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Defensive Position Group U?

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Which programs have done the best at pumping out talent at each position on defense since the class of 2014?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 01 ACC Championship Game - Pitt v Clemson Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last week I looked at the programs that have had the most success at each offensive position since the 2014 recruiting class. That means this week we get to finish out with the defensive side of the ball. If you want to check out the previous article on offenses you can do so right here.

DEFENSIVE LINE

This one is pretty clear cut. If you’re a defensive lineman and you want the chance to become an All-American and get drafted highly then you go to Clemson or Alabama.

Clemson had 4 players drafted in 2019: Austin Bryant, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, and Dexter Lawrence. 3 of those players were AP All-Americans and 3 of those players went in the 1st round. If you’re looking for reasons why Clemson emerged as the kings of college football, Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence helped but the strength of the defensive line is a big factor. Meanwhile, Alabama has had 7 players drafted since their class of 2014 although only 2 have gone in the 1st round.

Washington ranks only 4th in the Pac-12 and 16th overall but if the time horizon on this analysis were a little bit longer they would clearly fare better. Vita Vea graduated high school as part of the class of 2013 even though he didn’t enroll at UW until 2014. If you add in his contributions it vaults the Huskies ahead of Stanford into 3rd place overall. Although of course other schools also had defensive linemen in the class of 2013 so it’s possible UW wouldn’t end up quite that high but regardless they would look even better.

It also seems likely that Levi Onwuzurike will add on to the list as a high NFL draft pick following this season. With the ridiculous assortment of talent the Huskies have assembled recently with Tuli Letuligasenoa, Taki Taimani, Faatui Tuitele, Jacob Bandes, and others it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Washington continue to climb in these ranks over the next several years.

Final Verdict- Defensive Line U is...Clemson.

EDGE RUSHERS

Once again there’s really no contest in this category. It can be tough to delineate whether a defensive end should count as a D-lineman or an EDGE rusher and same with an outside linebacker between EDGE and linebacker. I’m sure you could certainly quibble for several of the individual players if you went super into depth.

Nonetheless Ohio State is #1 in this category and it isn’t remotely close. The Buckeyes have had Chase Young and Nick Bosa who were each top-3 draft picks in the past 2 drafts and some of the best players in the country. They finished with a combined 83 career score points. Each was highly rated coming out of high school but they were still only expected to combine for 30 career score points so their stock boosted higher than you would have initially expected. Even if you’re the #1 overall recruit in the country it’s more likely than not that you won’t end up within the first 3 picks in the NFL Draft.

This is the only position on defense where the Huskies aren’t among the better teams in the country. Hau’oli Kikaha was the last player to become a high draft pick as an edge rusher and was a little before the scope of this analysis. Joe Tryon has a chance to ascend and become that kind of player this upcoming season and is getting plenty of buzz but hasn’t put it together for an entire season quite yet. Tryon plus Ryan Bowman both earned 2nd team all-conference honors last year and those are the only career score markers that have been wracked up by a Husky pass rusher since the start of the 2014 class.

Final Verdict- EDGE U is...Ohio State.

LINEBACKER

Unlike the complete blowouts at the first two defensive positions there’s a bit of a competition going at the linebacker spot. 4 programs are within striking distance with an even divide between the SEC and the Big 10: Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, and Michigan.

Bama leads the pack with 6 linebackers that have gotten drafted although none have ended up with AP All-American status. By contrast LSU has only had 3 players drafted but two of them went in the 1st round and Devin White started out as a running back recruit and ended up a 1st team All-American and top-5 overall pick.

Ohio State has had a somewhat in between approach as they’ve also only had 3 players accumulate career score points in this time but all of them were selected on the 2nd day of the draft. Michigan’s status is relying heavily on the exploits of Devin Bush who was a 1st team All-American and became a top-ten draft pick a few years ago.

Washington falls in the 3rd tier at 3rd in the Pac-12 and #12 overall. Linebacker play has been inconsistent for the Huskies and fell off a cliff last year but Ben Burr-Kirven had one of the more productive seasons we’ve seen from an inside linebacker in recent memory. Tevis Bartlett made an honorable mention but otherwise BBK by himself was good enough for 12th place. If you go back a few more years then Azeem Victor and Keishawn Bierria get added in but neither was a high draft pick so it doesn’t help UW as much as you might think from just their college careers.

Final Verdict- Linebacker U is...Alabama.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

There’s yet another 4-way competition involved in the rankings at the top here this time with Washington replacing Michigan and then a sizable gap below them. If you split things up into Corners and Safeties respectively then the outlook changes slightly.

Cornerback Top 5

  1. Ohio State- 152.5
  2. Florida- 125.1
  3. Alabama- 104.8
  4. Washington- 95.7
  5. LSU- 91.7

If you just look at corners then Ohio State’s stranglehold on the top spot becomes unassailable. The Buckeyes have had 4 corners drafted in the 1st round the past 4 seasons and while a few may have been reaches there’s no question that Marshon Lattimore and Jeff Okudah were complete studs in college. It’s interesting to see that Florida comes in at #2 but they aren’t even in the discussion because they’ve been completely unable to develop safeties.

Alabama, Washington, and LSU are all pretty close in 3rd-5th place just focusing on the corners. If you were to rank all of their corners by career score between those schools Minkah Fitzpatrick at Bama is clearly #1 followed by LSU’s Greedy Williams at #2. Washington gets the next two at 3 and 4 (B. Murphy and S. Jones) and then the Huskies have 10, 11, and 12.

Safeties Top 5

  1. LSU- 92.7
  2. Washington- 81.7
  3. Alabama- 77.3
  4. Michigan- 61.2
  5. Texas- 59.0

Ohio State’s dominance is cut short as they fall down to 7th and are a clear tier below the other 3 schools with Malik Hooker as their primary success story. The Tigers have had both Jamal Adams and Grant Delpit emerge as top-50 NFL picks from their safety spot. Washington isn’t far behind them with the duo of Taylor Rapp and Budda Baker.

I really want to go against the numbers and pick LSU here. They’ve had almost identical scores between their safeties and corners. You can definitely say that they plus Washington and Alabama have been much more well-rounded in where their talent is coming from. If you’re picking Cornerback U then the Buckeyes win hands down. I would love to say that their relatively unequal safety play disqualifies them from winning DB U as well. But...the gap is just big enough that I can’t ignore it. LSU gets runner-up status with Alabama and Washington duking it out for 3rd place.

Final Verdict-DB U is...Ohio State.

Here are the final ranks for the Huskies at each position on both sides of the ball:

Quarterback- 13th

Running Back- 23rd

Wide Receiver- 16th

Tight End- 3rd

Offensive Line- 9th

Defensive Line- 16th

EDGE Rusher- 29th

Linebacker- 12th

Defensive Backs- 4th

Average it all together and you get 14th overall which might be slightly low for their status as a program during the Chris Petersen era but overall seems like a pretty accurate assessment when you factor the inability to win the major bowl game.