Photo courtesy of Miami athletics
One of the toughest, yet arguably most important position groups in the country is the defensive line.
Preseason position group rankings are extremely tricky because of the factors involved. The coaching at the particular school, along with the prestige of that school or coach, is critical when analyzing. Returning production is one of my big indicators because it shows who knows what it takes at the collegiate level.
Incoming recruits are taken with a grain of salt, because many don’t live up to these large expectations at the college football blue-bloods. Speed, intangibles, and other measurables are critical when trying to predict a position group as unpredictable as this.
In a six-part series, we’ll be looking at the five best defensive lines in college football for this upcoming 2020 college football season.
Who Counts and Who Doesn’t
First off, there are some ground rules to distinguish who counts as a defensive lineman. The defensive game of football has changed, so the rover end/outside linebacker hybrid will only count if he’s listed as a defensive end or defensive lineman on the team’s official roster.
For example, Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith, who is a tremendous pass rusher (15 pressures in limited snaps) will not count because of his positional designation. A guy like Miami’s Gregory Rousseau is listed as a defensive lineman on the Hurricanes’ official roster, so he will count.
A list that Rousseau does find himself on is this one. Our six-part series concludes with the No. 1 defensive line in the country — Miami.
The Miami Hurricanes earn the top honors in our rankings based on returning talent mostly. Gregory Rousseau and Quincy Roche don’t even need an introduction. Michigan was previously mentioned as one of the better returning defensive end combos in the country, but the Wolverines are not even close to this one.
Rousseau was second-team All-American last year as a redshirt freshman. He collected 54 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 15.5 sacks, and seven hurries. He tied Greg Mark for the second-most sacks in a single season in Miami history. The quickness and first-step he has out of his stance are what make him extremely unique as an end. Last year, his raw athleticism took over and won him lots of match-ups. Rousseau is an extremely good player, but with additional film, teams may be able to find more creative ways to contain him in 2020.
His moves aren’t as polished as one might think for a 15.5-sack guy. His running mate at the other end spot may arguably be better. Roche had the third-best grade in all of the college football among edge rushers in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus. He was behind only his new teammate Rousseau and Chase Young.
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Roche is a graduate transfer from Temple where he recorded 19 tackles for loss and 13 sacks on his way to earning American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He had a pressure rate on opposing quarterbacks at a ridiculous 18.4 percent. The combination of these two pass rushers should be a handful for opposing offenses.
Let’s not forget that the former 5-star Jaelan Phillips is eligible this year. Phillips transferred in from UCLA two years ago and brings even more talent to this loaded d-line. Phillips totaled 41 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks in his time with the Bruins. Jahfari Harvey, Chantz Williams, and Cameron Williams are also other rotating pieces in pass-rush situations.
This Miami team is as loaded as any team with pass rushers which is a big reason why the Hurricanes come in at No. 1. Nesta Silvera, Jon Ford, and Jordan Miller are three guys they desperately need to step up on the interior of this defensive line.
The Hurricanes lost several linebackers, so the make-or-break point is the development of these defensive tackles. Miami has a defensive line with the most upside in college football because of the ability to rush the passer and the returning production. Let’s see if the real “U” comes out this year.