Pre-Spring Top Ten Returning DT in College Football for 2017

Greg Gaines — Washington Huskies — One of three remarkably talented tackles for a dominant 2016 Washington front, he’s a battler at the nose with size (6-3 321), strength, and plenty of technique to take on double-teams make big stops (8 TFL) while still occasionally recording a sack despite a bevvy of defenders also sacking around him. We love a great tandem, and he’ll be the man lining up over center in a devastating combo of he and Vita Vea. The whole defense moves around him, and has since his true freshman campaign.

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Maurice Hurst — Michigan Wolverines — One of the nation’s more disruptive big men in the country, he’s part of the one of the more talented front’s in the country. He surprised many by opting for his redshirt senior season, but does so with the potential to put up huge numbers in another potentially loaded Michigan line. He tallied 11.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks last season, but with the further development of those around him those stats will jump.

 

Dexter Lawrence — Clemson Tigers — An absolute load on the interior if the Championship front. the 6-5 340 pound behemoth is a terror for lineman as he’s not just impossible to move, but also moves where he pleases despite them. The mass of a future NFL 3-4 nose tackle amassed 79 tackles, 9.5 TFL and 7 sacks despite All-American (and winning) talent around his massive, massive person. He’ll join ends Christian Wilkins and Clelin Ferrell as key players in another devastating Tiger line.

 

Lowell Lotulelei — Utah Utes — A shoulder injury squashed some of his 2016, and subsequent NFL Draft entry, so luckily we get to watch the beast on the interior of an always fun Utah front. At 6-2 317 he’s a boulder at the nose, and equally immovable; his ability to eat double-teams will be crucial for a defense losing it’s top two sack men on the outside at end. After 2017, the senior enters the NFL like his Star brother before him.

Derrick Nnadi — Florida State Seminoles — A 6-1 315-pound stalwart at the nose for the Seminoles, he was extremely active for position with 49 stops, 10.5 tackles for loss, six of which were sacks. The key cog in a stout Nole run defense, he alleviates the loss of Demarcus Walker at end as the youngsters get healthy and attuned. Expect a repeat First Team All-ACC season for the Virginia Beach product, and potentially more if the defense makes a big jump.

Ed Oliver — Houston Cougars — He’s the most dominant tackle in college football as a sophomore, recording an astounding 66 tackles, 22.5 per loss, and that was despite a hobbling ankle injury late in conference play. Of the 2016 qualifying leaders in tackles for loss [75% of team’s games and 1.25 per game], he finished third, of the 24 defensive lineman, only three were tackles, and only he returns. He’s a 6-2 290-pound explosion of leverage and nasty off the line, the best on this list at penetrating the backfield and wreaking havoc on offensive game-plans. We love Ed Oliver.

Da’Ron Payne — Alabama Crimson Tide — Every year a dominant Bama defensive lineman emerges from the shadow of a slightly more senior dominant lineman, so on and so forth, Saban Let It Be Known. This season, the junior Payne slides in for Jonathan Allen, and pairs with Hurts as the faces of their respective sides of the football (although you’ll see Da’Ron runs over linebackers as a blocker). He owns the center of the action as an entrenched force versus opposing blockers, collecting 36 tackles, 3.5 for loss as the double-team demanding presence on the inside. He’s off after 2017, but look for him to shine as a brutishly strong monster in the middle of the country’s best defense.

 

Steve Richardson — Minnesota Golden Gopher — The Big Ten’s best defensive tackle, and he does it on a sub-six foot frame among giant corn-fed Midwesterners, and with a hefty chip on his uber-talented shoulders. We’ve been all over the former prep standout at Chicago powerhouse Mount Carmel High School since he erupted as a freshman, and last season he enjoyed his most prolific season. He recorded career highs in total tackles (31), tackles-for-loss (11.0), forced fumbles (2), recoveries (2) and sacks, where he doubled his prior high with seven take-downs of the quarterback. He’s all power and leverage thanks to a great first step and natural strength. His a fire-plug with some fight.

The fireplug, now sparkplug, in the middle

 

Trenton Thompson — Georgia Bulldogs — A future NFL force thanks to a gifted 6-4 frame, he’s also produced, especially in a breakout 2016 sophomore season where he totaled 56 tackles, five sacks and 4.5 non-sack TFL. He’s the core of a Dawg defense that allowed just under 4.0 yards per rush despite extreme youth, and well, returns basically everyone this season. The Georgia prep is a en route to super-stardom on a talented defense in the talented SEC.

Vita Vea — Washington Huskies — The other half of the awesome Huskies’ tackle tandem, Mt. Vea erupted as a mammoth 6-5 340-plus pound pass-rushing menace for the UW defense. He’ll replace Elijah Qualls as the freakishly athletic yet humongous “quick” tackle, with Gaines operating over center essentially. The junior is likely bound for the NFL, but for one season will dominate PAC 12 offensive lines on the inside with his Top Ten-talented counterpart. He also once moved as a mountain… at running back…

 

Snubs — Cleon Aloese, Ohio Bobcats; Poona Ford, Texas Longhorns; Tony Guerad, UCF Knights; Rasheem Green, USC Trojans; Chris Johnson, WKU Hilltoppers; Taboris Lee, Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns; Hercules Mata’afa, Washington State Cougars; Deadrin Senat, USF Bulls; Daniel Wise, Kansas Jayhawks

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