November 28, 2022
College Football's 15 best defensive linemen of 2022

USC defensive tackle Tuli Tuipulotu (49) leads the defense out on the field against Colorado Saturday October 2, 2021 at Folsom Field. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

It’s all about putting five fingers in the dirt, mauling offensive linemen and bringing down ball-carriers.

Although their numbers don’t stand out on paper, the defensive tackles do all of the blue collar work in the trenches. From clogging up running lanes, to penetrating backfields and batting down passes, they’re the unsung heroes on the field.

These 15 mammoth-sized defenders are disruptive as they come, and poised to wreak havoc on offenses again in 2022.

15. Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin: The former three-star prospect helped the Badgers finish first in the FBS in total defense last season. Not to mention Wisconsin was No. 1 against the run. Benton did his fair share of that production and stockpiled 25 tackles from the interior. He dropped a ball-carrier in the backfield and broke up a pass in the win over Eastern Michigan. The Wisconsin native generated three solo tackles, including one for loss in the victory at Purdue. Benton also had three solo stops, including two tackles for loss and two sacks against Minnesota. The six-foot-four, 317-pound Benton finished 2021 with second-team, All-Big Ten honors.

14. Siaki Ika, Baylor: The former four-star prospect was originally part of LSU’s 2019 recruiting class, but entered the transfer portal after the 2020 season. Ika did a magnificent job anchoring the Bears’ defense last season, which finished first in the Big 12 and 17th in the FBS against the run. He generated three solo tackles in the first clash with Oklahoma State. Ika tallied two solo stops and two sacks in the win over West Virginia. Not mention Ika sacked the quarterback against Texas, and stockpiled 2.5 tackles for loss in the the Big 12 Championship Game. His four solo stops in the Sugar Bowl were a season-high. Ika was also named the Big 12’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year.

13. Jacob Slade, Michigan State: The Ohio native racked up 40 tackles from the interior last season. Slade helped the Spartans’ defense finish fourth in the Big Ten and 17th in the FBS against the run. The six-foot-four, 315-pounder generated two solo tackles apiece in victories over Indiana and Penn State. Slade stockpiled a season-high, five solo stops, including two for loss and a sack in the overtime win against Nebraska. The former three-star prospect left a lasting impression, with two tackles for loss and a sack in the Peach Bowl win over Pittsburgh. Not to mention Slade earned third-team, All-Big Ten honors for his efforts.

12. Nathan Pickering, Mississippi State: The former four-star prospect led the Bulldogs in tackles for loss last year, and remained consistent. Pickering helped Mississippi State’s defense finish third in the SEC and 12th in the FBS against the run. He generated two solo tackles and a sack apiece in victories over Texas A&M and Auburn. Pickering took down the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage against Kentucky and Ole Miss. Not to mention Pickering had two solo stops against Arkansas. However, the Mississippi native racked up a season-high, two tackles for loss and made the quarterback eat grass twice in the victory over Tennessee State.

11. Mosiah Nasili-Kite, Maryland: The former Juco led the Terrapins in tackles for loss last season. Nasili-Kite generated two solo tackles, including one for loss and a sack in the victory over Kent State. He had a tackle for loss and put the quarterback to the turf against Iowa. The Californian racked up three solo stops, including one for loss and a sack at Ohio State. Nasili-Kite also tallied three solo tackles apiece against Minnesota and Virginia Tech. The six-foot-two, 310-pounder dominated the trenches against Indiana, with four solo tackles, including one for loss and a sack. Nasili-Kite stockpiled a season-high, six solo tackles, including one for loss in the win over Penn State.

10. Kyon Barrs, Arizona: The California native led the Wildcats in sacks, and finished second on the team in tackles for loss last season. Barrs had no stars behind his name out of high school, but gradually molded into one of the best defensive tackles in the conference. Not to mention he earned second-team, All-Pac-12 honors. The six-foot-three, 295-pounder tallied a sack in the season-opener against BYU. Barrs generated three solo tackles, including one for loss against San Diego State. He also had three solo stops, plus a sack against Northern Arizona. Barrs put together a season-high, three tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in the lone Pac-12 victory over California.

9. Zacch Pickens, South Carolina: The former five-star prospect finally lived up to his billing last season. Pickens racked up 38 tackles from the interior and led the Gamecocks in sacks. He tallied a tackle for loss, a sack and forced a fumble in the victory over Troy. The following week Pickens stockpiled four solo stops, including a tackle for loss and a sack at Tennessee. The South Carolina native had a season-high worth of tackles and made the quarterback eat grass in the win over Vanderbilt. Not to mention Pickens turned his game up a notch in October, with 12 solo stops, three tackles for loss and three sacks during that span.

8. Scott Matlock, Boise State: He’s arguably one of the best defensive tackles from the Group of Five. Matlock led the Broncos in tackles for loss and sacks last season. The former two-star prospect also finished the year with second-team, All-Mountain West honors. Matlok tallied four solo tackles, a sack and forced a fumble at Central Florida. Two weeks later he generated three solo stops, including one for loss and a sack against Oklahoma State. Matlock also racked up three solo tackles, including one for loss and a sack against Utah State and BYU. The Idaho native had a season-high, two sacks against Air Force, plus he added another against Fresno State.

7. Junior Tafuna, Utah: The Utah native made some noise for the Pac-12 Champs last season. Tafuna helped the Utes finish first in the league in rush defense and sacks. He was also named the Pac-12’s Freshman Defensive Player of the Year. The former three-star prospect generated three solo tackles at San Diego State. The following week Tafuna tallied two solo stops and a sack in the win over Washington State. Tafuna also put the quarterback to the turf against Arizona State and Oregon. The six-foot-three, 290-pounder had two solo stops apiece against Colorado and in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Not to mention Tafuna stockpiled a season-high, six solo tackles in the victory over Arizona.

6. Lukas Van Ness, Iowa: The Illinois native is a very versatile defender, who excels in the interior and off the edge. Van Ness tied for first on the team in sacks and finished second in tackles for loss last season. He’s a big reason why Iowa’s defense ranked second in the Big Ten and 13th in the FBS against the run. Van Ness made the quarterback eat grass in the opener against Indiana. The former three-star prospect stockpiled a season-high, two sacks in the victory over Kent State. Van Ness had another season-high, five solo stops, including a sack in the win at Nebraska. Not to mention he put the quarterback to the turf against Colorado State, Northwestern and Kentucky.

5. Bryan Bresee, Clemson: He was the nation’s No. 1 recruit in 2020, and one of the best defensive tackles in the country entering last season. Bresee tallied three solo tackles in the opener against Georgia, and added another the following week in the victory over South Carolina State. The former five-star prospect had two solo stops, an interception and made the quarterback eat grass in the win over Georgia Tech. However, Bresee’s campaign ended abruptly after he injured his left knee at NC State. If Bresee returns to form by the fall, the Tigers will field one of the best defensive lines in the country, and even comparable to their star-studded 2018 unit.

4. Jalen Carter, Georgia: The former five-star prospect was a dominant force up front for the National Champs last season. Carter helped the Bulldogs’ defense finish second in the FBS against the run and total yards allowed. He generated a tackle for loss and a sack in the season-opening victory at Clemson. Carter also had a tackle for loss against Vanderbilt and UAB. The Florida native stockpiled three solo stops, including 2.5 for loss and a sack in the win over Kentucky. Carter had a season-high, four solo tackles, including two for loss at Georgia Tech. The six-foot-three, 310-pound Carter also earned second-team, All-SEC honors for his efforts on the gridiron.

3. Jayson Ademilola, Notre Dame: The New Jersey native finished second on the team in tackles for loss last season. Ademilola tallied two solo tackles apiece against Florida State and North Carolina. He generated three solo stops apiece against Toledo and Cincinnati. The former four-star prospect racked up four solo tackles and a sack apiece in victories over Wisconsin and Stanford. Not to mention Ademilola had four solo stops apiece against Navy and Oklahoma State. The six-foot-three, 280-pounder also put the quarterback to the turf against USC. The fun part about returning to the Fighting Irish for another season, is the fact that he’ll get to play alongside his twin brother Justin again.

2. Tuli Tuipulotu, USC: The Californian is one of the best returning defenders in the Pac-12. Tuipulotu led the Trojans in tackles for loss and finished second on the team in sacks last season. He generated three solo tackles against Oregon State. The former three-star prospect also tallied three solo tackles, a sack and forced a fumble in the victory at Colorado. Tuipulotu stockpiled two tackles for loss and two sacks in the win over Arizona. The six-foot-four, 290-pounder made the quarterback eat grass against rival UCLA. Tuipulotu had a season-high, five solo stops, including one for loss and a sack against California. Not to mention he earned first-team, All-Pac-12 honors.

1. Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh: The Miami native led the ACC Champs in tackles for loss and finished second on the team in sacks last season. Kancey is a flat-out animal in the interior and loves wreaking havoc on ball-carriers. He stockpiled four solo tackles and a sack in the season-opening win over Massachusetts. The six-foot, 275-pound Kancey also put the quarterback to the turf against Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia. Kancey generated two solo tackles apiece in wins over Clemson and Wake Forest in the ACC Championship Game. The former three-star prospect earned first-team, All-ACC, and third-team, AP All-America honors for his brilliance on the field.

Honorable Mention

Tyler Davis, Clemson: The former four-star prospect generated two solo tackles apiece in victoires over Georgia Tech, South Carolina and Iowa State. Davis made the quarterback eat grass against Connecticut. He also finished the season with first-team, All-ACC honors.