There may not be a stronger position group in college football than the defensive line. Headlined by perhaps the top NFL draft prospect in recent memory, all ten players listed below are candidates to be taken in the first round next April. Each of these players are incredibly talented, and Notre Dame and Florida, national title contenders, notably place two players on this list. Although each of these players are stellar athletes, it all starts with Clowney, who could become the first defender since Charles Woodson and first ever defensive lineman to win the Heisman Trophy. Here are the top five, along with some outstanding honorable mentions:
1. DE Jadeveon Clowney 6’6″ 272lbs. South Carolina, Junior- There is no contest for the top spot in the defensive line rankings as the freak athlete Clowney. The South Carolina Gamecocks defender is a legitimate Heisman contender and compiled 23.5 TFLs (tackles for loss) and 13 sacks in 2012 and recorded the most spectacular play of the season in the Outback Bowl against Michigan. Many even argued that Clowney was too good for college football and should sit out this season in order to avoid injury and prepare for the NFL. When Clowney is draft eligible next season, he is likely to be the first selection off the board as the massive edge rusher possesses incredible measurables, including a 4.46 forty to go along with his jaw-dropping on-the-field performance.
2. DE Stephon Tuitt 6’6″ 322lbs. Notre Dame, Junior- The massive Notre Dame defender will be the cornerstone of a 3-4 defense in the NFL. In the meantime, Tuitt will continue to be a terror for the Fighting Irish as he looks to expand upon his 11-sack, 11-TFL 2012 season. While not as spectacular as Clowney, the junior from Notre Dame would typically occupy the top spot on this list if not for a specimen like the Gamecocks end. Plenty athletic and stout at the point of the attack, Tuitt will be the focal point on yet another strong Irish defense.
3. DT Louis Nix III 6’3″ 357lbs. Notre Dame, Junior- Nix is massive but incredibly quick for a man his size. Although he is not going to put up huge stats (7.5 TFLs and 2 sacks), the run stuffing interior defender makes a huge impact on the game. In fact, he is arguably the only Notre Dame player whose reputation did not take a major hit following the national title game against Alabama. Like the previous two defenders, Nix is likely a top ten pick in next April’s draft.
4. DE Jackson Jeffcoat 6’5″ 245lbs. Texas, Senior- The Longhorn defender played in only six games last season but managed to make his presence felt with 9.5 TFLs and 4 sacks. A bit of a tweener, Jeffcoat is explosive off the edge and a disruptive force in the backfield. Despite coming off a significant injury, Jeffcoat belongs on this list.
5. DT Anthony Johnson 6’3″ 304lbs. LSU, Junior- A powerful punch on the line of scrimmage, Johnson reportedly ran a 4.8 forty this offseason. To go along with that athleticism, the defensive tackle is plenty powerful. With 10 TFLs and 3 sacks in 2012, the Tiger figures to be even more of an impact player in 2013 as he follows in the footsteps of previous great LSU linemen.
Honorable Mention: Aaron Lynch (USF) So., Kareem Martin (UNC) Sr., Ronald Powell (Florida) Jr., Corey Crawford (Clemson) Jr., Dominique Easley (Florida) Sr.
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