July 13, 2024

College football’s 20 best defensive tackles of 2024

College football's 20 best defensive tackles of 2024

Michigan defensive lineman Kenneth Grant (78) tackles Iowa running back Kaleb Johnson (2) during the third quarter of the Big Ten Championship Game Saturday December 2, 2023 at Lucas Oil Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

What they do on the field doesn’t jump out on stat sheets.

However, defensive tackles and nose guards handle all of the blue-collar work from the interior. These huge space-eating, hole-clogging, brick walls eat ball carriers for breakfast and dominate in the trenches. The elite ones are often double-teamed and hold their own in the red zone.

ESPN’s Lee Corso don’t call them big uglies for nothing. They’re the first line of contact and the last to emerge from the pile up. These 20 individuals proved they’re the real deal, and will frustrate opposing offenses all season long this fall.

20. Cam Jackson, Florida: The Louisiana native is a mountain, standing six-foot-six, and weighing 374 pounds. Jackson was the Gators’ eighth-leading tackler in 2023, with 32 total stops from the interior. He posted three tackles apiece against McNeese State, Missouri and Florida State. His six stops, including five solo in the victory over Tennessee, were a season-high. Jackson recorded four tackles, including three solo in the win over Charlotte. Not to mention he generated four tackles apiece against Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Although the Gators finished 79th nationally in rushing defense last year, Jackson will be the anchor up front, and a vital piece to build around.

19. D’Quan Douse, Michigan State: The former three-star prospect put together a solid campaign at Georgia Tech last season, and finished fifth on the team in tackles for loss. Douse tallied three tackles, including two solo, and one sack at Virginia. He also generated three stops against South Carolina State. The Georgia native posted eight tackles apiece against Ole Miss and Miami. Not to mention Douse recorded seven stops, including four solo against Georgia. Douse had five solo tackles, including a sack in the victory over North Carolina. The six-foot-two, 290-pounder brings experience, leadership and production to the Spartans’ defensive line. Douse should make an immediate impact.

18. Patrick Jenkins, Tulane: The New Orleans native finished second on the Green Wave in tackles for loss and sacks last season. Jenkins was consistent, and helped Tulane finish 16th nationally against the run. He even capped off his campaign with first-team, All-AAC honors. Jenkins tallied five tackles, including three solo, and two sacks in the opening win over South Alabama. The six-foot-two, 305-pounder recorded four solo stops, and a sack in the victory over UTSA. Jenkins also had four tackles against Nicholls State. The former four-star prospect made the quarterback eat grass at Memphis and Southern Miss. Jenkins will be one the best defensive players in the Group of Five this fall.

17. Damonic Williams, Oklahoma: The Californian tied for second on TCU in sacks last year. Williams got off to a hot start with three tackles in the opener against Colorado. He also posted three stops, and a sack against Nicholls State. Williams tallied four tackles, and made the quarterback eat grass in the victory over SMU. The six-foot-two, 320-pounder also had four tackles at Kansas State. His seven stops at Texas Tech were a season-high. Williams left a lasting impression after he put the quarterback to the turf on Senior Day against Baylor. Now Williams has landed in Norman with defensive guru Brent Venables at Oklahoma, and should make an immediate impact in the Almighty SEC.

16. Tim Keenan, Alabama: The former four-star prospect had a breakout season in 2023, and was a big reason why the Crimson Tide finished fourth in the SEC, and 31st nationally against the run. Keenan remained consistent, and racked up 38 tackles from the interior. He posted four tackles against Arkansas. The Alabama native was very active in SEC play, and generated three tackles apiece against Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, LSU and Auburn. Keenan tallied five stops against Texas. His eight tackles, including four solo and sack in the victory over Texas A&M, were all season-highs. Keenan should be able to build off the momentum he had, despite a change in Defensive Coordinators.

15. Zeek Biggers, Georgia Tech: The North Carolina native was the Yellow Jackets eighth-leading tackler last season, with 40 stops from the interior. Biggers posted three tackles apiece against South Carolina State, Virginia and Clemson. He recorded a season-high, nine stops and assisted on a sack in the victory at Wake Forest. Not to mention Biggers tallied six stops, including three solo against Syracuse. Biggers also left a lasting impression when he recorded five tackles, including a season-high, four solo in the bowl win over UCF. With D’Quan Douse now at Michigan State, it’s going to be up to Biggers to anchor the defensive line for Georgia Tech, so his production should improve.

14. Simeon Barrow, Miami: The former three-star prospect finished third on the Spartans in tackles for loss last year. Barrow was consistent the entire season, and got off to fast start with two tackles and a sack in the opening win over Central Michigan. He posted five stops apiece in road games at Iowa and Rutgers. The Georgia native tallied a season-high, six tackles, including four solo at Minnesota. Barrow generated three stops, and put the quarterback to the turf in the victory over Nebraska. The six-foot-three, 296-pounder had five tackles, including three solo, and made the quarterback eat grass at Indiana. Barrow now is taking his talents to South Beach.

13. Nazir Stackhouse, Georgia: The Bulldogs have had some high-caliber defensive tackles over the past few years, including Jordan Davis and Jalen Carter. Stackhouse is the next up on Kirby Smart’s assembly line. After all, he earned second-team, All-SEC honors for his heroics in 2023. He put Spencer Rattler to the turf against South Carolina. The six-foot-three, 320-pounder tallied three stops, including two solo and made the quarterback eat grass against Ole Miss. Stackhouse recorded a season-high, five stops, including four solo in the victory at Auburn. The 21-year old generated four tackles, including two solo in the SEC Championship Game, and three tackles against Florida State.

12. Dontay Corleone, Cincinnati: The hometown kid tied for second on the Bearcats in tackles for loss and sacks last season. Corleone was a disruptive force throughout the year, and capped of his campaign with second-team, All-Big 12 honors. Not to mention he posted three tackles, and put the quarterback to the turf at Pittsburgh. Corleone recorded a season-high, six stops, including four solo and a sack against Oklahoma. The 21-year old generated five stops, including three solo against Iowa State. Corleone tallied four tackles, including three solo, and made the quarterback eat grass in the win at Houston. The former three-star prospect also had four tackles apiece against BYU and Baylor.

11. Kenneth Grant, Michigan: The 20-year old had a breakout season with the undefeated National Champs last season. Grant helped the Wolverines finish fifth nationally against the run, and capped off his campaign with second-team, All-Big Ten honors. He recorded four tackles, and put the quarterback to the turf against UNLV. The Indiana native tallied four solo stops at Penn State. Grant generated four tackles, including three solo, and made Taulia Tagovailoa eat grass at Maryland. The six-foot-three, 339-pounder also had four stops in the Big Ten Championship Game against Iowa. Grant left a lasting impression when he sacked Michael Penix Jr., in the National Title Game.

10. Rylie Mills, Notre Dame: The Illinois native tied for fourth on the team in tackles for loss, and helped the Fighting Irish finish 26th nationally in rushing defense last season. Mills was a force to be reckoned with from the interior. He posted five solo tackles against Central Michigan. Not to mention Mills tallied four stops, including a sack in the victory at Stanford. The 22-year old also had four tackles against Ohio State. His eight tackles, including five solo at Clemson were season-highs. Mills generated seven stops in the win at Duke, and had five at Louisville. The six-foot-five, 297-pounder recorded three tackles, and helped put Caleb Williams to the turf in the home victory over USC.

9. Joshua Farmer, Florida State: The former three-star prospect ranked fourth on the Seminoles in tackles for loss in 2023. Farmer got off to a hot start with three tackles, and put Jayden Daniels to the turf in the opening victory over LSU. He posted four stops at Boston College. The Florida native generated a season-high, five tackles, and made Cade Klubnik eat grass in the win at Clemson. Farmer also had five stops, and assisted on a sack at Florida. The six-foot-three, 318-pounder recorded two solo stops and a sack against Syracuse. Not to mention he tallied three tackles and a sack against North Alabama. With Braden Fiske off to the NFL, Farmer can shine, but he’ll be sitting out spring ball.

8. Ja’Maree Caldwell, Oregon: The former Juco finished second on Houston in tackles for loss and sacks last season. Caldwell even capped off his campaign with second-team, All-Big 12 honors. He posted three solo tackles and a sack against TCU. Not to mention he had five stops, including three solo in the victory over West Virginia. Caldwell also had five tackles, including a season-high, four solo and put the quarterback to the turf against Cincinnati. The six-foot-one, 325-pounder recorded three solo tackles, and a season-high, two sacks against Texas. Caldwell also made the quarterback eat grass against Kansas State, and UCF. He’ll make an immediate impact for the Ducks this fall.

7. Nash Hutmacher, Nebraska: The South Dakota native is nicknamed the Polar Bear for a reason. Hutmacher finished second on the Huskers in tackles for loss and sacks in 2023. The six-foot-four, 330-pounder also competes on Nebraska’s wrestling team. He got off to a hot start with four stops, and a sack in the opener at Minnesota. Hutmacher tallied a season-high, six tackles, including three solo, and assisted on a sack against Northern Illinois. The former three-star prospect recorded four tackles apiece against Illinois and Maryland. Hutmacher also had four stops, and assisted on a sack against Iowa. Not to mention he had three tackles apiece against Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State.

6. Yahya Black, Iowa: The former four-star prospect finished third on the team in sacks, and helped the Hawkeyes finish 15th nationally in rushing defense last season. Black even posted 51 tackles from the interior. He recorded three tackles apiece against Utah State, Iowa tate, Michigan State and Nebraska. His seven stops, including four solo at Penn State, were both season-highs. Black tallied six tackles apiece against Western Michigan and Purdue. The six-foot-five, 306-pounder recorded five tackles, including three solo and a sack against Michigan in the Big Ten Championship Game. Black also had five stops against Minnesota, and posted a sack in victories over Wisconsin and Northwestern.

5. T.J. Sanders, South Carolina: The former three-star prospect led the Gamecocks in tackle for loss and sacks last year. Sanders posted three tackles in the opener against North Carolina. The following week he tallied three solo stops and a sack against Furman. He had a season-high, nine tackles, including eight solo, and put Carson Beck to the turf at Georgia. Sanders also made the quarterback eat grass against Mississippi State and Florida. The South Carolina native posted six stops apiece against Missouri and Texas A&M. Not to mention he recorded four solo tackles apiece against Jacksonville State and Clemson. Sanders is now poised for an All-SEC caliber season with the Gamecocks in 2024.

4. Mason Graham, Michigan: The Californian ranked third on the Wolverines in tackles for loss last season. Graham also helped the National Champs finish first in the FBS in total defense, and fifth against the run. He even capped off his campaign with first-team, All-Big Ten honors. Graham generated five tackles, and assisted on a sack against UNLV. The 20-year old had a season-high six stops, including five solo and a sack at Minnesota. Not to mention he made Kyle McCord eat grass in the victory over Ohio State. Graham helped put Taulia Tagovailoa to the turf at Maryland. The former four-star prospect posted four tackles, including three solo against Alabama.

3. Sherman Turner, Texas A&M: The former four-star prospect ranked second on the Aggies in sacks, and third in tackles for loss in 2023. Turner even helped Texas A&M finish 13th nationally in rushing defense, and ended his campaign with second-team, All-SEC honors. He got off to a fast start with three stops, including a sack in the opener against New Mexico. The following week Turner put the quarterback to the turf at Miami. The next game against Louisiana-Monroe he had a sack. Turner also posted a sack Mississippi State. The Texas native tallied five tackles, including four solo in the win over Auburn. Turner also generated four tackles apiece against Arkansas and Tennessee.

2. Tyleik Williams, Ohio State: The 21-year old tied for first on the Buckeyes in tackles for loss, and ranked third in sacks last season. Williams helped Ohio State finish 27th nationally against the run, and earned second-team, All-Big Ten honors. He posted five stops and a sack against Western Kentucky. The former four-star prospect also had five tackles apiece Youngstown State, Rutgers and Michigan. Williams generated four tackles including a sack in the victory at Wisconsin. Not to mention he had four stops and a sack against Michigan State. Williams tallied three solo tackles in the win at Notre Dame. The six-foot-three, 327-pounder recorded four tackles in the bowl game against Missouri.

1. Howard Cross III., Notre Dame: The New Jersey native was the second-leading tackler on the Fighting Irish, with 66 stops in 2023. Cross had amazing production, and finished third on Notre Dame in tackles for loss. Not to mention he capped off his campaign with second-team, AP All-America honors. He tallied a season-high, 13 tackles and a sack in the victory at Duke. Cross posted nine stops against Wake Forest. The 22-year old had seven tackles apiece at Clemson and Louisville. Cross recorded six tackles, including four solo against Ohio State. The six-foot-one, 284-pounder even left a lasting impression when he put the quarterback to the turf in the bowl win over Oregon State.

Honorable Mention

Mike Lockhart, SMU: The Alabama native led West Virginia in tackles for loss last season. Lockhart put the quarterback to the turf in victories over BYU and Cincinnati. He’s poised to make a name for himself in the ACC.