Fantasy Gunslinger

Football with an Emphasis on Fantasy & Gambling

TERRIFIC 20: TOP 20 INTERIOR DL FOR 2017 NCAA FOOTBALL

I always think it’s interesting to note that when we talk about the absolute best defensive players in the NFL the last couple of years we also begin and end the conversation with JJ Watt and Aaron Donald. They aren’t corners and they aren’t edge rushers but rather interior defensive linemen! To me this is a position that is sometimes overlooked, but it is the position that drives the defense. Having outstanding players up front that can collapse the pocket from within and control the running game between the tackles is almost indispensable when chasing down a national championship. You’ll note that both of Clemson’s starting DTs from a year ago find their way onto my list of Terrific 20 interior defensive linemen. Alabama ALWAYS has 1st round talent at DE and NT. Washington made the playoffs last season. Their starting DTs? Yep, both made my Terrific 20 list this season.

It’s also interesting to note sexy picks for the 2017 playoffs. Florida State is expected to make a playoff run. They look to have exceptional DTs. Miami-FL is experiencing a resurgence that some might think could propel them into the playoffs as early as this season. They have both starting DTs on my Terrific 20 list. There is a lot of flash on the defensive side of the ball. Who doesn’t like edge rushers who can flat get out after the QB? There isn’t much more exciting to me on defense than a bone crushing safety who lays the wood on suspecting WRs over the middle, but who are also exceptional ball hawkers. A shutdown corner has as much flash as anyone, but as is always the case with the game of football, if you want to win, you have to have the big uglies!

A quick reminder, the 20 players are listed alphabetically by their team. As I’ve said before, I don’t try to actually rank the top-20 because I’m not entirely sure how much value added I’d receive by doing so. The margins are fairly thin between some of the players.

TEAM COMMENTS
Computer Hope David Moa/6’3/270lbs/rJR: Coming out of high school, Moa was a 6’3/235lbs 2-star DE from San Diego that didn’t draw much attention. Having redshirted a year and then continuing to grow, Moa has turned into a 6’3/270lbs DT for the Broncos who had a standout rSO season with 8.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss! Still a little light at 270lbs, Moa has some solid first step quickness & he has room to get bigger. He should be a 1st team All-MWC and he’ll be interesting to watch for the 2019 NFL Draft.
Computer Hope Dexter Lawrence/6’5/340lbs/SO: Lawrence is going to make a solid case for being the #1 overall draft pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. He’s a MONSTER at 6’5/340lbs with uncanny athletic ability. Big enough to be a legit 2-gap daddy as a NT in a 3-4 scheme, Lawrence was a manchild in Clemson’s 4-3 racking up 7 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss & 6 QB hurries all as a true freshman all the while being an important cog in a national championship run! Even more impressive possibly? Kid racked up 78 tackles!
Computer Hope Christian Wilkins/6’4/310lbs/JR: Wilkins was a 3rd team All-American last year as a junior and potentially deserved better. Like Lawrence, Wilkins does everything right as a DT. He gets incredible inside pressure and if you watch Wilkins a lot, he is a natural interior DL who always has his hands up to deflect passes. Last year he broke up 10 passes which is an amazing rate. His 13 tackles for loss was 3rd on the team and he still has upside as some of those tackles for loss could turn into QB sacks.
Computer Hope Derrick Nnadi/6’1/312lbs/SR: I love Derrick Nnadi’s game. He’s not overly huge at 6’1, but at 312lbs he definitely typifies the “dancing bear” stereotype of ultra athletic big men. Nnadi does everything well up front. He generates tremendous inside pressure but is also a space eater in the middle that will make tackles and clog up opponent’s running games. I think Nnadi has some more upside as well as Brian Burns, Josh Sweat & Demarcus Christmas should all be better in 2017 alleviating some pressure.
Computer Hope Trenton Thompson/6’4/295lbs/JR: According to Phil Steele, Thompson was the best defensive lineman in the 2015 recruiting class and last year Thompson finally showed that promise with a standout sophomore campaign that saw the big man record 5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and 7 QB hurries! Thompson even won the Liberty Bowl MVP last year after Georgia beat TCU 31-23 to finish 8-5. Thompson has outstanding upside and hasn’t gotten as much run time as he’ll get this year. Expect big things.
Computer Hope Ed Oliver/6’2/290lbs/SO: The numbers are staggering. Last year as a true freshman Oliver recorded 66 tackles, 5 sacks, 23 tackles for loss, 9 passes broken up and 7 QB hurries! He was without question the best interior D-Lineman in the country in 2016. Did I mention he was a true freshman!? Already a 1st Team All-American, what does Oliver do for an encore? Like Dexter Lawrence, Oliver could be the #1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Losing Tom Herman is tough, but Oliver keeps Houston relevant.
Computer Hope Daniel Wise/6’3/290lbs/rJR: It is somewhat amazing that Kansas has a player on my Terrific 20 for both edge rushers and interior defensive linemen. Wise had an outstanding rSO year last year racking up 38 tackles along with 10 tackles for loss. The Jayhawks have a pretty solid D-Line and you have to give credit to David Beaty and his staff. Beaty recruited Dorance Armstrong to come to Lawrence and his staff has done a great job developing Wise as a solid DT. KU could win 4-5 games this year.
Computer Hope R.J. McIntosh/6’4/293lbs/JR: You know the ACC is being put on notice with “THE U” starts churning out top flight defensive linemen. McIntosh didn’t do much as a freshman, but came alive in his sophomore campaign with 2.5 sacks & 9.5 tackles for loss. That isn’t too bad for a young guy feeling his way through his first year starting. McIntosh has great size at 6’4 and almost 300lbs. Miami-FL has an outstanding D-Line coming back this year that I think only will make McIntosh that much better. Scary!
Computer Hope Kendrick Norton/6’3/312lbs/JR: Like McIntosh, Norton was also a first time starter last year at DT and put up pretty solid numbers with 2 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. I’ve seen some reports of Norton’s weight being as high as 320lbs so he’s a significant space eater in the middle who has quite a bit of upside when it comes to getting to the QB. Both McIntosh and Norton spent a lot of time in opposing backfields and it it’s just a matter of when (not if!) they start getting to the QB before he releases the ball!
Computer Hope Rashan Gary/6’5/293lbs/SO: I almost put Gary on my Terrific 20: Edge Rushers, but at 6’5 and almost 300lbs, he’s more of a 4-3DT or really a 3-4 DE. He didn’t get a ton of run time last year as a true frosh yet still managed 5 tackles for loss & 7 QB hurries. The QB hurries is the stat to watch. Gary didn’t get a ton of time so those 7 QB hurries could be closer to 17-20 if he starts 14 games and doesn’t get taken out. Some people are thinking Michigan might take a step back, but Gary might not let that happen.
Computer Hope Maurice Hurst/6’2/282lbs/rSR: Hurst took a huge step forward last year which his ability to get to the QB and generate interior pressure for the Wolverine defense. Some of that could have been defenses keying on Michigan’s other D-Linemen because they were a formidable bunch led by Taco Charlton, Ryan Glasgow & Chris Wormley, but I think Hurst’s improvements are for real and he’ll play a significant role this season. I think Hurst will be able to take advantage of Michigan having elite pass rushers.
Computer Hope Steven Richardson/6’0/300lbs/SR: Richardson is a little unheralded because he’s only 6’0 and he plays for Minnesota, but he put up a great year last year with 7 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 2 QB hurries for a 9-4 Minnesota team that enjoyed their best season since 2003 when the Gophers finished 10-3. It was also Minnesota’s best defensive effort since 1999 and Richardson was a 3rd Team All-Big 10. With PJ Fleck around, confidence should be at an all-time high & Richardson should be good again.
Computer Hope Freedom Akinmoladun/6’4/270lbs/rJR: The scary thing about Akinmoladun is that the kid is still learning to play defense. Nebraska originally recruited him to play TE, but quickly abandoned the idea given Akinmoladun’s ability to add weight and retain his athleticism. The Cornhuskers are playing him as a 3-4DE, but he had 4 sacks, 5 tackles for loss and an incredible 10 QB hurries last season. It would be interesting to see him turned loose as an edge rusher or make him a 3-4 OLB on passing downs. I like him.
Computer Hope Kevin Givens/6’1/285lbs/rSO: Givens probably isn’t on anyone’s radar just yet but MASSIVE amounts of credit needs to go to James Franklin and his staff for getting in on this guy. Givens came out of high school as a 6’1/235lbs LB, but after a redshirt year he’s now bulked up to 290lbs with exceptional first step quickness. He’s not slated to be a starter this year & he didn’t start last year either but he racked up 4.5 sacks and 7 tackles for loss in very limited time. Don’t be shocked when he busts out in 2017!
Computer Hope Harrison Phillips/6’4/285lbs/rJR: Phillips road has a been a bit bumpy to his point. He didn’t get a ton of run time in 2014 as a true frosh and then had to redshirt in 2015 due to injury. Finally given the green light in 2016, Phillips didn’t disappoint racking up 46 tackles, 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss all from the DT position in Stanford’s 3-4 scheme. He’s a bit miscast as a NT, but he’s highly effective up the middle and should have no issues being an All Pac 12 player. He has double digit sack upside in ’17.
Computer Hope Zaycoven Henderson/6’2/305lbs/SR: Lost in all the Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall hype last season, Zaycover Henderson put together a pretty remarkable season for an interior D-Lineman recording 3 sacks and 10 tackles for loss along with 2 QB hurries. Sort of like Maurice Hurst, you wonder if Henderson will be as good now that offenses will key on him, but he’s got solid size at 6’2 and 305lbs and I think he’ll keep playing well. He should be a 1st Team All-SEC guy meaning he’s one of the best in the nation!
Computer Hope Rasheem Green/6’5/280lbs/JR: One of the most highly touted prospects in the 2015 class, Green is a monster with incredible size at 6’5/280lbs. As a true frosh, Green played in every game for the Trojans which is no easy task given the depth chart & became a full fledged starter as a true sophomore. Green led USC is sacks last year and was also 4th in tackles showing an outstanding ability to limit the run as well as the pass. Green is a big reason why the Trojans could end up being the national champions!
Computer Hope Lowell Lotulelei/6’2/317lbs/SR: Utah seems like a DT assembly line and Lotulelei is the latest edition. You can make a good argument his teammate Filipo Mokofisi deserves to be the on this list but I went with Lotulelei because the guy has been a model of consistency since he arrived in Salt Lake City. Of all the players on this list, if you were looking at bets as to who would reach their ceiling this year, I think Lotulelei would be the safest bet. Not a ton of flash but great size at 6’2/317lbs and he gets the job done.
Computer Hope Andrew Brown/6’4/285lbs/SR: A 5-star recruit out of Chesapeake Virginia, Brown elected to stay close to home and commit to the Wahoos over teams like Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State, Michigan, Ohio St., and Georgia. Brown had been hampered by injuries over this first two seasons in Charlottesville, but last year was able to stay on the field & ended the season with 6 sacks and 13 tackles for loss which is amazing considering how bad the defense was for UVA. The talent here is undeniable if healthy!
Computer Hope Greg Gaines/6’2/321lbs/rJR: I really like Gaines’ game. Washington plays sort of an odd ball 3-3-5 base defense or nickle package using a couple of huge DTs which one edge rusher and then hoping to get help via one of their outside LBs. This means that the Huskies need their DTs to generate a lot of inside pressure and Gaines does that. Gaines came to UW at 6’1/290 but has grown and inch and put on almost 30lbs. He had 8 tackles for loss and I think there is a lot more upside to his game going forward.
Computer Hope Vita Vea/6’5/344lbs/JR: Vea is an absolute BEAST physically at 6’5 and almost 350lbs! Vea is even bigger than Dexter Lawrence even if marginally so! Vea is an extremely unique player in that he’s a legit 2-gap daddy as a 3-4 NT, but he also gets tremendous pressure, finishing 2nd on the Huskies last season sacks with 5. He’s the reason UW can play the kind of defense they want because he takes up so much space and commands double & triple teams. He’s an All-American candidate that is also a top-10 NFL pick.

FIVE FRESHMAN WHO COULD MAKE A SIGNIFICANT IMPACT IN 2017

Marlon Tuipulotu/USC/6’3/305lbs: Tuipulotu should get significant playing time and this is one of those instances where talent meets opportunity. The Trojans should have a dominant D-Line with starters Porter Gustin, Rasheem Green and Uchenna Nwosu. That should leave Tuipulotu with plenty of one on one opportunities in the trenches to make an impact. Opposing defenses are most likely going to key on known variables such as the 3 other starting D-Linemen along with other Trojan players like Cameron Smith and Ajene Harris. There is some concern going forward about the overall depth chart of the D-Line, but for the most part I think Tuipulotu gets significant playing time and makes an impact because he’ll be more of an afterthought for opposing offensive coordinators. It’ll be interesting to see how effective the true freshman can be, knowing this and getting quite a bit of playing time.

Jordan Scott/Oregon/6’1/340lbs: I’m really excited to see what Scott can do for the Ducks this season. Just a 3-star DT out of Florida, Scott wasn’t highly recruited by the big boys. He did have an offer from Florida State, but not much outside of that. He chose to go all away across country to Oregon where he seems like a more natural fit in the Ducks 3-4 scheme. Scott couldn’t walk into a better situation. He’s a space eater at almost 350lbs and should command double teams. He’s also in a unique position because DE Jalen Jelks is a returning starter and the other DE looks to be Clemson grad transfer Scott Pagano. That’s a lot of experience up front. Oregon also returns both inside LBs in Troy Dye and Kaulana Apelu meaning Scott is either going to take up a lot of space allowing the LBs to hunt or he’s going to get faced with a lot of one on one opportunities where he can shut down any type of interior running game while collapsing the pocket on opposing QBs. We are used to seeing dominant 3-4 DEs out of Oregon such as DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead. Scott might be a legit 3-4 NT for the Ducks that carries around 350lbs.

Marvin Wilson/Florida State/6’4/330lbs: Just a bit smaller than Dexter Lawrence, Wilson enters the 2017 NCAA football season as the most highly touted DL recruit in the 2017 class. Wilson has massive bulk and does everything well in the trenches. He’s exceptional at getting pressure on the QB while also being able to take up space and shut down running games. He demands double teams so it’ll be interesting to see if collegiate offensives will allow him to go one on one with a guard or center. The only issue I think Wilson will have his first season is finding playing time. Derrick Nnadi is one of the best DTs in college football and FSU also returns Demarcus Christmas as their other DT starter. HC Jimbo Fisher is also bringing in Ja’len Parks and Cory Durden. That is a massive amount of talent up front for the Seminoles. Wilson is going to play and I think he’s going to make an impact but it’ll be interesting to see if he makes the same kind of impact Dexter Lawrence made because of the logjam up front in Tallahassee.

Langston Murray/New Mexico/6’2/335lbs: As I’ve written many times, sometimes a player can make himself a household name because of opportunity and I think Murray steps into an interesting situation with the Lobos. Murray has tremendous size at 6’2/335lbs. New Mexico under HC Bob Davie employs a base 3-4 and there isn’t much returning at NT from last season meaning if Murray can step in and be effective, he’ll earn significant playing time. Murray is also big enough already that he won’t need a redshirt year trying to add bulk to his frame. There isn’t any doubt that New Mexico is a work in progress this season after a mass exodus of players from the defensive side of the ball, but that means opportunity for a guy like Murray. I’m not sure he’ll cash in that opportunity, but a legit 3-4NT who can eat up space makes the 3-4 defense flow and you can be sure that the New Mexico coaching staff understands this. The Lobos are going to run the ball and take up time. That’s for certain so the defense will get plenty of rest. If Murray can eat up space then the other defenders can hunt, making an otherwise rebuilding defense, highly effective. Let’s see if Murray can seize the opportunity.

Quinnen Williams/Alabama/6’4/285lbs: Williams is a rFR, but I wanted to get a guy from Alabama on this list because how can you talk about interior defensive linemen and not mention Alabama!? Regardless of who Alabama loses to the NFL Draft, they always have dominant D-Lines and I think Williams is going to be a star in 2017. Williams had an outstanding spring game for the Tide and he’s projected to be the starter along with NT Da’Ron Payne and DE Da’Shawn Hand. Payne & Hand could easily be All-SEC type of players meaning Williams as a relative unknown should have his way early on. That won’t last because he’ll be dominant, but Williams should be able to capture enough momentum early on to propel himself through the season and make people notice for the 2019 NFL Draft after his redshirt sophomore season. The only downside to Williams is the incredible amount of talent in Tuscaloosa, but if he can get playing time and remain in the starting lineup, I think Williams emerges as an All-SEC type of player.

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July 22, 2017 - Posted by | Alabama, Boise St., Clemson, Florida St., Georgia, Houston, Interior DL, Kansas, Miami-FL, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, Penn St., Predictions, Preseason, Previews, Stanford, Terrific 20, Texas AM, USC, Utah, Virginia, Washington

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