September 24, 2023

College football’s 20 best defensive tackles of 2023

College football's 15 best defensive tackles of 2023

Michigan defensive tackle Kris Jenkins (94) in pursuit of bringing down a Purdue wide receiver in the second quarter of the Big Ten Championship Game Saturday December 3, 2022 at Lucas Oil Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

They do all the blue-collar work in the trenches, but their success can’t be measured on just stat sheets.

Playing defensive tackle and nose guard requires intensity and physicality from the interior. These 20 space-eating, hole-clogging, brick walls love being disruptive and bringing down ball carriers in the backfield. The elite ones are often require two blockers.

They make the first contact at the line of scrimmage, and are usually the last to emerge from the pile up. Now they’re all ready to put five fingers in the dirt, and maul offensive linemen again this fall.

20. Junior Tafuna, Utah: The former three-star prospect is coming off a solid campaign with the reigning Pac-12 Champs. Tafuna helped the Utes finish second in the conference, and 18th in the FBS against the run. Not to mention he capped off the season with second-team, All-Pac-12 honors. Tafuna recorded three tackles in the victory at Arizona State. He generated five stops, including four solo at UCLA. The Utah native had a season-high, six tackles, including three solo against Oregon State. Tafuna left a lasting impression when he put the quarterback¬† to the turf in the Rose Bowl against Penn State. Now he’s poised to anchor the Utes up front.

19. Rylie Mills, Notre Dame: The former four-star prospect finished second on the team in sacks, and tied for third in tackles for loss in 2022. Mills also helped the Fighting Irish finish 22nd in the FBS in total defense. He recorded three tackles apiece against Ohio State, Marshall and Stanford. Not to mention Mills racked up a season-high, five tackles, and made the quarterback eat grass twice in the victory at North Carolina. Mills left a lasting impression, with four stops, and a sack in the bowl win over South Carolina. With Isaiah Foskey off to the NFL, Mills and Howard Cross will have the responsibility of anchoring the defensive line.

18. Cameron Ball, Arkansas: The former three-star prospect had a solid second season with the Razorbacks in 2022. Ball racked up 31 tackles from the interior. He generated two stops apiece through the first three games. The Atlanta native had a season-high, five tackles at Mississippi State. The following week Ball recorded three tackles, including one for loss in the victory at BYU. Ball also tallied three stops, including two solo against Ole Miss. The six-foot-five, 311-pounder left a lasting impression, with three tackles, including one for loss and a sack in the bowl win over Kansas. Now Ball is poised to anchor Arkansas’ front seven this fall.

17. Patrick Jenkins, Tulane: The former four-star prospect was a staple up front for the Green Wave, and led the team in tackles for loss last season. For his heroics on the gridiron, Jenkins capped off the year with second-team, All-AAC honors. After all, he’s one half of Tulane’s two-headed monster at defensive tackle. The hometown kid tallied three tackles apiece against Alcorn State, Kansas State and Southern Miss. He put the quarterback to the turf in the victory over ECU. He had five stops at Tulsa, and four apiece against UCF and Cincinnati. Jenkins generated two sacks in the AAC Championship Game, and six tackles in the Cotton Bowl.

16. Jahvaree Ritzie, North Carolina: The former four-star prospect is coming off a very productive campaign with the Tar Heels. Ritzie racked up a jaw-dropping, 48 tackles from the interior last season. He generated three tackles apiece against Notre Dame and Virginia Tech. Ritzie recorded four stops against Clemson. The six-foot-four, 295-pounder had five tackles apiece in victories over Georgia State and Pittsburgh. Not to mention Ritzie tallied six tackles apiece in road wins over Duke and Wake Forest. His eight stops against Georgia Tech were a season-high. Ritzie is poised to anchor North Carolina’s front seven this fall.

15. Darius Hodges, Tulane: The Alabama native tied for first on the team in sacks, and third in tackles for loss last season. Hodges also finished his stellar campaign with second-team, All-AAC honors. He tallied four solo stops in the victory at Kansas State. Hodges also generated four tackles against UCF, Cincinnati and USC in the Cotton Bowl. Not to mention Hodges made the quarterback eat grass at Houston. The six-foot-two, 280-pounder recorded five stops, including four solo and 2.5 sacks against SMU. Hodges dominated in the AAC Championship Game, with seven stops, including a season-high, six solo and a sack.

14. Mike Hall, Ohio State: The former four-star prospect had a solid true sophomore campaign with the Buckeyes in 2022. Hall also capped off the year with the year with third-team, All-Big Ten honors for his heroics on the gridiron. He only tallied 19 tackles, but 7.5 of those went for loss. Not to mention Hall’s 4.5 sacks tied for first on the team. The Ohio native tallied four tackles, including three solo and a sack in the opening victory over Notre Dame. The following game against Arkansas State, Hall recorded three solo stops, and put the quarterback to the turf against Arkansas State. Hall generated a season-high, 2.5 sacks in the victory at Michigan State.

13. Jowon Briggs, Cincinnati: The hometown kid is coming off a monster campaign with the Bearcats. Briggs racked up a jaw-dropping, 61 tackles from the interior, and capped off the year with first-team, All-AAC honors. He stockpiled eight tackles against Kennesaw State. Not to mention Briggs put the quarterback to the turf against Miami (Ohio) and Tulsa. The former four-star prospect tallied seven tackles apiece against SMU and Tulane. Briggs had a season-high, nine stops in the win over Navy. The 305-pounder is one half of Cincinnati’s two-headed monster at defensive tackle, who loves mauling offensive linemen in the trenches.

12. Howard Cross, Notre Dame: The New Jersey native stockpiled 34 tackles, and finished fourth on the team in sacks last season. Cross even played through the second half of the season while he recovered from a high ankle sprain. He generated three tackles and a sack in the season-opener against Ohio State. The following week Cross racked up a season-high, 11 stops against Marshall. The next game he tallied seven tackles in the victory over California. Cross made the quarterback eat grass in the win over Clemson. With Cross back fully healthy alongside Mills, Notre Dame will have one of the best defensive tackle tandems in the FBS.

11. Noah Shannon, Iowa: The former three-star prospect helped the Hawkeyes finish second in the FBS in total defense, and 12th against the run last season. Shannon tied for third on the team with 8.5 tackles for loss. He posted four tackles apiece against Iowa State and Minnesota. Not to mention Shannon generated five stops apiece against Michigan and Purdue. The six-foot, 289-pounder had a season-high, eight tackles at Illinois. Shannon made the quarterback eat grass in the victory over Northwestern. The Illinois native left a lasting impression in the regular season finale against Nebraska, with six tackles and a sack.

10. Nazir Stackhouse, Georgia: He’s massive, weighing 320 pounds on a six-foot-three frame. Stackhouse helped the reigning National Champs finish first in the FBS in rushing defense last season. Stackhouse stockpiled 33 tackles from the interior, and earned second-team, All-SEC honors. The Georgia native tallied two solo stops apiece against Kent State and Missouri. Stackhouse generated three solo tackles against Ohio State. The former four-star prospect also had three tackles apiece against Auburn and Tennessee. Stackhouse had a season-high, five tackles apiece against Florida and Kentucky. With Jalen Carter gone, he’ll anchor the middle.

9. Kris Jenkins, Michigan: The former three-star prospect ranked fifth on the Wolverines with 54 tackles last season. Jenkins was a big reason why Michigan finished first in the Big Ten, and seventh in the FBS against the run. He recorded two stops, including one for loss and a sack in the opener against Colorado State. Jenkins also posted a sack against Rutgers. Not to mention he generated five tackles apiece in victories over Connecticut, Maryland, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan State and Ohio State. Jenkins had four tackles apiece against Penn State and TCU. With Mazi Smith and Mike Morris off to the NFL, Jenkins will be the enforcer up front.

8. Dontay Corleone, Cincinnati: The former three-star prospect is nicknamed ‘The Godfather’ for a reason. That’s because Corleone delivers big hits on the gridiron. He tied for third on the Bearcats in sacks last season. Not to mention Corleone capped off the year with first-team, All-AAC, and third-team, AP All-America honors. The local kid stockpiled six tackles, and a sack against Kennesaw State. Corleone recorded four stops and a sack at Tulsa. Corleone also had four tackles and put the quarterback to the turf in the victory at SMU. The six-foot-two, 320-pounder had a monster outing in the win at Navy, with a season-high, 11 total tackles.

7. Simeon Barrow, Michigan State: The Georgia native finished third on the team in tackles for loss, and tied for second in sacks last season. Barrow finished strong down the stretch, with 23 stops over the final six games. He had a season-high, eight tackles, including four solo at Washington. Not to mention Barrow generated four stops and a sack at Maryland. The former four-star prospect tallied three tackles, and put the quarterback to the turf in the victory over Wisconsin. Barrow recorded four tackles and a sack in the win at Illinois. The six-foot-three, 290-pounder posted five tackles at Michigan, plus four, including a sack at Penn State.

6. DeWayne Carter, Duke: The Ohio native led the Blue Devils in tackles for loss and tied for first on the team in sacks last season. Carter was a big reason why Duke finished third in the ACC against the run. He capped off the year with second-team, All-ACC honors. Carter tallied four tackles, including one for loss, a sack, and forced a fumble in the victory at Northwestern. The former three-star prospect had a season-high, nine tackles, including six solo against Georgia Tech. Carter posted three solo tackles, a sack and forced a fumble against North Carolina. Not mention Carter recorded two sacks against Boston College, and another against Wake Forest.

5. Tyler Davis, Clemson: The Florida native ranked fourth on the team in tackles for loss last season. Davis helped the Tigers finish third in the ACC, and 13th in the FBS against the run. He earned first-team, All-ACC honors. Davis racked up a season-high, six tackles, including 2.5 for loss and a sack in the victory at Wake Forest. The former four-star prospect recorded four stops, including 2.5 for loss and a sack in the win at Florida State. Davis left a lasting impression, with three tackles, including one for loss, and a sack in the Orange Bowl against Tennessee. With Myles Murphy and Bryan Breese off to the NFL, Davis will anchor the front seven.

4. Mekhi Wingo, LSU: The St. Louis native racked up 47 stops, and tied for third on the Bayou Bengals in tackles for loss last season. Wingo was an animal along the interior, and capped off his 2022 campaign with third-team, AP All-America honors. He tallied six solo tackles in the season-opener against Florida State. Wingo posted three tackles apiece in victories over Southern, Alabama and Arkansas. Not to mention he generated five stops, including four solo at Auburn. The six-foot-one, 295-pounder had a season-high, seven tackles, including four solo and a sack against Ole Miss. Wingo also recorded a sack in the bowl win over Purdue.

3. Akheem Meisdor, Miami: The Canadian wreaked havoc from the interior, and led the Hurricanes in sacks last season. Meisdor tied for first on the team with 10.5 tackles for loss. He recorded four stops and a sack in the season-opener against Bethune-Cookman. Meisdor also posted four tackles in the win over Georgia Tech. Not to mention he tallied six tackles against Duke. The six-foot-three, 280-pounder had a season-high, eight tackles, including four solo and 3.5 sacks in the victory at Virginia Tech. The former three-star prospect tallied five stops, including four solo and two sacks at Clemson. He’ll be one of the ACC’s most feared defenders this fall.

2. Keith Randolph, Illinois: The former three-star prospect is coming off a magnificent campaign. Randolph ranked second on the Fighting Illini with 13 tackles for loss, and tied for second in sacks last season. He ate ball carriers for breakfast, and was a big reason why Illinois finished third in the FBS in total defense. Not to mention Randolph earned third-team, All-Big Ten honors. The Illinois native generated six tackles apiece against Wyoming, Michigan and Wisconsin. Randolph had a season-high, seven tackles, including four solo, and a sack in the victory over Virginia. The six-foot-five, 305-pounder also recorded a sack in the win over Iowa.

1. Jer’Zahn Newton, Illinois: The Florida native had a campaign of epic proportions last season. Not only did Newton finish third on the team with 61 stops, but he led the Fighting Illini in tackles for loss and sacks. He also earned first-team, All-Big Ten, and second-team, AP All-America honors. The six-foot-two, 295-pounder is the main reason why Illinois ranked third in the conference, and 10th in the country against the run. Newton racked up a season-high, eight stops and a sack against Chattanooga. Not to mention he recorded eight stops against Michigan State, and seven against Iowa. Newton posted a sack against Indiana, Virginia and Wisconsin.