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Preseason Top 5 at Each Position – Defense

College football map

By Dwayne Wilton

As the 2014 season approaches, I thought it would be fun to forecast the top five players at each position going into the season. It’s always interesting to go back after the season and see how many players that we thought were going to be good had the type of season that would keep them in the top five rankings. This week I will discuss the defensive players.

Defensive End:

Ends

Analysis: Randy Gregory led the Big Ten with 10 ½ sacks and 19 tackles for loss in 2013. He had a big game against Michigan, where he had 3 sacks. Gregory has a long, lean frame and is quick off the ball. He is a prototypical 4-3 pass rushing end. Shilique Calhoun had 7 ½ sacks as a sophomore and had 18 QB hurries and 34 QB hits. He knows how to get after the quarterback and puts constant pressure on the passer. Calhoun is an active playmaker that is always around the ball. Dante Fowler is a versatile player that lines up all over the field for the Gators. He had 10 ½ tackles for loss and 3 ½ sacks last year, but some of that could have been because opposing offenses were trying to contain Domonique Easley. Fowler doesn’t have ideal height for a defensive end, so he may be asked to convert to outside linebacker at the next level. Mario Edwards Jr. is the son of former Cowboys corner Mario Edwards. He is over 300 pounds, so he doesn’t look like a 4-3 defensive end to me. He could possibly play end in a 3-4 scheme or may move inside. Edwards has a good combination of speed, power and athleticism, but needs to work on his motor. Alvin Dupree has the size and athleticism to play 4-3 defensive end or possibly even 3-4 outside linebacker. He is quick, strong and disruptive.

Defensive Tackle:

Tackles

Analysis: Leonard Williams is one of the top prospects for the 2015 draft, and quite possibly a top 5 pick. Since he plays end in the USC 3-4 scheme, he could project to a 5 technique in the NFL or he could move inside to play defensive tackle. At 300 pounds, he has the size to play either position. Williams likes to get upfield on his rush so he might be a great fit as a 4-3 defensive tackle. Michael Bennett had a very good 2013 for the Buckeyes. He had 11 ½ tackles for loss, 7 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. He is quick and athletic and would be a prototypical 3 technique. Carl Davis is a big run stuffer that has the size to be a 3-4 nose tackle. He is an excellent run stuffer, but he needs to improve his pass rushing skills. Malcom Brown stepped up his game after Chris Whaley went down with an injury. I expect him to do even better in Charlie Strong’s defense. He weighs 305 pounds, but has better athleticism and speed than you would think. Eddie Goldman is another run stuffer that needs to work on his pass rush production.

Outside Linebacker:

OLB

Analysis: Vic Beasley is a former 235 pound running back. His first step is as quick as a cat and he had 23 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, 6 batted passes and 4 forced fumbles in 2013. He had 8 sacks in 2012 as a situational pass rusher before becoming a starter in 2013. Beasley plays defensive end for Clemson, but his size and speed could make him a very good outside linebacker. Denzel Perryman is a versatile player that could play outside or inside. He covers a lot of ground and has excelled in both stopping the run and dropping into coverage. Whether he plays inside or outside, he has the ability to be a three-down linebacker. Noah Spence is a defensive end that will either need to gain weight or could be asked to convert to linebacker. He has the speed and strength to make the move to linebacker. Spence needs to clean up some off the field issues, but he has the tools to become a dominant linebacker at the next level. Chi Chi Ariguzo is an aggressive linebacker that attacks the ball carrier. He doesn’t have great range, but he is always around the ball and makes plays. Shaq Thompson is an undersized linebacker with good speed. He is an impact player that contributes in all areas of the game. He makes big plays when his team needs them the most.

Inside Linebacker:

ILB

Analysis: Eric Kendricks is the younger brother of Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks. He led the Pac-12 in tackles in 2012 and was third last year with 105 tackles. Kendricks reads and reacts well using great instincts to get to the ball. He has the ability to play inside or outside and should be a three-down linebacker. A.J. Johnson had a very good 2012, but had a little bit of a down year in 2013. He has very good speed and athletic ability and can defend the run or the pass, but he needs to work on reading his keys. Even in a down year, he still had 106 tackles. Bernardrick McKinney is a versatile player with good size. He could play either inside or outside, but he has the size to be a tough inside linebacker. McKinney could be a three-down linebacker with the ability to rush the quarterback from the inside. Ramik Wilson led the SEC with 133 tackles in 2013. Wilson does better when he can run sideline to sideline and sometimes doesn’t explode on ball carriers when he has to step up and meet them in the hole. Bryce Hager is the son of former Longhorn linebacker Bruce Hager. He led the Big-12 in tackles in 2012 with 124. Last year he only played in 9 games, but still had 71 tackles.

Corner:

Corners

Analysis: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is a playmaker at corner. He has great instincts and breaks on the ball very well. Ekpre-Olomu has very good ball skills and is a physical player that isn’t afraid to make tackles in the run game. P.J. Williams was the Defensive MVP of the BCS Championship Game where he had 2 interceptions on back to back plays. He is a physical ball-hawk that has a knack for making big plays. Last year was his first year as a starter and he should improve in his second year as a starter. Trae Waynes is a height-weight-speed specimen. He is coming off a big game where he had an interception in the Rose Bowl against Stanford. Now that Darqueze Dennard has moved on to the NFL, Waynes will be looked at to shut down the opposition’s best receiver. Waynes is very aggressive, at times to the point where it hurts his team, but that is coachable. Jalen Mills is a versatile defender that can line up anywhere. He may play corner at the next level or he could be looked at as a safety. He has the physical skills and large frame to play corner, but his awareness could also make him a very good safety. Kevin White played opposite of Jason Verrett last season, but Verrett has moved on the pros, so White will now be the Horned Frogs top corner. He was second on the team with 3 interceptions and was among the Big 12 leaders in passes defended. White was only burned once for a touchdown in 2013.

Safety:

Safety

Analysis: Landon Collins is an in the box safety that is very aggressive. He is a big hitter that is also skilled at ripping the ball away from the ball carrier. Collins has played both strong and free safety, but he projects as a better strong safety at the next level. Kurtis Drummond is a free safety, but he doesn’t mind tackling anyone (he ranked 2nd on the team in tackles). Drummond plays consistently well and he has great athleticism and timing. He is the last line of defense for the Spartans and he cleans up a lot of mistakes. Derron Smith was the Defensive MVP of the Mountain West Championship Game. He had 6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception and 1 pass breakup. Smith leads all returning players in the FBS with 14 career interceptions and he was 2nd on his team with 87 tackles. He is a natural free safety, but could also play strong safety if needed. Cody Prewitt was a 1st team All-American as a junior. Prewitt doesn’t have great speed, but he compensates with good anticipation and football sense. He understands angles and knows how to get into position to get his hands on the ball and does a good job catching the ball at its highest point. Karl Joseph is an impact player that is always around the ball. Along with his 68 tackles, he had 2 forced fumbles and 4 recovered fumbles (ranked #2 nationally). He has good range and tackles well in space.

Next week’s article will be covering one of the games from the first week of the season. I can’t believe it’s that time already! If you like what you read, like us on Facebook and tell your friends. See you next Wednesday!College football map

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