By Aaron Hyden
PSDC College Football Contributor
The cornerstone of a great defense (some would say of an entire football team, in general) is a great defensive line. The pass rush that it creates makes life easier for the back end of the unit. Opposing running games would thrive in the open field without a great run defense at the line, clogging up holes. A good defensive lineman is often asked to do so many things these days, and the best ones do it with relative ease. The names on this list make great impacts on the games they play, whether it is being in a quarterback’s face every time they step back to throw the football, being ready to smash a running back before he can even get momentum built up, using his size advantage to affect a kicker’s attempts, or all of the above.
1. Joey Bosa, Defensive End, Ohio State – Many are calling Bosa the “next JJ Watt,” and for good reason. Bosa simply lives in opposing backfields, making life hell for anyone with a football in their hands. In his two seasons at OSU, he has a total of 99 tackles, 34.5 of them going for a loss, to go with 21 sacks and four forced fumbles… all while regularly being double-teamed or avoided altogether in the run game. Like Watt, Bosa plays with a great motor, always working hard and playing tough, no matter the score or situation.
At 6’6” and 275 pounds with a 4.7 40, Bosa is in the mold of the prototypical NFL defensive end. He has great strength, elite quickness, long arms, fast hands and he combines them with tremendous instincts to change games. As a pass rusher, he is multi-faceted, able to get to QBs whether he’s lined up on the inside or the outside. He sheds blocks as if they were set up by people half his size, doing so with a variety of different moves, meaning that opposing linemen have to be ready for any move at any time. Those moves also allow him to blow up holes and running room for RBs, closing up gaps as soon as they open. He is as close to unblockable as they come.
If you’re going to look for any type of flaw, it would be that Bosa is so good at getting beyond his blocker that sometimes he can over pursue around the edge, leaving a bit of a gap for quicker QBs and RBs to take advantage of. If he can use discipline and improve that in 2015, he’ll be the first defender taken in the draft, and possibly the first player taken overall.
2. A’Shawn Robinson, Defensive Tackle, Alabama – At 6’4” and 320 pounds, Robinson is a human mountain, nearly impossible to push around. In football, that means one thing… you’re not running the ball against him. His strength and long arms make life difficult for anyone trying to block him, as he routinely muscles them back, stepping into running lanes right away.
The question on him is whether or not he can build up enough pass rush for the pro game. As a freshman, he led Alabama with 5.5 sacks, showing off surprising quickness for a man of his size. Last season, though, he didn’t record a single sack, and that has some wondering if he’s more of a one-dimensional lineman, or if he can step things up in 2015 and show he can defend the pass, too. 2015 will be a very important year for him in that regard. He should be the first defensive tackle taken in the draft, but if he doesn’t put up at least decent numbers in the pass rush game, could he be overtaken at his position by someone like Ohio State’s Adolphus Washington or Nebraska’s Maliek Collins, both of whom have better pass rush arsenals to go with their ability to contribute against the run?
3. Shilique Calhoun, Defensive End, Michigan State – He isn’t the flashiest of players, but he constantly puts up numbers. In the last two seasons, he has a total of 15.5 sacks to go with his 26.5 tackles for loss, and also has forced three fumbles. Calhoun is one of those players that may not quite get the recognition he deserves because he is good at so many things without being great at any of them. He isn’t the best pass rusher or run stopper in his class, but he still succeeds in both areas.
Clocking in at only 250 pounds, he needs to add size and strength for the NFL. Right now, he uses his 4.7 speed and really good athletic ability to get around blockers, but everything is faster in the pros, and he’ll need to develop a power game to go with that speed. Again, he sometimes gets lost in discussions because he isn’t as flashy as some of the other prospects, but there is no denying his talent, and he should be a first round selection, barring some sort of major setback in 2015.
Other names to look out for are Baylor’s Shawn Oakman, Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche, Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah and the aforementioned Adolphus Washington and Maliek Collins. The Defensive Line is another area that will be represented very well in the Draft, as is the case every year, with teams trying to get pressure on the ball in one way or another.
I’ll be looking at linebackers next, which is a position that has at least seven or eight prospects that are looking like possible first round choices next year. Another loaded position, making it a theme for the 2016 Draft thus far.