The Lookout List: DL
By Simon Carroll
College Football is on the horizon! Here are the names of ten defensive linemen who you may not know, but you probably should:
Leki Fotu, Utah Utes
We all know the big defensive tackles who can take on two blocks at once, swallowing up the center and a guard so the linebackers can do their work. Well Leki Fotu is such a space eater in the middle of that line that it seems he can handle THREE linemen by himself. At 6’5” and 320lbs Fotu is a run-stuffing behemoth. Partnered with John Penisini on that interior they are simply too good for the rest of the PAC 12.
Fotu broke out last season, amassing 34 tackles, 7 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks as The Utes reached the championship game. This defense is expected to be even more stout in 2019 and if Fotu can progress even further as a senior then Utah will be a force once again.
Marvin Wilson, Florida State Seminoles
Quietly productive and alarmingly underrated, Marvin Wilson had an impressive sophomore season in Tallahassee. He’s not quite as big as Fotu but is just as dominant in the run game, registering 41 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks in 2018. When watching Wilson play it’s evident that there is a lot more to come from the talented lineman – we might just be scratching the surface of his potential. Florida State is a program looking to bounce back from a poor 5-7 record last year. And whilst Cam Akers and that offense is getting all the attention, it’s Wilson and this defensive line that could be key for the Seminoles.
Raekwon Davis, Alabama Crimson Tide
No surprise to find Alabama churning out defensive line talent once again. Raekwon Davis has that typical Crimson Tide tenacity that we have come to expect from a Nick Saban protégé. Standing at 6’7” Davis is quite long for an interior lineman and it helps give him an all-round game that perhaps some other names on this list lack. Despite being part of a crowded depth chart he’s played 27 games over the last two years, recording 124 total tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks.
Davis provides consistent interior pass rush – PFF credits him with 60 pressures since 2017. He uses his length to manhandle offensive linemen one way then swipe them aside in the opposite direction. He’s most effective inside but can also play as a five-tech in a three man front. Check out this highlight reel to see what we can expect in 2019:
James Lynch, Baylor Bears
James Lynch is a different breed of interior defensive lineman. At just 290lbs he’s a lot smaller than the regular run-stuffers, which aids his route to the Quaterback. He spends most of his time in the backfield – 40 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss and 4.5 sacks in 2018 testify to that. His sharpness off the snap sets him apart from his peers and makes him one of the most dangerous defensive players in the Big 12. It’s a good job too, because since he became a starter midway through his freshman year he’s had very little help from the edge rushers to keep the opposition at bay. With Matt Ruhle looking to take the Bears back into conference contention Lynch will be relied on heavily to keep this team in games.
Lorenzo Neal, Purdue Boilermakers
Raw. That’s the word to describe Lorenzo Neal, who despite entering his senior year has the potential to raise his game more than anybody else on this list. 6’3” and 315lbs, Neal has been a two-year starter at nose tackle for the Boliermakers. He and fellow tackle Anthony Watts formed a formidable duo on the inside, Neal the gap-clogging run styffer and Watts the undertackle getting into the backfield.
Neal has to focus on the mental aspects of football to take the next step. He reminds me an awful lot of Dontari Poe entering his final year in Memphis – a freakish athlete for his size but with work to do to refine his game. Expect him to be on the NFL’s radar if he manages to add some polish.
Justin Madubuike, Texas A&M Aggies
Talk about a guy with a non-stop motor – Justin Madubuike is relentless. One of many interior linemen who’s stats don’t quite truly reflect the impact that he has on the field, Madubuike causes chaos behind the line of scrimmage. He loves to crush the pocket and frequently has the guard and/or center on the back of their heels.
Whilst his volume of tackles might not make headlines, his plays in the backfield certainly do. He sacked or hit the Quarterback nineteen times last season – the most in the nation. He heads into his junior year looking to impose himself on the SEC even more in 2019.
Benito Jones, Ole Miss Rebels
Taking advantage of Ole Miss’ sanctions following recruiting violations, Benito Jones has showcased a big body of work in his college career. He started as a freshman and hasn’t relinquished his spot on the defensive line ever since. Playing the nose in a three man front, Jones is a big dude as you’d expect. But at only 6’1” he seems almost as wide as he is tall…
What jumps off tape is the speed of Jones’ first step and how low he keeps himself when engaging the offensive line. He wins the leverage battle, seems to swing underneath the lineman and is always around the feet of the ball carrier. Benito Jones is a creator of chaos and extremely fun to watch.
Derrick Brown, Auburn Tigers
Auburn bring back the best defensive line in football in 2019, and a large part of that is Derrick Brown. Much like Ed Oliver last year Brown is expected to be one of the top defensive tackles taken in the NFL draft come April. After making an impact as a freshman Brown has started the last two seasons, piling up 105 total tackles, 20 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks.
His sheer power is overwhelming for the elite offensive linemen he faces week in, week out in the SEC. Double teams often can’t stop him from stacking & shedding and finding the ball carrier. He finishes every play and rarely takes a misstep – PFF credit him with just four missed tackles in the last two years and have given him an overall grade of 90.4. His nickname is ‘The Giant’ but maybe it should be ‘The Wrestler’ after moves such as this one he uses in the Peach Bowl against UCF:
Raequan Williams, Michigan State Spartans
Did you know that Michigan State led the nation in run defense last year? No, neither did I. So when everyone gets excited about Kenny Willekes coming off the edge for the Spartans maybe they should be looking at the guy lining up inside of him. Raequan Williams is a slightly undersized nose tackle at 298lbs but is a tackling machine. His college resume reads 109 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks during his time in East Lansing. With this defense poised to dominate once more and The Spartans looking to bounce back in the Big Ten, don’t be surprised to see Williams become a household name.
Tanner Karafa, Boston College Eagles
Do not adjust your television sets folks – there’s every chance you might see Tanner Karafa line up at defensive end or even linebacker for The Eagles this year. Such is the versatility and mindset of Karafa, who converted from edge rusher to defensive tackle before his junior year but often moonlights in subpackages on this Boston College defense.
His team first attitude has borne fruit – Karafa blossomed inside for the Eagles in 2018. He’ll always be on the small side at 285lbs but that does lend itself to interior pressure nicely. As an edge rusher he had zero sacks in his career. Last year at tackle he had four, to go along with the 47 total tackles he made too. Karafa really has found a home on this defensive line and it will be intriguing to see if he can add more body weight and even loftier stats this season.
previously the founder of nfl draft uk, simon has been covering college football and the nfl draft since 2009. based in manchester, simon is also co-creator & weekly guest of the collapsing pocket podcast.