Top 20 Defensive Lineman

By Joey Broback
Jun. 06, 2017

Five star recruits always go to Power 5 schools, but when one decides to go elsewhere, people notice. Ed Oliver made that unprecedented move by spurning nearly every big school to stay at home in Houston. By sticking with the Cougars, Oliver put a target on his back, one that he seemed to relish and welcome. Houston's defense will be stingy for the next two years because of him, and you will be hard pressed to find a defensive lineman that has the whole package. Oliver combines his talent with intensity and a drive on every play. His nonstop hustle to find the ball gives him a chance to be involved on every down, but now his challenge will be working in a new system. Working with his second defensive coordinator in as many years shouldn't provide many issues for him, but his leadership will be needed to get the rest of the defense on track. He will also need to find linemen next to him to help relieve the pressure he may face, but Oliver's talent will allow those players to succeed as well. Houston may be entering a new era under new coach Major Applewhite, but with Oliver, the Cougars will be one of the best Group of 5 teams once again. Bigger schools may not like him for choosing Houston, but Oliver doesn't care when he's in their team's backfield.


1. Ed Oliver, DT, Houston, So

6'2", 290 pounds; 2016 stats: 65 tackles, 22.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 6 PD, 2 FF

His intensity and energy are unparalleled in college football, and combined with his talent make him the best defensive lineman in the country.

2. Harold Landry, DE, Boston College, Sr

6'3", 250 pounds; 2016 stats: 50 tackles, 22.0 TFL, 16.5 sacks, 4 PD, 7 FF

Landry is the leader of what will, once again, be a defense that frustrates opposing offenses.

3. Arden Key, DE, LSU, Jr

6'6", 230 pounds; 2016 stats: 55 tackles, 12.0 TFL, 11.0 sacks

Despite being undersized, Key can beat any offensive tackle, and should add size before the season begins.

4. Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson, Jr

6'4" 310 pounds; 2016 stats: 48 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 9 PD

Dynamic defensive tackle has the skill to .

5. Bradley Chubb, DE, NC State, Sr

6'4", 275 pounds; 2016 stats: 56 tackles, 21.0 TFL, 10.0 sacks

Wolfpack could be poised for a breakout season, and it's because Chubb is a problem for offenses.

6. Trenton Thompson, DT, Georgia, Jr

6'4", 295 pounds; 2016 Stats: 56 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks

Former five star should be one of the best in the country if he is healthy and .

7. Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss, Sr

6'3" 222 pounds; 2016 stats: 53 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks

Might be one of the few highlights for the Rebels as they work through NCAA sanctions.

8. Steven Richardson, DT, Minnesota, Sr

6'0" 300 pounds; 2016 stats: 31 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 7.0 sacks

Little known player is a monster in the backfield, and if he gets some help, will be one of the best at his position.

9. Derrick Nnadi, DT, Florida State, Sr

6'1", 312 pounds; 2016 stats: 49 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks

One of nine returning starters on defense, Nnadi will plug up the middle.

10. Hercules Mata'afa, DE, Washington State, Jr

6'2", 255 pounds; 2016 Stats: 47 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks

Besides a great name, Mata'afa can play too. Is this the year Mike Leach finally breaks through with the Cougars? His star defensive end will play a huge role.

11. Da'Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

6'2", 319 pounds; 2016 Stats: 36 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks

Extremely explosive, and should see more snaps now that NFL talent is gone.

12a. Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State, Jr

6'5" 266 pounds; 2016 Stats: 46 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks

Buckeyes have a rotation of defensive ends, hence why their stats are low, but Hubbard is one of the leaders of the group.

12b. Tyquan Lewis, DE, Ohio State, Sr

6'4", 266 pounds; 2016 Stats: 29 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 8.0 sacks

Another part of the Buckeye rotation, Lewis alone with Hubbard bring back experience from two playoff appearances.

12c. Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State, So

6'4" 265 pounds; 2016 Stats: 29 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks

Younger brother of Joey Bosa hasn't live up to his brother's hype, but that should change this year.

15. Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson, So

6'5", 340 pounds; 2016 Stats: 62 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks

Along with Wilkins (#4), Lawrence is a stud. Clemson's front seven will be one of the most difficult to block.

16. Da'Shawn Hand, DE, Alabama, Sr

6'4", 280 pounds; 2016 Stats: 21 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks

Is Hand the next in line at Alabama? We will find out this season.

17. Vita Vea, DT, Washington, Jr

6'5" 332 pounds; 2016 Stats; 39 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks

Washington's defense loses a lot in the defensive backfield, so Vea and the front seven will have to do its part to relieve the pressure on the new faces.

18. Lowell Lotulelei, DT, Utah, Sr

6'2", 310 pounds; 2016 Stats: 28 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 3.5 sacks

His brother, Star, plays for the Panthers. That's a sign of good things to come for the Utes.

19. Conor Sheehy, DE, Wisconsin, Sr

6'4", 288 pounds; 2016 Stats: 27 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks

Had offers from Michigan and Michigan State, but now is leading the Badgers defensively.

20. Cece Jefferson, DT, Florida, Jr

6'1", 261 pounds; 2016 Stats: 30 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks

Jefferson was solid in his first two years as a starter, but year three should show his experience and his stats should increase.

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