December 8, 2022

College Football’s 20 best returning edge rushers

College Football's best edge rushers

Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis exits the field with teammates after a 26-20 loss to Iowa Saturday October 19, 2019 at Kinnick Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

They are the defenders who set the tone along the edge for the front seven.

It takes great hand movement, flexibility, some wiggle and a non-stop motor to be a successful pass rusher in the Power Five. Every defensive end wants to wreak havoc and there’s nothing like maneuvering around offensive tackles and making quarterbacks eat grass.

Remaining disruptive and having a relentless pursuit is always key when rattling an opposing signal-caller. After all, a defensive end is usually the most intimidating defender on the field. These individuals have displayed what it takes to be an effective edge rusher after strong performances in 2019 and look to continue their journey of success into the upcoming season.

20. Laron Stokes, Oklahoma: The former three-star prospect made an instant impact for the Sooners as a true freshman last season. Stokes only recorded 15 tackles, but 4.5 of them came from behind the line of scrimmage and he was impressive enough for the Big 12 to name him the league’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year. The six-foot-four, 276-pounder’s production should increase for his true sophomore season this fall.

19. Eli Howard, Texas Tech: He has had a steady career with the Red Raiders thus far. Howard had a sack against Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas and West Virginia last season. Not to mention the Texas native got to the quarterback five total times and earned second-team All-Big 12. He was Texas Tech’s only defensive lineman to earn All-Big 12 honors. Howard has 18 career tackles for loss and 14 sacks and look for the senior to have his best season yet.

18. Zach Harrison, Ohio State: He was the Buckeyes’ No. 1 recruit last season and his production was very promising. Harrison was thrown to the wolves, but registered 24 total stops and had nearly four sacks. He had a career-high, four tackles and a sack in the Big Ten Championship Game. The former five-star prospect has a high ceiling and because he was a highly-touted prospect, there’s pressure. Which is why he’s poised to deliver as a true sophomore.

17. Xavier Thomas, Clemson: The Tigers continue to pile up the high-caliber edge rushers and Dabo Swinney doesn’t rebuild, he reloads. Thomas is the next talented defensive end up and he was Clemson’s top recruit behind Trevor Lawrence in 2018. In two years  with Clemson Thomas has 18.5 tackles for loss and earned third-team All-ACC last season, which is solid for a former five-star prospect. The six-foot-five, 265-pounder had six total stops against Ohio State and a sack against Syracuse.

16. Taquon Graham, Texas: He’s an edge rusher with massive size, standing six-foot-three and weighing 300 pounds. Graham finished second on the team in tackles for loss and had a sack against LSU, Texas Tech and Utah. The Texas native displayed leadership qualities and was the main reason the Longhorns’ defense performed better in the last two games of the season. Graham has 16 career tackles behind the line of scrimmage and his senior season should be his best one yet.

15. Ryan Bowman, Washington: His journey is inspiring, going from a walk-on to becoming an All-Pac-12 selection. Bowman had a sack against Eastern Washington, Stanford, Arizona, Utah and Washington State. The six-foo, 269-pounder also had an interception against the Wildcats. Bowman has 12 career sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss. The Washington native will be anchoring the Huskies big boys up front for his senior season and should be able to put up his great numbers.

14. Justin Foster, Clemson: He started 13 games last season and made 41 total tackles. Foster sacked Joe Burrow once, contributed on another against Ohio State and had two in the win over Louisville. The North Carolina native has been a consistent defender for the Tigers, with 16.5 tackles for loss the past two seasons. The six-foot-two, 265-pounder form a deadly tag team with fellow edge rusher Thomas and both will make several opposing Offensive Coordinators frustrated this fall.

13. Shaka Toney, Penn State: The Nittany Lions are never short on studs along the edge and Toney is one of the best in the Big Ten. He had a four-sack performance against Indiana in 2018, which tied for a school record. Last season the Philadelphia native got to the quarterback against Idaho, Pittsburgh, Indiana and had three sacks in the win over Purdue. Toney earned second-team All-Big Ten and will take on an even bigger role this fall, after the early departure of Yetur-Gross Matos. In three seasons with Penn State, he has 84 total stops, 22 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks.

12. Drake Jackson, USC: He was one of the Trojans top recruits last season and delivered right away, with a great true freshman campaign. Jackson had a sack against BYU, Utah, California and UCLA. The former four-star prospect also had six solo tackles in the win over the Utes. Jackson earned second-team All-Pac-12 and led USC in tackles behind the line of scrimmage, with 11. The California native is that spark the Trojans need on that side of the ball and poised to have a breakout true sophomore season.

11. Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan: The former four-star prospect had a breakout true sophomore campaign, finishing fourth on the team in tackles, with 68 stops. Hutchinson had a sack against Iowa, Illinois, Maryland and Indiana on his way to earning third-team All-Big Ten last season. Not to mention the Rhode Island native tallied a jaw-dropping, 10 total tackles in the overtime win over Army. Standing six-foot-six and weighing 278 pounds, Hutchinson is a mountain and will require double teams.

10. Wyatt Hubert, Kansas State: He sets the tone for the Wildcats’ defense and is an enforcer in the front seven. Hubert has been very disruptive for Kansas State and earned first-team All-Big 12 last season. He recorded a sack against five different conference opponents, including two apiece against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. The Wichita native also led the Wildcats in tackles for loss and sacks. Hubert is the heart and soul of Kansas State’s defense, with 67 total stops, 20 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks the past two seasons.

9. Ronnie Perkins, Oklahoma: The St. Louis native has been a very active defender along the edge for the Sooners. Perkins had a sack in four different games, including three in the first win over Baylor last season. He tied for eighth in the Big in tackles for loss, had six sacks and earned second-team All-Big 12 honors. The former four-star prospect has 21 tackles for loss and 11 sacks the past two season for Oklahoma. Perkins and teammate Stokes will form one of the best duos in the Big 12 this fall.

8. Chris Rumph, Duke: It’s surprising how the Blue Devils stole the three-star prospect out of the Gators’ backyard and he has delivered for the program. Rumph had 47 total stops, led Duke in tackles for loss, with 13.5 and earned third-team All-ACC. The six-foot-three, 225-pounder had a sack against North Carolina, two against Middle Tennessee State and nearly four in the season-finale win over Miami. Rumph is just one side of the problem opposing offensive linemen are going to have to deal with this upcoming season.

7. Kwity Paye, Michigan: The Rhode Island native led the Wolverines with 12.5 tackles for loss and finished second with 6.5 sacks last season. Paye got to the quarterback against Indiana, Notre Dame, Rutgers and had 2.5 sacks in the win over Iowa. The six-foot-four, 277-pounder had a jaw-dropping, 10 total tackles against Penn State and earned third-team All-Big Ten. Over the past two seasons, Paye has 18 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Paye and Hutchinson form one of the deadlies defensive lines in the Big Ten.

6. Patrick Jones, Pittsburgh: The former three-star prospect started all 13 games and earned second-team All-ACC honors last season. Jones had 43 total stops, led the conference in forced fumbles, tied for first on the team in tackles for loss and finished second in sacks. The Virginia native had a sack against Central Florida, Boston College, and two apiece against Duke and Miami. Not to mention the six-foot-five, 260-pounder had a career-high, seven total tackles against the Eagles.

5. Victor Dimukeje, Duke: He’s the other half of the Blue Devils’ two-headed monster along the defensive line. Dimukeje had a sack against Virginia, two apiece against Pittsburgh and Wake Forest and three in the win over Georgia Tech. The six-foot-two, 265-pounder finished with the season with 41 stops, including 9.5 tackles for loss. During a three-game span against the Panthers, Yellow Jackets and Cavaliers, he tallied 6.5 sacks. Not to mention Dimukeje had seven solo stops against Wake Forest.

4. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon: Very few five-star prospects live up to their billing during their first year on campus, but that’s exactly what Thibodeaux accomplished last season. The Ducks’ top recruit had a sack in five different Pac-12 games, including two apiece in wins over California, Arizona and Utah. Thibodeaux was named the Pac-12’s Defensive Freshman of the Year and earned freshman All-America honors. The South Central Los Angeles native led the team in sacks, with nine and tackles for loss, with 14. Oregon fans are expecting even better numbers for his true sophomore season.

3. George Karlaftis, Purdue: The hometown kid was the Boilermakers’ No. 1 recruit last season and he didn’t disappoint. Karlaftis started all 12 games and finished third on the team in tackles, with 54 stops, including 30 solo. The six-foot-four, 265-pounder finished fourth in the Big Ten in tackles for loss, with 17, intercepted a pass and had a career-high, eight stops against Penn State. He 7.5 sacks earned him freshman All-America honors and second-team All-Big Ten. He anchors Purdue’s front seven and the fans are wondering what Karlaftis can do for an encore  in his true sophomore campaign.

2. Carlos Bashm Jr., Wake Forest: He started all 13 games in 2019 for the Demon Deacons and finished second in the ACC, with 11 sacks. Bashm’s 11 sacks were the most by a Tar Heel defender since 1992 and second-most ever in a single season. The Virginia native’s 18 tackles for loss tied for first in the league and ranked 16th in the FBS. Bashm earned ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week after his 2.5 sack performance in the win over North Carolina. The six-foot-five, 275-pounder has an impressive 31 career tackles for loss and earned first-team All-ACC.

1. Gregory Rousseau, Miami: The redshirt freshman had a season to remember for the Hurricanes in 2019. Rousseau had a sack in five of Miami’s first six games, including three in the win ovr Pittsburgh. The six-foot-six, 251-pounder was a terror in Miami’s win over Florida State, with four sacks. He was the Hurricane’s fourth-leading tackler from his defensive end position. The Florida native led the ACC with 15.5 sacks, which ranked second in the FBS and tied for first in the league in tackles for loss, with 19. The former four-star prospect unbelievable season earned him freshman All-America honors and first-team All-ACC.