Note: If a player is listed as a linebacker on the team roster, despite a hybrid/3-4 role, they will appear with the outside linebackers (i.e. Arden Key).
Dorance Armstrong Jr. — Kansas Jayhawks — The 6-4 246-pounder had a breakout sophomore season in which he notched 10.0 sacks, 10.0 non-sack TFL and three forced fumbles. In the pass-happy Big 12, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to add to his 13.5 career sacks and four passes deflected, especially given he’s got the talented Daniel Wise with him on the line once again. He has five games, and potentially more (if ISU’s Jake Campos isn’t truly the old Jake Campos), to pad his stats. That’s until a stretch where he can then prove himself versus the stud tackles of Kansas State, Texas, and Oklahoma, then maybe finish the year sacking Mason Rudolph. THAT would draw some looks to KU football for once.
— Kansas Football (@KU_Football) December 21, 2016
Nick Bosa — Ohio State Buckeyes — Okay, here begins as trend: Ohio State defense ends getting love from us (and we even double snub one). Bosa of the NFL’s Sacking Bosa’s, exploded in his true freshman campaign, and this was despite NFL players around him on the depth chart. He was impossible to keep off the field, and out of backfields, making for a balanced all-around defender just out of high school. He’s now experienced, bigger and stronger. So, um, yeah, good luck, with one of many talented Ohio State defensive ends.
Bradley Chubb — North Carolina State Wolfpack — He was a monster last season against the run and pass, tallying 11.5 non-sack tackles for loss (his 22.0 total tied for fourth nationally), while also recording 10.5 sacks (tied for eighth nationally). He added seven additional quarterback pressures, three forced fumbles (one recovery), and a pass deflection, making for a terror in the backfield. Well, guess what… he’s gotten bigger. He’s now 270 pounds of hangry defensive linemen, and one of many, many talented ACC defensive ends.
Duke Ejiofor — Wake Forest Demon Deacons — One of those aforementioned ACC ends, he’s also another guy that bulked up and stayed quick to become a 270-pound menace against the pass. He tallied 10.5 sacks last season, with four passes batted, four hurries, and two forced fumbles. He’s no slouch against the run either, and keyed a stingy Deacon defense. It didn’t quite make up for the lousy offense, but they tried. Here’s to a productive 2017 for both sides, but for sure the Houston prep product.
Jaylon Ferguson — Louisiana Tech Bulldogs — A long-armed and athletic pass-rushing maven who will tempt NFL scouts with his 6-5 255-pound frame and explosion off the ball. He dominated Conference USA, however, he must prove himself against better competition. The end was shut-out against Forrest Lamp and WKU twice, as well as against Arkansas and Texas Tech, and KSU in 2015. He gets a stab this season at South Carolina and Mississippi State (his lone Power Five sack came against MSU in 2015), and should improve on his tally in those games, as well as the rest of his 2017 season.
Didn’t see the end result we wanted on Friday.
But we did see Jaylon Ferguson make HISTORY for most sacks in a single season. pic.twitter.com/tWlPYLZWeN
— #Dogs4Dancy (@LATechFB) November 27, 2016
Sam Hubbard — Ohio State Buckeyes — In a four man rotation featuring freakish former top recruits, Hubbard is perhaps the most insanely athletic. The former 6-5 prep safety is now a 6-5 265-pound end with much of that safety speed intact. He suffers from OSU’s deep rotation, but is capable of gaudy numbers nonetheless. After 2016 season that saw his TFL and sack totals drop from a stellar redshirt-freshman campaign, we’re banking on the NFL money drive to see the Ohio native reach a new career high in sacks.
Harold Landry — Boston College Eagles — The best in the country last season at getting after the quarterback, he led the nation with 16.5 sacks, plus hurried, hit and battered the passer as well as any. He’s tremendous at creating pressure, but also adept against the run at just 6-3 250 pounds. He does it with balance, leverage and power, and returns as the top dog at defensive end in the loaded ACC, and arguably the nation. If only BC could find an offensive skill equivalent of the dynamite play-maker along the defensive line.
Rashan Gary — Michigan Wolverines — We’ve bought into the hype, yes, but this is a guy who more than held his own as a true freshman (29 tackles, 5 TFL, sack), and did so in a glut of experienced players along the line. This season, it’s all his, and the former number one recruit is going to dominate. He’s a 3-4 end, so we don’t expect ten sacks. That said, dude might just notch ten sacks given his talent, as well as the presence of Maurice Hurst and the perhaps healthy Brian Mone alongside him. UM lost some talent from last season, but Gary returns as perhaps the program’s best talent in a decade.
Tyquan Lewis — Ohio State Buckeyes — Yes, three Buckeyes (all three coming off All-Conference or All-American accolades). Despite the athleticism of Hubbard and the sheer potential of Bosa, Lewis returns as the defense’s leader in sacks, and unit leader as a whole. He’s a key player in passing situations, as shown versus Wisconsin, and boasts the most experience on the unit with 26 career starts plus a season of big minutes as a freshman. As a result, he’s the active OSU leader in career TFLs (27.0) and sacks (16.5). Look for all three of the OSU ends to push double digits in sacks (despite a fourth veteran in Jalyn Holmes as well), with Lewis as the slight favorite to hit the mark. Loaded, loaded, loaded…
Christian Wilkins — Clemson Tigers — A true 3-4 end, the 6-4 310-pounder is a load (and seemingly a wall) from the outside against the pass (3.5 sacks, 20 hurries, 10 pass deflections!) and collapses in on the ball carrier versus the run (9.5 non-sack TFL, with 56 total tackles). He returns opposite a potential breakout player in Clelin Farrell (unless Wilkins slides inside), with an absolute force of a player inside in Dexter Lawrence. Amidst all this, he’s going to likely play better in an NFL push. Yikes.
Snubs — Jesse Aniebonam, Maryland Terrapins; Marcus Davenport, UTSA Roadrunners; Clelin Ferrell, Clemson Tigers; Aikeem Coleman, Idaho Vandals; Da’Shawn Hand, Alabama Crimson Tide; Justin Lawler, Southern Methodist Mustangs; Ja’Von Rolland-Jones, Arkansas State Red Wolves; Bunmi Rotimi, Old Dominion Monarchs; Josh Sweat, Florida State Seminoles; Chad Thomas, Miami Hurricanes; Jojo Wicker, Arizona State Sun Devils; Oshane Ximines, Old Dominion Monarchs