April 23, 2024

College football’s 20 best defensive ends of 2024

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College football's 20 best defensive ends of 2024

Ohio State defensive end Jack Sawyer (33) lines up before a play during the fourth quarter against Iowa Saturday October 22, 2022 at Ohio Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

Everything goes down in the trenches, but they are the enforcers up front, who set the tone along the defensive line.

Edge rushers are relentless in their pursuit, and have non-stop motors. The elite defensive ends make plays in opponent’s backfields. Being disruptive, batting down passes at the line of scrimmage and maneuvering around offensive linemen come with the territory.

Often times they require two blockers, and it’s still not enough. With spring ball in the air, expect these 20 defenders to pick up where they left off in 2023. And for all of the quarterbacks out there, these defensive ends will soon be coming to a backfield near you.

20. Ethan Hurkett, Iowa: The former three-star prospect finished third on the Hawkeyes in tackles for loss last season. Hurkett also put up solid production, with 52 total stops off the edge. He tallied five tackles, including three solo in the victory at Iowa State. The Iowa native also generated three solo stops at Wisconsin. Hurkett posted four tackles apiece against Purdue and Northwestern. The six-foot-three, 260-pounder racked up a season-high, nine total tackles at Penn State. Hurkett also had nine stops, including five solo, and an interception in the win at Nebraska. With Joe Evans out of eligibility, and Logan Lee off to the NFL, Hurkett needs to wreak havoc along the defensive line.

19. Josiah Stewart, Michigan: The Bronx native finished second on the National Champs in tackles for loss and sacks last season. Stewart tallied five stops, and two sacks at Nebraska. He posted three tackles, and put the quarterback to the turf at Minnesota. The former three-star prospect also recorded a sack at Michigan State. Stewart stockpiled a season-high, seven tackles, and made Jalen Milroe eat grass in the Rose Bowl against Alabama. The six-foot-one, 245-pounder left a lasting impression, with five tackles, including four solo in the National Championship Game. Michigan lost a ton of production on the defense line, so Steward needs to make his presence felt up front.

18. Sione Lolohea, Florida State: The Tonga native tied for second at Oregon State in tackles for loss last season. Lolohea was a disruptive force up front, and capped off his campaign with second-team, All-Pac-12 honors. He tallied two tackles, and put the quarterback to the turf against UC Davis. The former three-star prospect recorded five stops at Washington State. Lolohea generated four tackles apiece against California, Colorado, Utah and Arizona. The six-foot-three, 270-pounder stockpiled a season-high, 10 stops in the victory over UCLA. Lolohea left a lasting impression with seven tackles, including five solo in the bowl against Notre Dame. Now he’ll have to fill Jared Verse’s shoes this fall.

17. Jamil Muhammad, USC: He’s an incredible athlete, and even played quarterback in high school. Muhammad led USC in sacks, and finished second on the team in tackles for loss last season. The Alabama native tallied three tackles, and a sack against Nevada. Muhammad also put the quarterback to the turf against Stanford. The former three-star prospect racked up a season-high, eight tackles, and a sack in the victory at Arizona State. The following game at Colorado he posted three stops, and made Shedeur Sanders eat grass. Not to mention he posted five tackles and two sacks in the win over Arizona. Muhammad also had five tackles at California. He’ll be USC’s enforcer up front again.

16. B.J. Green Colorado: The Atlanta native led Arizona State in tackles for loss, and tied for first on the team in sacks last year. Green also capped off his campaign with second-team, All-Pac-12 honors. He recorded four stops in the opener against Southern Utah. The following week Green tallied three solo tackles and two sacks against Oklahoma State. The six-foot-one, 270-pounder also put the quarterback to the turf against USC. Green posted a season-high, seven tackles, including five solo and a sack against Colorado. The former three-star prospect even made Cam Ward eat grass in the victory over Washington State, and had six stops at Utah. Green should make a splash for the Buffaloes.

15. T.J. Parker, Clemson: As a true freshman he tied for first on the Tigers in sacks, and was second in tackles for loss last season. Parker got off to a hot start, with four sacks through the first six games. He posted four solo tackles against Charleston Southern. The following week Parker tallied three tackles and a sack against Florida-Atlantic. His five stops, and two sacks in the victory at Syracuse were season-highs. Not to mention Parker made the quarterback eat grass in wins over Wake Forest and North Carolina. Clemson has a nice track history of producing elite edge rushers under Dabo Swinney, and Parker is the latest edition. It’ll be a shocker if he doesn’t earn All-ACC recognition this fall.

14. Tyler Batty, BYU: The former three-star prospect led the Cougars in tackles for loss and sacks last season. Batty used his athleticism to make 57 tackles off the edge, and capped off his campaign with second-team, All-Big 12 honors. He got off to a fast start with a sack in the opener against Sam Houston. Batty racked up a season-high, nine tackles, and a sack in the victory at Arkansas. The Utah native tallied seven stops, and put the quarterback to the turf in the win over Cincinnati. Batty recorded nine tackles, including six solo against Texas Tech. The six-foot-five, 273-pounder generated a sack against Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Batty even had a 36-yard catch against the Cowboys.

13. Rueben Bain, Miami: The hometown kid tied for first on the Hurricanes in sacks, and finished second in tackles for loss as a true freshman last year. Bain even capped off his campaign with third-team, All-ACC honors for his impact on Miami’s defense. He made his first sack against Bethune-Cookman. Bain also put Drake Maye to the turf against North Carolina. His eight stops, and two sacks in the victory over Clemson were both season-highs. The following week against Virginia he tallied seven tackles and two additional sacks. Bain also made the quarterback eat grass at Boston College. The six-foot-three, 275-pounder left a lasting impression with seven tackles in the bowl against Rutgers.

12. Ethan Downs, Oklahoma: The former four-star prospect led the Sooners in sacks in 2023. Downs is a two-time, second-team, All-Big 12 performer. Not to mention he has generated 20 tackles for loss, and nine sacks over the past two seasons. He got off to a hot start last year, with a sack in the opener against Arkansas State. Downs tallied three solo tackles, and a season-high, two sacks in the victory over Texas. The Oklahoma native posted six stops, including three solo, and a sack in the win over UCF. Downs also had three solo tackles at Tulsa, and three total apiece against SMU and Cincinnati. Coach Brent Venables is a defensive guru, and he’ll find a variety of ways to use Downs in 2024.

11. Mykel Williams, Georgia: The former five-star prospect led the Bulldogs in sacks, and finished second on the team in tackles for loss in 2023. Williams also earned second-team, All-SEC honors for his heroics. He has been a staple for the defense for the past two seasons, with 13 tackles for loss, and nine sacks during that span. Last year Williams put the quarterback to the turf in victories over Tennessee-Martin, South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida State. His four stops against the Seminoles were a season-high. The Georgia native recorded three tackles in the win over Ole Miss. Williams may play linebacker for Georgia this fall, but he’ll still be a terror from anywhere on the field.

10. Landon Jackson, Arkansas: The 21-year old led the Razorbacks in tackles for loss and sacks last season. Jackson even capped off his stellar campaign with first-team, All-SEC honors. The Texas native tallied four tackles in the opener against Western Carolina. The next game against Kent State he put the quarterback to the turf. Jackson racked up five stops, including four solo and a sack against BYU. The six-foot-seven, 282-pounder also recorded five tackles at Ole Miss. Jackson had a monster performance against Alabama, with 11 tackles, including seven solo, and 3.5 sacks. The former four-star prospect even made the quarterback eat grass in the victory over Florida-International.

9. Jack Sawyer, Ohio State: The former five-star prospect led the Buckeyes in sacks, and tied for first on the team in tackles for loss las year. Sawyer caught fire over the second half of the season, and made 16 tackles and five sacks over the final three games. He even capped off his campaign with second-team, All-Big Ten honors. Sawyer had a sack at Purdue. The 21-year old posted six stops, and a sack against Minnesota and Michigan. Sawyer also recorded six tackles, including four solo in the win at Wisconsin. The six-foot-five, 260-pounder left a lasting impression with four solo tackles, and three sacks in the bowl against Missouri. Sawyer alongside JT Tuimoloau will form a deadly combo.

8. Nic Scourton, Texas A&M: The Texas native led Purdue in sacks and was second on the team in tackles for loss last season. Scourton was active and consistent, which is why he was the Boilermakers’ fifth-leading tackler. He was able to get off to a hot start, and tallied six tackles, including four solo in the opener against Fresno State. Scourton put the quarterback to the turf against Syracuse, Ohio State and Minnesota. His 10 tackles, including six solo at Nebraska, were both season-highs. Scourton had four solo tackles, and two sacks apiece against Michigan and Indiana. Now Scourton is with the Aggies and Coach Mike Elko, who’s a defensive guru. So he should flourish in the Almighty SEC.

7. Antwan Powell-Ryland, Virginia Tech: The former four-star prospect led the Hokies in tackles for loss and sacks last season. Powell-Ryland was a force to be reckoned with, and he earned second-team, All-ACC honors. He got off to a hot start with six tackles, including four solo and two sacks in the opener against Old Dominion. Powell-Ryland tallied five tackles apiece against Purdue and NC State. Not to mention he posted six stops at Rutgers. The Virginia native generated six tackles, and a jaw-dropping, four sacks in the win over Wake Forest. The next game against Syracuse, Powell-Ryland put the quarterback to the turf twice. Powell-Ryland also had a sack against Pittsburgh.

6. JT Tuimoloau, Ohio State: The Washington native is a two-time, first-team, All-Big Ten performer. Tuimoloau is very versatile. and has 17.5 tackles for loss over the past two seasons. He finished second on the Buckeyes in tackles for loss and sacks last year. He had four tackles in the opener against Indiana. Tuimoloau recorded six stops in the victory at Notre Dame. The former five-star prospect put the quarterback to the turf in wins over Maryland, Purdue and Penn State. Tuimoloau recorded a season-high, seven tackles against Rutgers. The six-foot-five, 269-pounder tallied four stops at Michigan. Not to mention he left a lasting impression with a sack in the Cotton Bowl against Missouri.

5. Ashton Gillotte, Louisville: The former three-star prospect has led the Cardinals in sacks for the past two seasons, with 18 total during that span. Last year Gillotte capped off his campaign with first-team, All-ACC honors. He made the quarterback eat grass against Murray State. The Florida native posted two sacks apiece against Boston College and Duke. Gillotte put the quarterback to the turf, and tallied a season-high, seven tackles against Virginia. The six-foot-three, 275-pounder generated six stops and a sack in the victory at NC State. Gillotte even recorded a sack against rival Kentucky. Not to mention he has a jaw-dropping, 22.5 tackles for loss over the last two years at Louisville.

4. Trey Moore, Texas: The 20-year old put together a monster campaign at UTSA in 2023. Moore finished second nationally in sacks per game. He also ranked seventh nationally in tackles for loss per game. Moore was named the AAC Defensive Player of the Year as a linebacker. The former two-star prospect tallied three sacks apiece in victories over Texas State, UAB, and East Carolina. Moore put the quarterback to the turf twice in the win over Rice. The six-foot-three, 242-pounder also had a sack against Houston and Florida-Atlantic. Moore picked off a pass at North Texas. Now he’s in the SEC, and brings production to a defensive line that lost T’Vondre Sweat and Bryron Murphy to the NFL.

3. Princely Umanmielen, Ole Miss: The Texas native has led Florida in tackles for loss, and sacks for the past two seasons. Umanmielen also recorded a jaw-dropping, 17 quarterback hurries, and capped off his campaign with second-team, All-SEC honors in 2023. He posted six stops and a season-high, two sacks against Arkansas. His nine tackles, including six solo against Georgia were season-highs. Umanmielen put Spencer Rattler to the turf in the victory over South Carolina. The former four-star prospect also tallied a sack against McNeese State, Charlotte and Missouri. Umanmielen generated four stops apiece against Tennessee and Kentucky. He’ll make a splash with the Rebels.

2. Kaimon Rucker, North Carolina: The 22-year old racked up 61 tackles off the edge last season, which ranked fifth on the Tar Heels. Rucker has been a menace for the past two seasons, with 22 tackles for loss and 12 sacks during that span. He earned second-team, All-ACC honors for his heroics in 2023. The Georgia native got off to a hot start, with eight tackles, including six solo and two sacks in the opening win over South Carolina. Rucker tallied seven tackles, including five solo and two sacks in the victory at Pittsburgh. The former three-star prospect also put the quarterback to the turf twice, and had six tackles against Miami. Rucker posted six stops and a sack against Virginia.

1. James Pearce Jr., Tennessee: The former four-star prospect led the SEC, and tied for 11th nationally in sacks per game last season. Pearce also capped off his campaign with first-team, All-SEC honors. He started off with a bang, and recorded two tackles for loss, and two sacks in the opening win over Virginia. The following game against Austin Peay he put the quarterback to the turf. Pearce tallied two sacks against South Carolina. The North Carolina native had two tackles for loss and a sack against Texas A&M. Pearce also made the quarterback eat grass against Alabama and Missouri. The six-foot-five, 242-pounder left a lasting impression with a sack and fumble in Citrus Bowl against Iowa.

Honorable Mention

Dani Dennis-Sutton, Penn State: The former five-star prospect earned third-team, All-Big Ten honors in 2023. Dennis-Sutton posted a sack against Northwestern, Indiana and Michigan. With Adisa Isaac and Chop Robinson off to the NFL, Dennis-Sutton has a perfect opportunity to shine off the edge this fall.

Deontae Craig, Iowa: The Indiana native racked up 54 stops off the edge last season. He has been very productive for the Hawkeyes over the past two years, with 15 tackles for loss, and 8.5 sacks during that span. Craig, along with Ethan Hurkett is going to make one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the Big Ten.

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