August 18, 2022

College Footballs 20 best defensive ends of 2022

College Football's 20 best edge rusher of 2022

Iowa State defensive lineman Will McDonald (9) tackles Kansas State running back Deuce Vaughn (22) during the third quarter Saturday October 16, 2021 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

They are the aggressive defenders who set the tone up front.

Elite edge rushers are relentless at penetrating backfields and taking down ball carriers. Being consistently disruptive and having a non-stop motor goes a long way on autumn Saturdays. These 20 defenders can intimidate the best offensive linemen, which is why they’re often double-teamed.

Now that spring ball is in the air, they’ll be looking to get faster, stronger and smarter in their pursuit to a successful campaign in 2022.

20. Markees Watts, Charlotte: The former two-star prospect is a menace off the edge and had a lot of production last season. Watts racked up seven solo tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage and a sack in the victory over Duke. The following week Watts generated three solo stops, including a sack and forced a fumble in the win over Gardner-Webb. Watts followed up that performance with a season-high worth of tackles, including a sack against Georgia State. The six-foot-one, 235-pounder made the quarterback eat grass twice at Florida International. Watts also had a sack and forced a fumble in the win over Rice.

19. Van Fillinger, Utah: With Devin Lloyd and Mika Tafua off to the NFL, he’s next in line to be the enforcer of the Utes’ front seven. Fillinger put up some solid numbers for the reigning Pac-12 Champs in 2021. He generated four solo tackles, including a season-high, three sacks in the victory over Washington State. The former four-star prospect was one of Utah’s most active defenders in the win over UCLA. Fillinger also put the quarterback to the turf against Stanford and Colorado. Not to mention the Utah native racked up six solo tackles against Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game, which were both season-highs.

18. Zach Harrison, Ohio State: With Haskell Garrett and Tyreke Smith off to the NFL, he’ll anchor the Buckeyes’ front four this fall. Harrison put up solid numbers in the 10 games he played last season. He generated three solo tackles and a sack in the season-opening win over Minnesota. He stockpiled four solo stops against Oregon. Harrison put the quarterback to the turf at Indiana. The Ohio native had three three solo tackles and a sack in the road victory at Nebraska. Harrison racked up a season-high worth of tackles in the victory over Purdue. Not to mention Harrison left a lasting impression with solid performance in the Rose Bowl.

17. Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame: He had 52 total stops off the edge, plus he led Notre Dame in tackles for loss and sacks last season. Foskey ranked 12th in the FBS in sacks per game. The former four-star prospect had five solo tackles and two sacks in the season-opening victory over Florida StateFoskey tallied eight solo stops in back-to-back week victories over Purdue and Wisconsin. The California native stockpiled two sacks apiece against Virginia Tech and USC. Foskey also had five solo tackles and a sack against North Carolina. No to mention he put the quarterback to the turf against Georgia Tech and Oklahoma State.

16. Ochaun Mathis, Nebraska: The former three-star prospect is currently one of the hottest commodities in the transfer portal. Mathis also earned second-team, All-Big 12 at TCU last season. He put the quarterback to the turf in the season-opening victory over Duquesne. The Texas native racked up four solo stops, including a sack against SMU. In back-to back weeks against Texas Tech and Oklahoma, Mathis stockpiled nine solo tackles, including three for loss and two sacks. The six-foot-five, 257-pounder also made the quarterback eat grass at Kansas State. Mathis joined Scott Frost and Nebraska in late April, plus he inked a lucrative NIL deal.

15. Desjuan Johnson, Toledo: The Detroit native stockpiled 70 total tackles off the edge, including 12.5 for loss last season. Johnson had three solo tackles and forced a fumble at Notre Dame. He rolled for five solo stops apiece in victories over Ball State and Western Michigan. Johnson made several stops, including a sack against Eastern Michigan. The former three-star prospect put together three solo stops, including one for loss in the road win at Bowling Green. The six-foot-three, 265-pounder racked up a season-high worth of tackles, including 2.5 for loss against Northern Illinois. Johnson the 2021 with second-team, All-MAC honors.

14. Ron Stone, Washington State: The former three-star prospect is coming off a spectacular campaign in 2021. Not to mention he finished last season with first-team, All-Pac-12 honors. Stone was one of Washington State’s most active defenders against Utah State and BYU. Stone generated a season-high, six solo stops, including a sack at Utah. He also put the quarterback to the turf in victories over California, Oregon State, Stanford and Arizona State. The California native elevated his production in October, with 15 solo tackles, including four sacks during that month. Stone will be one of the most feared defenders in the Pac-12 North in 2022.

13. Byron Young, Alabama: The former four-star prospect originally signed with Tennessee out of high school. Young helped the SEC Champs finish fourth in the FBS in tackles for loss per game last season. Young stockpiled two solo tackles, including two for loss and a sack against Mercer. He also had two solo stops and a sack in the victory at Mississippi State. The Mississippi also generated a tackle for loss against Florida, Southern Miss, Ole Miss and Auburn. Young had a season-high worth of tackles in the win over LSU. Young is entering spring ball as Alabama’s most experienced defender on the defensive line.

12. Dante Stills, West Virginia: The West Virginia native made plays all over the field for the Mountaineers last season. Stills had three tackles, including a sack in the season-opener at Maryland. He also made the quarterback eat grass at Oklahoma, and intercepted a pass against Oklahoma State. The former four-star prospect stockpiled four solo stops, including a sack apiece against TCU, Iowa State and Minnesota. Not to mention Stills generated four solo tackles, plus a season-high, two sacks against Texas Tech. The six-foot-four, 285-pound Stills finished the year with second-team, All-Big 12 honors and will wreak havoc again this fall.

11. Brock Martin, Oklahoma State: The former three-star prospect helped the Pokes finish first in the FBS in sacks per game last season. Martin had 2.5 for loss and two sacks in the road victory at Boise State. He generated four solo stops, including three behind the line of scrimmage and two sacks in the win at West Virginia. The Oklahoma native also put the quarterback to the turf against Texas Tech and in the Big 12 Championship. However, Martin left a lasting impression with two tackles for loss and two sacks in the New Year’s Six Bowl victory over Notre Dame. The six-foot-three, 245-pounder also earned second-team, AP All-Big 12 honors.

10. Habakkuk Baldonado, Pittsburgh: The Panthers led the league in sacks per game last season and he was a big reason why. Baldonado led the team in tackles for loss and sacks.The Rome native made the quarterback eat grass twice in the victory at Tennessee. The following week Baldonado stockpiled six solo tackles and a sack against Western Michigan. The six-foot-five, 255-pounder had a sack in wins over Virginia Tech and Clemson. Not to mention Baldonado generated a sack against Miami, North Carolina and Wake Forest. The former three-star prospect finished the season with second-team, All-ACC honors for the ACC Champs.

9. Josaiah Stewart, Coastal Carolina: The Massachusetts native wreaked havoc and made himself a household name as a true freshman last season. Stewart finished sixth in the FBS in sacks per game, and earned first-team, All-Sun Belt honors. He tallied five solo stops, including 3.5 sacks in the win over Kansas. The former three-star prospect racked up a season-high, five tackles for loss, including four sacks and forced two fumbles in the victory at Georgia Southern. Stewart also put the quarterback to the turf against Troy and Georgia State. Not to mention Stewart had 3.5 tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks in the regular season finale win at South Alabama.

8.  Isaiah McGuire, Missouri: He had a very underrated campaign in the almighty SEC last year. McGuire generated three solo tackles and a sack in the season-opening win over Central Michigan. The following week he had three solo stops, including two for loss and a sack at Kentucky. The Oklahoma native also put the quarterback to the turf against North Texas and Arkansas. McGuire tallied six solo stops, including a sack, plus he forced and recovered a fumble in the victory over South Carolina. The six-foot-four, 266-pounder left a lasting impression when he racked up a season-high, nine solo tackles, including two for loss against Army.

7. Collin Oliver, Oklahoma State: The former three-star prospect led the Pokes in tackles for loss and sacks last season. Oliver generated five solo tackles, including three for loss and two sacks in the victory over Baylor. He racked up two tackles for loss and a sack in the win at Texas. Oliver also made the quarterback eat grass against Iowa State, West Virginia, TCU and Texas Tech. The six-foot-two, 235-pound Oliver tallied two tackles for loss and two sacks in the win over Oklahoma. The following week he added two more stops for loss, two sacks and forced a fumble in the Big 12 Championship. Oliver finished the season with second-team, AP All-Big 12 honors.

6. Javon Solomon, Troy: The Florida native ate ball-carriers for breakfast, with 17 tackles for loss last season. Solomon racked up 7.5 sacks through the Trojans’ first six games. Not to mention he finished seventh in the FBS in sacks per contest. Solomon had five tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks against Southern Miss. The following week he generated four solo stops, two sacks and recovered a fumble at Louisiana-Monroe. The six-foot-two, 246-pounder also generated a sack against South Carolina and Louisiana. Solomon tallied a sack and interception in the win over Georgia Southern. The former three-star prospect ended the year with first-team, All-Sun Belt honors.

5. BJ Ojulari, LSU: The former four-star prospect led the Bayou Bengals in sacks, and finished second in tackles for loss last season. Ojulari tallied two solo tackles and a sack in each of LSU’s first two games. Not to mention he had two solo stops and a season-high, 2.5 sacks in the victory over Central Michigan. In back-to-back weeks against Florida and Kentucky, Ojulari stockpiled six solo tackles and 1.5 sacks. The Georgia native generated three solo tackles apiece against Ole Miss and Louisiana-Monroe. He racked up a season-high, five solo tackles in the win over Texas A&M. Ojulari left a lasting impression with four solo stops and a sack in LSU’s bowl game.

4. Myles Murphy Clemson: The former five-star prospect led the Tigers in tackles for loss and sacks last season. Not to mention Clemson finished second in the league in tackles for loss and sacks per game. The six-foot-five, 275-pounder put the quarterback to the turf in the season-opener against Georgia. He had three solo stops and a sack in the victory over Boston College. Murphy stockpiled a season-high, four solo stops and 2.5 sacks in the win over Florida State. The Georgia native also generated four solo tackles at Louisville. Murphy combined for six solo tackles and three sacks over the Tigers’ final three games of the regular season, plus he finished the year with second-team, All-ACC honors.

3. Derick Hall, Auburn: The Mississippi native led the Tigers in tackles for loss and sacks last season. Hall is one of the most feared defenders in the league, and finished with second-team, All SEC honors. He had four solo tackles, including one for loss and a sack in the season-opening win over Akron. Hall also tallied four solo stops against Penn State and Ole Miss. The six-foot-three, 251-pounder racked up a season-high worth of tackles, including 1.5 sacks in the road victory over LSU. Hall put the quarterback to the turf and forced a fumble against Arkansas and Mississippi State. The former four-star prospect stockpiled 3.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in the Iron Bowl.

2. Felix Audike-Uzomah, Kansas State: He dominated the trenches and constantly penetrated backfields last season. Not only did Anudike-Uzomah earn first-team, All Big 12, but he was also named the league’s Co-Defensive Lineman of the Year. The Kansas City native tallied three tackles for loss, three sacks and forced two fumbles in the win over Southern Illinois. He generated Anudike-Uzomah had eight solo tackles, including four for loss and four sacks in the victory over TCU, which were all season-highs. Those four sacks tied a single-game school record. The six-foot-three, 255-pounder also had sacks against Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Baylor.

1. Will McDonald IV, Iowa State: The Wisconsin native is arguably the most feared defender in the Big 12, and he’s a natural at causing turnovers. McDonald opened the school record books for sacks in a single season last year. Not to mention he’s the Cyclones’ career leader with a jaw-dropping, 29 sacks. He tallied four solo tackles and two sacks apiece against Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas. The former three-star prospect also put the quarterback to the turf against Northern Iowa, Iowa, Baylor and TCU. For his efforts McDonald earned third-team, AP All-America honors. The six-foot-four, 245-pound McDonald was also named the Big 12’s Co-Defensive Lineman of the Year.

Honorable Mention

Joe Evans, Iowa: The former walk-on tied first on the Hawkeyes with seven sacks last season. Evans had two sacks against Kent State, plus he also got to the quarterback against Iowa State, Northwestern, Illinois and Kentucky. Now Evans is poised to be Iowa’s next terror off the edge.

Xavier Thomas, Clemson: The former five-star prospect showed his worth and earned third-team, All-ACC honors in 2021. Thomas had three solo tackles and two sacks against NC State. He combined for seven solo stops and two sacks in victories over Boston College and Florida State.

Kivon Bennett, Arkansas State: He stockpiled 58 stops, and ranked 13th in the FBS in tackles for loss per game. Bennett also put the quarterback to the turf seven times. The Florida native’s production was off the charts and he finished 2021 with second-team, All-Sun Belt honors.

Justin Ademilola, Notre Dame: The New Jersey native will also an opportunity to play alongside his twin brother Jayson again. In back-to-back weeks in victories over Toledo and Purdue, he had two solo tackles and a sack apiece. Over Notre Dame’s last two road games, Ademilola put together six solo tackles and 2.5 sacks.

Jordan Ferguson, Middle Tennessee: The Atlanta native led the Blue Raiders in tackles for loss and sacks last season. Ferguson racked up 58 total stops, including two sacks apiece against Liberty and Southern Miss. The six-foot-two, 262-pounder also had a sack against Monmouth, UTSA, Marshall and Toledo.