March 22, 2023

College football’s 20 best defensive ends of 2023

College football's 20 best defensive ends of 2023

Ohio State defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau runs drills with teammates before game against Iowa Saturday October 22, 2022 at Ohio Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

Opposing quarterbacks beware.

These 20 playmakers are the enforcers up front, and they wreak havoc off the edge. Defensive ends are relentless in their pursuit, and the elite edge rushers must be identified and located on every play before the snap. They all come with different skill sets, including great vision, non-stop motors, and pure brute strength.

These pass-rushing, run-stuffing maniacs do all the blue-collar work in the trenches and maneuver their way around offensive linemen. They love bringing down ball carriers and getting to the quarterback. Being disruptive is the No. 1 priority, and this fall they’ll all be coming to a backfield near you.

20. Collin Oliver, Oklahoma State: The former three-star prospect was the Big 12’s Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2021. Oliver followed that up with another stellar campaign last season, in which he earned second-team, All-Big 12 honors. He led the Pokes in sacks, and ranked second in tackles for loss. The Oklahoma City native generated a sack in the season-opening victory over Central Michigan. The following week he recorded a tackle for loss, and a sack in the win over Arizona State. Oliver put the quarterback to the turf twice against Iowa State. The six-foot-two, 235-pounder also had a sack at Baylor. Not to mention Oliver tallied four tackles apiece against Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

19. Brendan Mott, Kansas State: For a defender who had no stars behind his name out of high school, he sure made his presence felt in the Big 12 last season. Mott ranked second on the the Wildcats in sacks, and third in tackles for loss. He made the quarterback eat grass in the season-opener against South Dakota. Mott had a tackle for loss and a sack in the victory at Iowa State. The Iowa City native also tallied a tackle for loss, a sack and recovered a fumble in the shutout victory over Oklahoma State. Mott stockpiled five stops against Texas. The six-foot-five, 240-pounder put together a career day at West Virginia, in which he racked up eight tackles, including three for loss and three sacks.

18. Daniel Grzesiak, Cincinnati: Although he had no stars behind his name out of high school, he was a terror for Utah State in 2022. Grzesiak led the Aggies with 13 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks. The Los Angeles native made the quarterback eat grass against Alabama. He recorded five stops, and a jaw-dropping, three sacks in the victory at Colorado State. Grzesiak tallied six tackles apiece against Wyoming, New Mexico and San Jose State. The six-foot-one, 245-pounder finished strong down the stretch, with 34 tackles over the final seven games. Not to mention Grzesiak left a lasting impression, after he put the quarterback to the turf twice in the bowl game against Memphis.

17. Chop Robinson, Penn State: The Maryland native led the Nittany Lions in sacks, and finished second on the team in tackles for loss last season. Robinson put the quarterback to the turf in the victories at Auburn and Indiana. He generated five stops, including four solo at Michigan. The six-foot-three, 253-pounder also had four tackles against Northwestern. Robinson tallied three solo stops, and a season-high, two sacks against Maryland. Robinson recorded three more solo tackles against Michigan State. Not to mention he put on a stellar performance in the Rose Bowl victory over Utah. Robinson left a lasting impression after he stockpiled three tackles, and 1.5 sacks in Grandaddy.

16. Owen Porter, Marshall: The former two-star prospect finished fourth on the team in tackles. Porter ranked first on Marshall with 15 tackles for loss, and 9.5 sacks. Not to mention he capped off his magnificent campaign with first-team, All-Sun Belt honors. Porter recorded two tackles and picked off a pass in the victory at Notre Dame. He tallied five stops apiece against Louisiana, Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State. The West Virginia native stockpiled nine tackles, and a career-high, 3.5 sacks against James Madison. In back-to-back games against Georgia Southern and Georgia State, Porter combined for 16 tackles and two sacks. Porter had six stops in the bowl win over Connecticut.

15. Adisa Isaac, Penn State: The New York native led the Nittany Lions in tackles for loss in 2022. Isaac was a flat-out animal off the edge, and capped off last season with third-team, All-Big Ten honors. He tallied three solo tackles, including three for loss and a sack in the victory at Auburn. Isaac recorded two tackles for loss and a sack against Indiana. The former four-star prospect also made the quarterback eat grass against Maryland and Michigan State. Isaac left a lasting impression with a season-high, four solo stops, including one for loss in the Rose Bowl win over Utah. With PJ Mustipher off to the NFL, Isaac will be the enforcer up front, and anchor the defensive line this fall.

14. Aaron Lewis, Rutgers: The New Jersey native tied for second on the Scarlet Knights in tackles for loss last season. Lewis was one of the most productive edge rushers in the Big Ten. So much so, that he capped off his stellar campaign with third-team, All-Big Ten honors. Lewis had a season-high, 11 tackles, including two for loss and forced a fumble in the victory at Temple. The former three-star prospect tallied three stops, including two for loss and a sack against Nebraska. Lewis racked up 10 tackles against Minnesota. The following week he recorded seven stops against Michigan. He generated eight tackles against Michigan State, plus five, including 1.5 for loss against Penn State.

13. Deonte Craig, Iowa: Last season he led the Hawkeyes in sacks and tied for first on the team in tackles for loss. Craig put the quarterback to the turf against Nevada. He tallied three tackles and a sack against Michigan. During Iowa’s three-game winning streak against Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin, Craig combined for 13 tackles and 3.5 sacks. The Indiana native also made the quarterback eat grass against Nebraska. Craig left a lasting impression with four stops, including three solo and a sack in the bowl victory over Kentucky. The former four-star prospect will be one side of Iowa’s two-headed monster off the edge. Now Craig is poised for an All-Big Ten caliber campaign this fall.

12. Mykel Williams, Georgia: The former five-star prospect delivered on the hype as a true freshman last season. It didn’t take Williams long to get his feet wet, and he generated at least one tackle in 14 of the Bulldogs’ 15 games. He had three tackles apiece in three conference tilts. The Georgia native recorded a sack against Samford, Florida, Georgia Tech, Ohio State and TCU. His five total tackles, including four solo in the victory over the Buckeyes, were a season-high. After showing so much promise in his first year with the program, fans believe Williams is poised for an All-SEC caliber campaign in 2023. He’ll be the enforcer up front with Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith and Robert Beal off to the NFL.

11. Brandon Dorlus, Oregon: The former three-star prospect is one of the best returning pass rushers in the Pac-12. Although Dorlus has the size to play along the interior, weighing 290 pounds on a six-foot-three frame, he’s athletic enough to wreak havoc off the edge. He led the Ducks in tackles for loss, and ranked second on the team in sacks last season. The Florida native racked up a season-high, eight stops, including 1.5 for loss in the victory over BYU. Not to mention Dorlus had a season-high, four solo tackles, including three for loss and two sacks against Stanford. Dorlus tallied four stops, including one flor loss in the win at California. In the Holiday Bowl Dorlus recorded five tackles.

10. Joe Evans, Iowa: He had no stars behind his name out of high school, but still made an impact in the Big Ten last season. Evans ranked second on the nation’s No. 2 defense in sacks, and third in tackles for loss. Not to mention Evans capped off the year with second-team, All-Big Ten honors. The Ames native started fast out of the gates, with four tackles in each of the first five games. Evans put the quarterback to the turf twice in the season-opening win over South Dakota State. The six-foot-two, 246-pounder tallied a season-high, five stops, and made the quarterback eat grass in the victory over Northwestern. Evans also recorded a sack against Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin.

9. Ethan Downs, Oklahoma: The former four-star prospect led the Sooner in tackles for loss, and tied for second on the team in sacks last season. Downs knows how to wreak havoc off the edge. So much so, that he capped off his stellar campaign with second-team, All-Big 12 honors. He tallied two tackles and a sack in the season-opener against UTEP. Downs recorded three stops and put the quarterback to the turf in the victory at Nebraska. The Oklahoma native stockpiled five tackles against Baylor. Not to mention Downs had a season-high, six stops and a sack at West Virginia. The six-foot-four, 260-pounder also made the quarterback eat grass in the win over Oklahoma State.

8. Barryn Sorrell, Texas: The New Orleans native led the Longhorns in sacks in 2022. Sorrell racked up six tackles, including two for loss and a sack in the opener against Louisiana-Monroe. He recorded a tackle for loss and put the quarterback to the turf in the victory at West Virginia. Sorrell tallied six total stops, and forced a fumble against Oklahoma State. The former three-star prospect generated at tackle for loss and a sack in the win at Kansas State. Sorrell had a monster day against TCU, with a season-high, 11 tackles, including three for loss and a sack. The six-foot-four, 262-pounder followed up that performance with three solo stops, including one for loss against Kansas.

7. Bralen Trice, Washington: The former four-star prospect led the Huskies with 12 tackles for loss, and nine sacks last season. Trice was one of the most disruptive defenders in the league, and capped off his stellar campaign with first-team, All-Pac-12 honors. He generated a sack in each of the first two games. The Phoenix native recorded five stops, and put the quarterback to the turf twice against Stanford. Trice also had five tackles and two sacks in the victory at California. Not to mention Trice made the quarterback eat grass in the Apple Cup rivalry. Trice left a lasting impression with a season-high, six tackles, including four solo and two sacks in the Alamo Bowl win over Texas.

6. Caleb Okechukwu, Syracuse: The Washington D.C. native led the Orange in sacks, and ranked second on the team in tackles for loss last season. Okechukwu recorded two tackles, plus he picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown in the win over Purdue. He tallied three solo stops, and two sacks against Virginia. The former three-star prospect stockpiled seven tackles, including four solo at Clemson. Okechukwu had a season-high, eight stops and a sack at Pitt. Not to mention he generated four tackles apiece against NC State and Florida State. The six-foot-four, 268-pounder recorded four solo stops and made the quarterback eat grass in the victory over Boston College.

5. Jasheen Davis, Wake Forest: The Georgia native led the Demon Deacons with 14 tackles for loss and seven sacks in 2022. Davis generated three tackles, including one for loss, a sack and forced a fumble against Liberty. The following week he recorded a season-high, six tackles against Clemson. The next game Davis had four stops, including 1.5 for loss and a sack in the victory at Florida State. He put the quarterback to the turf twice against North Carolina. Davis tallied a season-high, four solo tackles, including three for loss and a sack against Syracuse. The six-foot-three, 250-pounder racked up eight tackles for loss, and five sacks over the final four games of the regular season.

4. Princely Umanmielen, Florida: The Texas native led the Gators in tackles for loss and sacks in 2022. Umanmielen was a terror off the edge, and often required two blockers. He tallied three tackles in the season-opening victory over Utah. The following week Umanmielen tallied four stops, including three solo against Kentucky. The former four-star prospect generated a tackle for loss, a sack and forced a fumble against Eastern Washington. Umanmielen had a season-high, six stops, including three for loss and a sack in the win over Missouri. The six-foot-five, 245-pounder also had six tackles at Florida State, plus he recorded a sack against Texas A&M and Oregon State.

3. J.T. Tuimoloau, Ohio State: The former five-star prospect lived up to his billing as a true sophomore in 2022. Not only did Tuimoloau finish second on the Buckeyes in tackles for loss, but he also capped off the season with first-team, All-Big Ten honors. He’s one of the most feared defenders in the league, who excels against the run and in pass coverage. Tuimoloau tallied two tackles and put the quarterback to the turf against Iowa. He put on a magnificent performance in the victory at Penn State, with six tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. The six-foot-four, 270-pounder also put the quarterback to the turf in the win at Maryland. Tuimoloau generated four stops against Michigan.

2. Donovan Ezeiruaku, Boston College: The former three-star prospect is coming off a magnificent campaign in 2022. Ezeiruaku was an animal off the edge. Not only did he finish fourth on the Eagles in stops, but he also led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He recorded nine tackles, including eight solo, plus a sack in the opener against Rutgers. The New Jersey native tallied five stops and a sack against Maine. Ezeiruaku also put the quarterback to the turf against Wake Forest, Connecticut and Duke. The six-foot-two, 250-pounder recorded nine stops, and a jaw-dropping 2.5 sacks in the finale against Syracuse. Ezeiruaku capped off the season with second-team, All-ACC honors.

1. Jared Verse, Florida State: Although he was a standout at Albany, he entered last season as an unknown in his first campaign with the Seminoles. However, Verse made himself a household name in the ACC, and led Florida State with 17 tackles for loss, and nine sacks. For his heroics he was also named the Seminoles’ Defensive MVP, and earned first-team, All-ACC honors. Verse recorded four tackles and a sack in the opener against Duquesne. He tallied three stops, and two sacks in the victory over LSU. The Ohio native also had a sack against Wake Forest, Miami and Oklahoma. Not to mention Verse stockpiled five tackles apiece against Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida.

Honorable Mention

Isaac Ukwu, James Madison: The Maryland native led the Dukes with 10.5 tackles for loss, and 7.5 sacks last season.

Tyrone Taleni, USC: Last season he tied for second on the Trojans with five sacks, and ranked third with 7.5 tackles for loss.

Ashton Gillotte, Louisville: The Florida native led the Cardinals in sacks last season, and racked up 24 tackles from off the edge.

Brennan Jackson, Washington State: Last season he led the Cougars in sacks, tallied 41 tackles, and earned second-team, All-Pac-12 honors.

DeVonne Harris, Wyoming: He had a monster campaign last season. Harris tallied 56 tackles, including 13 for loss and eight sacks.

Gilber Edmond, Florida State: Last season at South Carolina he stockpiled 39 tackles, including nine for loss, which led the team.

T.J. Jackson, Troy: He led the Trojans with 14.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks last season. Jackson also earned first-team, All Sun-Belt honors.

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