dependable player for its run defense.


    14. Caleb Brantley, Florida

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 31 tackles (9.5 for loss; 2.5 sacks), three hurries

    Saying he defeated LSU single-handedly is a bit generous, but Caleb Brantley seemed to make each critical play in the stunning upset. His ability to penetrate the line of scrimmage was on full display, highlighted by a pair of goal-line stands. Brantley didn't put up big numbers because of his role, but that doesn't diminish his value to Florida's defense.


    13. Vita Vea, Washington

    Class: Sophomore

    2016 Stats: 39 tackles (6.5 for loss; 5.0 sacks), two hurries

    Washington had several established stars, but Vita Vea provided another interior presence to the talented group. Although the sophomore wasn't a major sack producer, he helped free teammates for those opportunities while shutting down opposing running games. Washington surrendered just 3.65 yards per carry, which ranked 23rd nationally.


    12. Montravius Adams, Auburn

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 44 tackles (8.5 for loss; 4.5 sacks), 15 hurries, one interception, one fumble recovery, one TD

    Auburn exceeded expectations in 2016, largely due to a superb front seven. While Carl Lawson roamed the edge, Montravius Adams controlled the interior. The senior is a somewhat rare breed, often contributing more as a pass-rusher than run-stuffer. Still, Adams was a menace in the middle and earned second-team All-SEC.


    11. Derrick Nnadi, Florida State

    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 49 tackles (10.5 for loss; 6.0 sacks), two hurries

    Derrick Nnadi immediately earned playing time as a freshman in 2014 and became a starter the next year, but he truly broke out this season. A 6'1", 312-pounder, Nnadi keyed Florida State's defensive resurgence that began after a loss to UNC. To that point, FSU ceded 191.2 rushing yards per game. After that, the 'Noles gave up a meager 88.5-yard average.

10. Elijah Qualls, Washington

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    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 38 tackles (five for loss; three sacks), three hurries

    Vita Vea is likely the better NFL prospect, but Elijah Qualls put together the best season of Washington's defensive linemen. That was partly due to his versatility, sometimes shifting outside to allow Vea and Greg Gaines on the field at once.

    "I like being able to do more than just one thing and to be able to contribute in different ways," Qualls said, per Phil Barber of the Press Democrat. "Whatever the team needs, I'm willing to do."

    The 6'1", 321-pounder proved to be a run-stuffing force and achieved first-team All-Pac-12 status.

9. Tanzel Smart, Tulane

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    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 67 tackles (18.5 for loss; 5.5 sacks), two hurries

    Tanzel Smart is far, far from a household name. But there's no doubt American Athletic Conference foes are sick of the lineman.

    A three-year starter, Smart secured a first-team All-AAC nod for the second time. Plus, he ended 2016 tied for the second-most tackles for loss among all defensive tackles.

    The senior pressured the quarterback with more regularity than his two official hurries suggest. For instance, he drove back Houston's left guard into the pocket, which caused Kyle Postma to throw a rushed deep pass that Donnie Lewis intercepted for Tulane.

    Smart was always a burden to handle on run-blocking plays, and his pass-rush contributions lifted the under-the-radar star into the top 10.

8. Jake Replogle, Purdue

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 45 tackles (9.5 for loss; 2.5 sacks), two hurries

    Purdue stumbled through a porous 2016 campaign, but Jake Replogle constantly stood out despite battling injury (or injuries).

    "He's a great player," linebacker Markus Bailey said, according to Nathan Baird of the Lafayette Journal and Courier. "He makes an impact as soon as he's on the field. He's so disruptive. Guys have to game-plan for him. He's so physical at the point of attack."

    But it turns out 2016 was the last we'll see of Replogle on the field. He released a statement via Rivals, retiring from football.

    Replogle leaves the sport on a high note.

7. Carlos Watkins, Clemson

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 50 tackles (13.5 tackles for loss; 10.5 sacks), four hurries, four pass breakups

    "I want to be that guy they game-plan for," Carlos Watkins told Brian Hamilton of Sports Illustrated before the season began. "That's the kind of season I want. I want the team to worry about me when they step on the field."

    Mission accomplished.

    Watkins' 13.5 tackles for loss led Clemson, which finished the season with the most tackles for loss in the country.

    The senior also saved two of his best performances for the biggest stage—the College Football Playoffdominating Ohio State as a pass-rusher and regularly stalling Alabama's running attack.

6. Ryan Glasgow, Michigan

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 43 tackles (9.5 for loss; 4.0 sacks), three hurries

    Jabrill Peppers, Jourdan Lewis, Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton are the most recognizable pieces of the Michigan defense, but Ryan Glasgow quietly asserted himself as a dominant force.

    "He's a technician," Charlton said, per Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press. "You can watch around the country. The way he plays his base blocks, the way he plays doubles ... people can watch that in as a clinic and see how you really want to play football."

    Glasgow's skills were most evident against Wisconsin, which prides itself on running the ball but simply could not stop the senior.

    Along with Maurice Hurst—who is a near-lock to appear on the list next year when he assumes a full-time role—Glasgow was outstanding against the run. The senior also disrupted as a pass-rusher far more often than his three hurries suggest.

5. Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama

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    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 62 tackles (5.5 for loss; 3.0 sacks), seven hurries

    Given Alabama's defensive personnel, Dalvin Tomlinson shifted from end to defensive tackle next to nose guard Da'Ron Payne.

    Tomlinson is a perfect example of how box-score stats aren't the perfect way to measure impact at the position. Although his total tackles are relatively impressive, 5.5 tackles for loss are something you'd typically see a "just" in front of.

    But for Tomlinson—and Payne, for that matter—there was significant value in causing problems to lessen the already often-futile resistance against Jonathan Allen, Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams.

    "Dalvin is a big part of this defense," Anderson said early in the 2016 season, per Terrin Waack of the Tuscaloosa News. "He doesn't get a lot of credit he deserves, but Dalvin is a monster."

4. Jaleel Johnson, Iowa

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    Class: Senior

    2016 Stats: 55 tackles (10.0 for loss; 7.5 sacks), five hurries

    After a much-criticized undefeated regular season in 2015, Iowa had championship aspirations heading into 2016. However, a 3-2 start to the season shattered the Hawkeyes' dreams.

    But it also served as the springboard for a mini-turnaround.

    Led by Jaleel Johnson, Iowa's run defense improved from 87th nationally in August/September to 31st during October.

    Then in November, the Hawkeyes faltered against Penn State before excelling in an upset win over Michigan—also Johnson's finest performance of 2016, helping Iowa hold U-M to 2.8 yards per carry—and blowouts of Illinois and Nebraska.

    Big Ten coaches recognized Johnson, a 6'4", 310-pounder, with a deserved first-team selection.

3. Vincent Taylor, Oklahoma State

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    Class: Junior

    2016 Stats: 51 tackles (13 for loss; seven sacks), two hurries

    Though it wasn't a spectacular season for Big 12 defensive tackles, the conference's best player at the position was a great one.

    "He's up there with as good as any player we've had that's been inside for us," Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said of Vincent Taylor, according to Kyle Fredrickson of the Oklahoman.

    Taylor, who capped the year as the Alamo Bowl defensive MVP, offered a balanced skill set. Whether it was a run or pass didn't matter; no, Taylor consistently owned his space up front.

    Oklahoma State's team statistics appear not to reflect a dominant player like Taylor, but it's really a testament to how much worse the unit would've been without the junior.

2. Dexter Lawrence, Clemson

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    Class: Freshman

    2016 Stats: 62 tackles (9.0 tackles for loss; 6.5 sacks), six hurries

    You can't teach size. Oh, buddy, you can't teach Dexter Lawrence's size. The 6'5", 340-pounder was an absolute monster.

    "We got him out of the box, no assembly required, just boom, ready to go," head coach Dabo Swinney said, per Matt Connolly of The State. "I've come across some big dudes during my day, most of them were in the NFL, but I've never been around a freshman like him that's that big that can move like him. ... He just showed up here a giant."

    While he almost always made an impact on the quarterback, Lawrence excelled as a run-plugger. The true freshman earned second-team All-ACC honors and took home ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. 

1. Ed Oliver, Houston

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    Class: Freshman

    2016 Stats: 66 tackles (22.5 for loss; 5.0 sacks), nine PBU, seven hurries, three forced fumbles

    When former Houston coach Tom Herman signed Ed Oliver, the Cougars added a program-changing player in two ways. First, the local star made H-Town a worthy destination for a top recruit. And second, Oliver is just really good at football.

    Unforgettable analysis? Of course not, but why sugarcoat it? No other defensive tackle had more tackles for loss in 2016 than Oliver's 22.5 or his nine pass breakups.

    "This guy is an alien, beast, whatever you want to call him," teammate Steven Taylor said of Oliver, according to ESPN.com's Sam Khan Jr. "He's not from this world."

    Oliver claimed first-team AP All-America, AAC Rookie of the Year and unanimous first-team All-AAC honors.

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