Position U: Top DL Schools of All Time
Welcome to the most contentious string of debates among college football fans. It's Position U week.
Bleacher Report writers David Kenyon and Kerry Miller are identifying the college programs that have generated the most productive NFL players at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive line and defensive back since 1970.
In this first edition of a five-part series, the focus is on defensive linemen.
At every position, the discussion has several possible angles. Is your preference total NFL alumni? The number of players drafted from a certain position group? Actual NFL production? All of these measures are reasonable to use as the guide.
Throughout this Position U series, B/R's focus will remain on the last definition. While the total number of players was considered, on-field production since 1970 shaped the final order.
Clemson sent six superb players to the NFL during the 1980s and 1990s in Trevor Pryce, Michael Dean Perry, Chester McGlockton, Jeff Bryant, Brentson Buckner and William Perry. There was a relative lull until Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett kickstarted the recent wave of Clemson products in the NFL.
Hall of Fame defensive end Jack Youngblood highlights a terrific group of Florida alumni. Notable players include Kevin Carter, Trace Armstrong, Jevon Kearse, Alex Brown and current/longtime Cincinnati Bengals starter Carlos Dunlap.
Florida State Seminoles
While the program doesn't have a top-tier standout from the defensive front, Florida State has a collection of well-regarded talent. Darnell Dockett, for example, was a three-time Pro Bowler. Current top players include Eddie Goldman and Timmy Jernigan.
The LSU pipeline has steadily continued to put linemen in the draft, most recently in 2020 edge-rusher K'Lavon Chaisson and defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence. They're set to join Danielle Hunter and Michael Brockers, the latest wave of talent after Pro Bowlers in Henry Thomas, Kyle Williams and Leonard Marshall.
Nebraska boasts a trio of All-Pro defenders in Neil Smith, Ndamukong Suh and John Dutton, while Kyle Vanden Bosch is another memorable contributor. Other former Huskers who enjoyed long NFL careers include Ron McDole, Mike Rucker, Grant Wistrom, Chris Kelsay and John Parrella. Along with Suh, Maliek Collins is an active starter.
Ohio State Buckeyes
In recent years, Ohio State is unquestionably among the best. Cameron Hayward, Joey Bosa and Nick Bosa have all earned Pro Bowl trips, while Johnathan Hankins, John Simon and Sam Hubbard are starters. More contributors are on the way, including the second overall pick of the 2020 draft in Chase Young.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Tamba Hali and Cameron Wake are both the most familiar players from the modern era and Penn State's best NFL performers. They surpassed Mike Hartenstine, Bruce Clark and Tim Johnson, a trio of longtime starters around during the 1980s (and parts of the surrounding decades).
NFL legend Reggie White headlines the standouts from Rocky Top. White retired as the league's all-time leader in sacks and still ranks second. Fifteen players have made at least 100 NFL appearances, including Shaun Ellis, John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth and Leonard Little. In 2020, Malik Jackson and Derek Barnett are the best Tennessee defensive linemen in the league.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Diron Talbert and Doug English passed the torch to Steve McMichael. Texas enjoyed a surge in the 2000s with Casey Hampton, Shaun Rogers and Cory Redding, who all played at least 163 NFL games. Malcom Brown and Alex Okafor are the most productive current alumni.
USC has terrific depth of talent with Willie McGinest, Jurrell Casey and Everson Griffen topping the list. William Gay, Mike Patterson and Frostee Rucker should be familiar players to NFL fans, and Leonard Williams is the top active player.
3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame has a superb mix of superstar talent, longtime starters and enduring NFL careers.
Hall of Fame tackle Alan Page was a force on the Minnesota Vikings' "Purple People Eaters" defensive line in the 1970s. As his career ended, Bob Golic started his rise as a three-time Pro Bowler with college teammate Ross Browner becoming a 10-year player.
Bryant Young entered the league in the mid-1990s, played 14 seasons, went to four Pro Bowls and is tied for 50th in career sacks. Justin Tuck followed in the mid-2000s with an All-Pro campaign in 2008 and two Super Bowl rings earned on the New York Giants.
Nearly a dozen more Notre Dame players have 100-plus appearances, including Jim Flanigan, Renaldo Wynn and Bertrand Berry.
Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Stephon Tuitt, who signed a $60 million extension in 2017, is the most notable active player.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
Perhaps surprisingly, Alabama doesn't have a Hall of Famer on the defensive line—provided you consider Derrick Thomas a linebacker.
But the Crimson Tide have a spectacularly deep group of NFL alumni.
Bob Baumhower and Marcell Dareus were All-Pro players, while a handful more logged 10-plus seasons. That group features Cornelius Griffin, Jarret Johnson and Mike Pitts. Additionally, nearly 20 others had a handful of productive years in the NFL, and the list is only growing.
Jarran Reed, A'Shawn Robinson, Dalvin Tomlinson and Jonathan Allen are each approaching a half-decade of NFL service. Daron Payne and Da'Shawn Hand landed on the 2018 All-Rookie team. Quinnen Williams started much of 2019 as a rookie, and Raekwon Davis is headed to the NFL in 2020 as a second-round pick of the Miami Dolphins.
1. Miami Hurricanes
Miami's rise to relevance just about perfectly coincides with the post-merger NFL days. The program's best players began filtering into the league in the 1970s and peaked in the 1990s.
The 1970s boasted 12-year standouts Rubin Carter and Eddie Edwards. During the latter decade, Cortez Kennedy and Warren Sapp both won Defensive Player of the Year honors and ultimately entered the Hall of Fame. Russell Maryland and Kenard Lang put together 10-year careers.
Between those peaks, Miami also sent Jerome Brown, Danny Stubbs and Kevin Fagan to the league. In 1992, Brown was killed in a car crash. He'd already garnered All-Pro status twice in five years.
Recently, Vince Wilfork and current Baltimore Ravens end Calais Campbell have each earned five Pro Bowl trips and one All-Pro honor. Allen Bailey and Olivier Vernon—a Pro Bowler in 2018—are both nearing 10 NFL seasons, a mark that Damione Lewis reached in 2010.
Miami's combination of elite NFL talent and long professional careers is unmatched.
All stats from Pro Football Reference.