August 9, 2022

College Football’s 15 best interior defensive linemen

College Football's 15 best interior defensive lineman

Indiana defensive tackle Jerome Johnson looks on before game against Nebraska Saturday October 26, 2019 at Memorial Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

They do all the blue collar work in the trenches and it’s not pretty, but it gets the job done.

Despite not having their blood, sweat and tears show up on stat sheets, defensive tackles and nose guards are the heart and soul of the defense. In most schemes everything goes through the big boys anchoring the middle on the frontline. Some even require double teams from blockers because they are so disruptive.

Playing the position requires physicality and contact on every offensive snap, so you have to embrace it to be successful. These run stuffers have clogged up the middle and made their presence felt enough to be on the lookout for the 2020 season. Opposing offenses beware, they’ll soon be coming to a backfield near you.

15. Nyles Pinckney, Clemson: The South Carolina native started 13 games for the Tigers last season. Pinckney had a sack against Georgia Tech and seven total tackles in the win over Louisville. The former four-star recruit has been very productive from his defensive tackle position, with 53 total stops over the last two seasons. Not to mention the six-foot-one, 295-pounder earned third-team All-ACC in 2019.

14. Tedarrell Slaton, Florida: He’s massive in stature, standing six-foot-three and weighing 358 pounds. Pickens was actually recruited as an offensive tackle. The Florida native had a sack in the road win at Missouri. Not to mention he had six tackles apiece in back-to-back weeks against Georgia and Vanderbilt. Slaton has been a consistent force in the middle, with 50 total tackles over the past two seasons with the Gators.

13. D.J. Davidson, Arizona State: The former three-star prospect originally committed to Central Florida, before signing with Arizona State. Davidson had a breakout season in 2019, with a jaw-dropping, 51 total stops from his position for the Sun Devils. The six-foot-four, 313-pound tackle is a load for opposing offensive linemen and will be the leader up front for the defensive front seven. If Davidson has made even minimal strides, he’ll be a mainstay in opponents backfield this fall.

12. Tyler Shelvin, LSU: The six-foot-three, 346-pound nose tackle started 13 games for the Bayou Bengals last season. Despite redshirting his first year on campus, Shelvin proved why he was a five-star prospect out of high school. He was LSU’s most productive defensive lineman and tallied 39 total tackles. The Louisiana native had a career-high, six tackles in the season-opener against Georgia Southern. He also had three tackles in the SEC Championship against Georgia and five total stops in the win over Auburn.

11. Christian Barmore, Alabama: The Philadelphia native is next in line to be a great one for Nick Saban’s defense up front. After redshirting in 2018, Barmore started just one game last season. However, he racked up 26 tackles, including six behind the line of scrimmage on his way to earning freshman All-SEC honors. The former four-star prospect had a career-high, six tackles in the win over Western Carolina. Barmore also had a sack against Texas A&M and four total stops against Mississippi State.

10. Robert Cooper, Florida State: He’s just one part of a three-headed monster the Seminoles’ defense will have along the interior this fall. Cooper started all 13 games at nose guard and finished with 40 tackles. The six-foot-two, 332-pounder recovered a fumble in the season-opener against Boise State. He also had five tackles apiece against Louisville, Boston College and Clemson. Cooper had a career-high, eight tackles and a sack in the win over Syracuse, plus he got to the quarterback in the bowl game against Arizona State.

9. Jay Tufele, USC: The former four-star prospect was recruited as a defensive end, but that goes to show how versatile Tufele is for the Trojans. He had a sack in four different Pac-12 games, including Stanford, Washington, Oregon and California. The Salt Lake City native has racked up 65 total stops, including 11 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks the past two seasons. The six-foot-three, 305-pounder will once again be a force up front for USC’s defense, a unit hoping to make strides this fall.

8. Corey Durden, Florida State: He has been a consistent force in the middle for the Seminoles’ defensive line. Durden had four or more tackles in six different games last season, including six stops in the win over Boston College. The former three-star prospect had a sack against Louisiana-Monroe, Virginia, Louisville and Miami. He has tallied 61 stops and 12.5 tackles for loss the last two seasons for Florida State. There’s depth at the position for the Seminoles and 2020 could potentially be Durden’s best season yet.

7. Levi Onwuzurike, Washington: He is one of the most versatile defensive linemen in the Power Five and started 12 games for the Huskies last season. The former four star prospect was recruited as a defensive end and can play both positions. Onwuzurike had five tackles against USC, six against Oregon, seven against Utah and nine against Stanford. The six-foot-three, 288-pounder also had a sack against the Utes and Buffaloes. In two seasons with Washington, Onwuzurike has tallied 79 total tackles.

6. Dante Stills, West Virginia: He’s one of two brothers holding down the interior for the Mountaineers and both are studs. Stills was very productive last season and tied for first on the team in sacks with his brother. He got to the quarterback against James Madison, Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. Not to mention the six-foot-three, 295-pounder had two sacks apiece against Baylor and NC State. The former three-star prospect was recognized for his efforts and earned second-team All-Big 12. Stills has 10 career sacks and 18 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

5. Jerome Johnson, Indiana: The Mississippi native has been the anchor up front for the Hoosiers the past two seasons, with 75 tackles and nearly 10 sacks. Johnson showed his consistency with a sack against Ball State, Michigan, Purdue and Tennessee. The six-foot-three, 304-pounder got stronger as the season progressed. Over the Hoosiers’ last three games he had four tackles for behind the line of scrimmage and three sacks. Now the former three prospect is on a mission this fall and poised for an All-Big Ten caliber season.

4. Darius Stills, West Virginia: The former three-star recruit shocked the College Football world when he decided to return to school instead of taking off for the NFL. After all, Stills led the Mountaineers in tackles for loss, had seven sacks and earned first-team All-Big 12. The West Virginia native had five tackles against TCU. Not to mention Stills had a sack against James Madison and Texas, plus two more sacks against Missouri. The six-foot-one, 292-pounder had a career-high, 10 tackles, including seven solo, to go along with three sacks against Baylor. The Stills brothers should be a household name in the conference by November.

3. Marvin Wilson, Florida State: He’s the cherry on top of the Seminoles talent of riches at the position. Wilson is a former five-star prospect and has lived up to his billing. The six-foot-three, 310-pound nose guard also happens to be a team captain. He had five or more tackles in five different games, including 10 total stops in the win over Louisville. Wilson got to the quarterback and recovered a fumble against Boise State. The Houston native had two sacks apiece against Syracuse and Louisville. He started the first nine games and tallied 44 tackles and five sacks before suffering a season-ending injury. Still, Wilson earned first-team All-ACC and will be on the Bednarik Award and Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list heading into fall camp.

2. Tyler Davis, Clemson: He’s a rising defensive tackle from a city where Warren Sapp became a legend as a prep athlete. Like Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins, Davis is of the same caliber of defensive tackle. The former four-star prospect showed so much promise as a true freshman last season. Davis started 13 games, which was the most by a true freshman in school history. The six-foot-two, 295-pounder had five tackles apiece in the win over Georgia Tech and Virginia. He had four tackles in the Playoff win over Ohio State and seven stops in the win over Louisville. Davis went on a rampage and had a sack against Syracuse, North Carolina, Virginia and LSU. The Florida native finished last season with 51 total stops and earned second-team All-ACC.

1. Jaylen Twyman, Pittsburgh: He was only a three-star prospect out of high school, but he has blossomed into one of the best defensive tackles in the Power Five. Twyman was a wild animal on the field that couldn’t be contained. The Washington DC native had 5.5 sacks in the Panther first four games. He also had 2.5 sacks against North Carolina and three more against Ohio. The six-foot-two, 290-pounder had at least one sack in six different games last season. Twyman’s production didn’t go unnoticed and he earned second-team All America and first-team All-ACC. Twyman along with stud teammate Patrick Jones are going to wreak havoc in backfields all season long.

Honorable Mention

Zacch Pickens, South Carolina: Will Muschamp’s top recruit last season tallied 16 tackles and earned All-SEC freshman honors.

Mustafa Johnson, Colorado: He had a monster season in 2018, but took a step back last season. Still, Johnson did have three sacks in the win over rival Nebraska.