Photo courtesy of Ohio State 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. After back-to-back ACC schools, we go back to the conference where the top five countdown began — the Big Ten.
At No. 2 on our list, it’s Ohio State.
The Buckeyes lost Chase Young, so how could they be this high on the defensive line rankings? It starts with one of the best defensive line coaches in the country in Larry Johnson. Time and time again, Johnson seems to raise his men to another level. He’s coached Young and both Bosa brothers (Joey and Nick), among many more. Fortunately for Johnson, the Buckeyes bring back a lot of returning production and upside.
First, Zach Harrison was nearly a top-10 overall player in the 2018 recruiting rankings. Comparing his stats to Young in both of their first seasons and Harrison comes off quite impressive. Young had 18 tackles, five tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks in his first year, and Harrison had 24 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks.
Harrison is an absolute freak athletically. Don’t be shocked if this man turns into the next Chase Young, because the upside is there. At the other defensive position, expect to see fifth-year senior Jonathon Cooper.
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Cooper was a team captain last year before a season-ending injury wiped the slate clean for 2020. He’s played in 37 games as a Buckeye, yet the eye-popping stats have never been there. Expect Cooper to have a bigger year, and lead this team as captain.
Juniors Tyreke Smith and Tyler Friday expect to be in bigger roles this year as well. They combined for 10 tackles for loss and five sacks 2019 as key rotation players. Javontae Jean-Baptiste was another defensive end with a lot of experience rotating on this Buckeye defensive line.
Haskell Garrett and Tommy Togiai are both expected to be key players in the middle of this defensive line in early-down situations. Run-stuffing ability and a variety of moves will make them key blocks to this defense. Head coach Ryan Day has also brought in a couple of 4-star recruits in Darrion Henry and Jacolbe Cowen that could make a splash. That would make this one of the deeper defensive lines in all of college football.