With so many strong passing matches and top players in college football this year, a prominent defensive line that disrupts the timing and tempo of attack is crucial to slowing those attacks down. The 2022 season has several notable streaks set to run this season, with Clemson being the #1 unit in Athlone Sports’ defensive line rankings, followed by Alabama and Georgia. Pete and Oklahoma State wrapped up the top five, but talent on the defensive front continued in the top 15 with shows like Texas A&M, LSU, Iowa and Auburn coming up.
How did we arrive at these classifications? Two factors were considered. Depth, overall talent, production, level of competition and expected production in 2022 have been taken into account in the defensive line rankings. While some teams experienced a drop last season, a new assistant, top recruiter or change in the system can make all the difference. These rankings reflect expectations for the year 22, not just what the teams have accomplished in the year 21.
New defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin inherits a streak full of talent and could end up being coach Dabo Sweeney’s best tenure. The Tigers limited teams to just 2.9 yards per carry and scored 42 sacks last year, and this unit’s overall play was a big reason the defense only allowed 14.8 points a game in 2121. A pair of All-America nominees dominate the interior, with Tyler Davis (2.5 TFL) and Bryan Bresee (3.0) are each preparing for a year of rebounding back after both injured in ’21. End Xavier Thomas may miss the start of ’22 due to injury, but the passing rush won’t suffer as Miles Murphy (14 TFL), KJ Henry and Justin Mascoll come off the edge.
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The Crimson Tide may not have an All-America performer along its front, but this unit works well in conjunction with a linebacker to dominate the line of scrimmage. End Byron Young scored 9.5 tackles for last season’s loss and should headline coordinator Pete Golding. DJ Dale and Justin Eboigbe are expected to join him in the starting line-up. Rookie Jaheim Oats could find his way into the spin after making noise this season, while Jah-Marien Latham, Jamil Burroughs and Tim Smith are three other names expected to see plenty of shots in ’22. This unit helped Alabama limit From teams to only 86 yards in last year’s game.
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Make no mistake: The losses are heavy for coach Kirby Smart’s defense. Jordan Davis, Travon Walker and Devonte White were instrumental in Georgia’s dominant defensive effort and the National Championship last fall. However, thanks to elite recruitment, bulldogs will not suffer a significant drop in production here. Junior Galen Carter (8.5 TFL) is the next star in the SMART trenches. The Zion Logue can fill the space left by Davis when treating the nose, and the Tramel Walthour can control the other end point. With five-star talent like Bear Alexander and Mykel Williams reaching the signature class of 22, along with other options like Warren Brinson, Nazir Stackhouse, Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins and Bill Norton in the mix of time, Smart and Line coach Tray Scott Les I have no problem mixing and matching to find the right set of starters and combinations for depth.
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The Panthers will surely miss Kenny Pickett directing an explosive attack, but coach Pat Narduzzi can keep that program in the mix to win the ACC Coastal once again thanks to an outstanding defense. Kaliga Kansi—Athlon Sports’ All-American First Team of 2022—leads the unit that defined teams with an 89.3 rushing yards per game and finished third nationally in sacks (54) last fall. Kansi led the team with 13 losing tackles last year. David Green, Tyler Bentley, and Devin Danielson return as staples about Kansi’s Inside. Habakkuk Baldonado and Deslin Alexandre (17 interventions to lose in 21) are back off the edge, with Dayon Hayes and John Morgan III also anticipating a good deal of shots.
The Cowboys need to be re-equipped at linebackers and in high school to break out of an outstanding defense (18.1 points allowed in game 21), but the streak is reason to believe this unit might not slip far on the stat sheet. New coordinator Derek Mason inherits three players – Brock Martin, Collin Oliver and Tyler Lacy – who put together at least 10 losing attempts last year. The end point is also recovering Trace Ford, who collected 7.5 sacks from 2019-20 before missing last season through injury. Brendon Evers (21 balls, 6 TFL) is back in one man from the indoor spots, with Xavier Ross and Sione Asi in the mix for another starting job. Oklahoma State finished second nationally in sacks (56) and teams limited to 87.6 flowing yards in last year’s game.
7. Our Lady
9. Texas A&M
18. Kansas State
20. North Carolina
21. San Diego State
24. West Virginia