Devy IDP: Defensive Line Prospects to Watch

Dwight Peebles

The landscape at defensive line is robust and there are some impact prospects coming up in the next few seasons. 2020 features several defensive edge rushers as good as we have seen in the past ten years and a few tackles who could make an impact for your IDP squads as well.

Below, I outline some players on the cusp of superstardom and some names to watch and target in your devy IDP leagues.

* Denotes 2020 Draft-Eligible

The Potential Superstars

* Chase Young, Junior DE Ohio State HIGHLIGHTS

Young is one of the top prospects coming out in the next few seasons and is in consideration to be the top overall draft pick if he chooses to come out after his junior season. Young has a tremendous motor, is nearly unblockable in one-on-one situations – his explosion and first step is elite. He can string moves together, is powerful when engaged, and an absolute nightmare to guard. Young reminds me a lot of Jadaveon Clowney in college as he is simply nasty and so much fun to watch.

* A.J. Epenesa, Junior DE Iowa HIGHLIGHTS

Epenesa is another player in consideration for the top pick next draft if he decides to forego his senior season. Playing in a limited role in 2018, Epenesa racked up 10.5 sacks as well as 16.5 tackles for loss – his role will be full time in 2019 due to departures and he has the chance to put up truly special numbers. His handwork and bend around the edge is ridiculous and his speed with relentless attack is elite. Epenesa is going to challenge Young for the top draft pick in the 2020 draft.

* Kenny Willekes, Senior DE Michigan State HIGHLIGHTS

Willekes went from a walk-on in East Lansing to 2018 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year and an All-American. He led the Big Ten with 20.5 tackles for loss and 78 total tackles, mostly due to his awareness and a motor which never stops. He has power and speed but not at the level of the first two guys on this list but he makes a lot of plays due to a never-quit playing style which has him in the middle of every play. Willekes is a blue-collar player and will be a force in the NFL.

* Derrick Brown, Senior DT Auburn HIGHLIGHTS

One of the most impressive interior defensive linemen in recent years, Brown creates pressure in the middle using immense power and handwork – his handwork keeps linemen off balance and unable to grab hold and block him easily. Brown is aware and makes stops in the run game, moving laterally out of blocks and has a continuous pursuit to tackle from the backside if plays get by him as well. Another player with a fierce drive, he is nearly impossible to block one on one from the interior and Brown is going to wreak havoc on Sundays.

* Yetur Gross-Matos, Junior DE Penn State HIGHLIGHTS

Development by Gross-Matos entering his junior year could lead him to challenge Young and Epenesa for the top defensive linemen drafted. He was first-team All-Big 10 in his sophomore season, tallying eight sacks and 20 tackles for loss. Gross-Matos has an impressive first step and changes direction on a dime at full speed but needs to develop more of an arsenal of moves to be an elite pass rusher. His first step and powerful hands make him effective and intriguing, and a name to watch in 2019.

* Raekwon Davis, Senior DT Alabama HIGHLIGHTS

Davis was poised to break out in 2018 after a 69-tackle and 8.5-sack sophomore season in 2017 but had a quiet junior season. He returned to Tuscaloosa for his senior season and is the main piece of the Alabama defensive front now. Davis is powerful. His hands are great, and the and strength used to rip and push in the interior creates havoc. He has a quick first step and good interior moves which make him an effective rusher.

* Nick Coe, Junior DE Auburn

Coe has the prototypical size and power to be a 4-3 defensive end and has been a terror in the SEC. He uses a phenomenal technique to gain leverage and then his speed and power take over. He works hard and doesn’t take plays off. The Tigers moved him around the line, playing him as interior at times and he was effective inside as well.

* Curtis Weaver, Redshirt Junior DE Boise State

Weaver is a prospect I have fallen in love with lately. He projects more as an outside linebacker but his explosiveness and bend are absolutely ridiculous. He is strong and has an array of moves to complement the bend, and has the size to play with his hand in the dirt at 6’3” and 265 pounds. He has 20.5 sacks over two seasons and will be a pass-rushing force on Sundays.

* Bradlee Anae, Senior DE Utah

2019 could be the season to put Anae on the map – the Utes have an emerging and nasty defense led by the senior end. He has improved every season and his powerful rush is one of the best in the class. He doesn’t have a lot of moves but if he continues improvement as he had thus far, Anae could hear his name called on day two at Las Vegas in 2020.

* Jonathan Garvin, Junior DE Miami

Garvin is a wrecking machine who will likely translate to the NFL as an outside linebacker. His speed and pass rush is phenomenal. He gathered in 60 tackles as a sophomore as well as 17 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. He scored his first touchdown and had a couple of fumble recoveries as well. He makes plays, has a knack for sniffing out screens, and plays with quiet confidence leading the Miami defense. Another step forward could get Garvin drafted on day two or earlier.

Players On The Cusp

* Alton Robinson, Senior DE Syracuse

A dark horse who could sneak into the first round with a dominant season, Robinson has some nasty and elite moves – his first step and acceleration are absolutely nuts. He also has good balance, strength, and footwork. He has a toolbag full of traits which could mold him into an elite prospect with another season of growth. Syracuse’s defense is one to watch overall and has them capable of making some noise again in 2019.

* Khalid Kareem, Senior DE Notre Dame

Kareem emerged in 2018, tallying 42 tackles and 4.5 sacks and looks to improve after opting to return to Notre Dame for his senior season. He put on muscle in the off-season and after being hampered by nagging ankle injuries last season, he is fully healed and motivated to improve. Kareem is a player whose impact is felt beyond stats – he creates pressure inside as well as out and can play any spot on the defensive line.

* Raequan Williams, Senior DT Michigan State

Williams is an absolute monster in the middle of one of the most talented defenses in the country. He is powerful and creates pressure in the middle while being a strong run-stopper as well. He will likely be much better in the NFL than stats will show and will be an IDP asset in leagues with DT-friendly scoring.

* Rashard Lawrence, Senior DT LSU

Another SEC lineman on this list, Lawrence is a space-eating interior wrecking ball. He has faced nearly constant double teams, even facing NFL-caliber offensive linemen. Has good push in the middle but not a varied arsenal of moves to get to the quarterback. He is an excellent run defender and makes the linemen around him better due to the mismatch he demands in the middle.

* Levi Onwuzurike, Redshirt Junior DE Washington

Onwuzurike showed glimpses last season he could be dominant and this year will receive a full workload and be expected to lead the Huskie defensive line. He has great hand usage and is incredibly frustrating to block – he never stops and is constantly getting lineman engaged with him off-balance. Onwuzurike could be poised for a big 2019.

* LaBryan Ray, Junior DE Alabama

Ray flashed at times in his sophomore season on the immensely-talented Alabama defensive line and has the chance to emerge in 2019 with more playing time. He has the size to play tackle and was a solid run-stopper. He also displayed the ability to create pressure with immense power and good handwork.

* Joshua Kaindoh, Junior DE Florida State

Kaindoh is a five-star recruit who battled injuries his sophomore year and has only started one game in Tallahassee thus far. He will have a full starting role in 2019 after he was only used rotationally in his first two seasons. He is full of unrealized potential and has shown glimpses of the talent which had him ranked as the tenth-ranked recruit in the 2017 class.

* Marvin Wilson, Junior DT Florida State

Wilson is a violent inside pass-rushing lineman with an array of moves to complement his ferocious style. He was moved all over the line and he uses his upper body strength and moves to create pressure when engaged. Another guy who will be drafted on day two and possibly earlier, Wilson looks to take a huge step forward from 2018 in which he tallied 41 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and added an impressive 22 pressures.

Xavier Thomas, Sophomore DE Clemson

Replacing all four starters on one of the most dominating lines in college football history may seem impossible but Thomas is one of the new superstar defensive lineman leading the way. He played sparingly in his freshman season and managed to get 33 tackles and 3.5 sacks playing with four now-NFL linemen. He was a five-star recruit ranked third nationally, he has a nasty bullrush and power in spades, and one of the early favorites for top defensive linemen drafted in 2021.

* K.J. Henry, Redshirt Sophomore DE Clemson

Another five-star recruit who will figure in the puzzle to replace the four NFL linemen which departed from Clemson, Henry surprisingly took a redshirt his freshman season to bulk up and learn the playbook. He studied and hit the weight room and looks primed to contribute in 2019. His high school tape was full of explosive plays from the end but what was most impressive was his intelligence to recognize plays and do much more than pass rush.

Aidan Hutchinson, Sophomore DE Michigan

Following Rashaan Gary and Chase Winovich is not a small task but Hutchinson is ready for the task. The tall, lanky defensive end follows in his father’s footsteps, Chris Hutchinson, attending school in Ann Arbor and he has the potential to be an All-American. He is strong and quick, and not afraid to engage with his hands and plays off of blocks well. His movement and play recognition are impressive and with development. He is going to be a stud.

Taron Vincent, Sophomore DT Ohio State

Possibly the best defensive tackle recruited to the Horseshoe in the past twenty years, Vincent is the son of five-time Pro Bowler Troy Vincent. He is a rare complete defensive tackle prospect – most have the size and strength when they reach the NCAA, Vincent possesses hand strength, hand usage, and a devastating spin move. Playing alongside Chase Young will ensure he isn’t double-teamed and Vincent is going to make some noise this season.

* Jay Tufele, Redshirt Sophomore DE USC

Tufele moves around on the line and could play end or in the middle of a 4-3. He has great size and a lot of traits that are becoming elite. His first step is lightning-quick, he holds his ground when engaged and wreaks havoc laterally. He is 300 pounds but moves like he’s 250 – his athleticism is simply ridiculous.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, Freshman DE Oregon

Thibodeaux is a freakish athlete and the second-ranked defensive end in the 2019 incoming class per 247 Sports. He gets after quarterbacks with impressive quickness and strength and routinely embarrassed top offensive lineman in The Opening Finals and Under Armour games. With some mass and refinement, he will be a nasty defensive lineman in the pros.

Nolan Smith, Freshman DE Georgia

The top-ranked overall player in the freshman class per 247 Sports, Smith is a physical freak and enrolled early so he will hit the ground running this fall. He needs to add some mass at 6’3” and 230 pounds. His high school tape was utterly ridiculous – not a single person could block him it seems, and most double teams weren’t effective either.

Zacch Pickens, Freshman DE South Carolina

Pickens is another incoming freshman with crazy tape and entered South Carolina as the top-ranked defensive tackle but might be more effective as an end, where he is also listed for the Gamecocks at this point. He is big at 6’3” and 295 pounds, has great movement and power, and will fit well in the SEC – a division loaded with stud defensive linemen.

Travon Walker, Freshman DT Georgia

A five-star defensive tackle with moves of a purebred pass-rushing end, Walker joins a Georgia defensive line which desperately needed a stud. He is relentless with phenomenal closing speed when pursuing plays in the backfield. However, he is a bit raw – he is a freshman. He was a solid basketball prospect and has great feet and agility as well.

Other Names to Watch

  • * Larrell Murchison, Senior DE N.C. State
  • Big Kat Bryant, Junior DE Auburn
  • Ronnie Perkins, Sophomore DE Oklahoma
  • Antonio Alfano, Freshman DE Alabama
  • DeMarvin Leal, Freshman DE Texas A&M
  • Chris Hinton, Freshman DE Michigan
  • * Leki Fotu, Senior DT Utah
  • Aubrey Solomon, Junior DT Tennessee
  • Ishmael Sopsher, Freshman DT Alabama
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