With the college football season fast approaching, here is a look at the top ten returning defensive players in the country. In football, it’s all about defense, defense wins championships, and these are the players that will give their team the best chance at doing so along with being the top defensive players returning to college football.
DeAndre Baker (CB), Georgia Bulldogs
A junior for the Bulldogs, Baker had his breakout year in 2017. Being a lockdown defender for Georgia, he did not allow a single touchdown and held quarterbacks to a 32.7% passing rating, the third best in the nation. Playing in all 15 games and starting 14 Baker recorded three interceptions and one coming in the national championship game against Alabama. He has secured himself as an elite player in the SEC and one of the best throughout the country.
Cameron Smith (LB), USC Trojans
Smith led the team in tackles the past two seasons and could have for a third had injuries not taken a toll. He isn’t the most athletic or exciting player in the nation, but numbers don’t lie. He makes plays. Being a team captain his vision, presence and knowledge of the game will lead the Trojans to success. That itself makes him one of the best defensive players returning for another season.
10. T.J. Edwards (LB), Wisconsin Badgers
Having been a contributor on defense for Wisconsin for three seasons he has totaled 254 tackles, 26 tackles for loss and seven interceptions. His four interceptions in 2017 tied Mack Wilson for the second most among linebackers. He enters the 2018 season as one of the top linebackers in the country. He is a player that will be seen all over the field.
9. Raekwon Davis (DT), Alabama Crimson Tide
Davis finished second on the team with ten tackles for loss and a team-high 8.5 sacks. The 6’7, 308lbs linemen, showed his athleticism throughout the season but most notable in the national championship which allowed Alabama to regain the momentum that they were searching for all game. His aggressive attitude and his strength give opposing running backs a difficult time reaching the secondary.
8. Mack Wilson (LB), Alabama Crimson Tide
Wilson is in line to be the next Alabama great under head coach Nick Saban. A season ago interrupted with a foot injury, Wilson did not disappoint. He had a team-high four interceptions, including one in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson in the college football playoff. With a defense that will have to fill holes losing multiple players to the NFL, he is the key to success and most likely play-caller. Wilson’s hard-hitting personality will terrorize opponents.
7. Sutton Smith (DE), Northern Illinois Huskies
Two years ago, nobody knew who this kid was, last year he sent a message throughout the country. When playing his best, he is on a level all by himself. Smith tied for first among all players with 14 sacks and ranked first with 29.5 tackles for loss. His speed off the edge allows for little to no time for quarterbacks to make a play and that is what sets him apart. He is in the perfect position to dominate opponents again.
6. Rashan Gary (DE), Michigan Wolverines
The 6’5 280Ibs defensive end had 12 tackles for loss and six sacks in 2017. He’s fast, he’s athletic, and he is strong. With his athleticism, he can create havoc in the backfield to the run game. He will be critical for Michigan with hopes of making a playoff appearance.
5. Dexter Lawrence (DT), Clemson Tigers
The 6’4, 340lbs defensive linemen, is one of the best interior linemen in the country. His numbers may not be as good as a season before, but his play opens holes for teammates to get to the quarterback so quickly. As he terrorizes offensive lines, it’s great that almost the whole defensive line is returning for another season.
4. Clelin Ferrell (DE), Clemson Tigers
Ferrell, the 6’5 monster that dominates opposing offenses his pass rushing skills helped the Tigers reach the college football playoff. He recorded 18 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks—both are team highs. He has a first-round draft pick all over his name.
3. Christian Wilkins (DT), Clemson Tigers
Wilkins is the leader of the front seven for the Clemson Tigers, and he takes multiple roles on defense. His ability to reach the backfield and quarterback makes him one of the toughest players in the country. Moreover, he doesn’t do it alone; there is a reason three Clemson players are in the top five. The triple-threat of Lawrence, Ferrell, and Wilkins will have opponents on their heels preparing for them.
2. Nick Bosa (DE), Ohio State Buckeyes
The question everyone wants to know is, is Nick Bosa better or as good as his brother Joey? While Joey had a pro bowl season in the NFL, Nick had a season that ended with the 2017 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. He had 16 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. His size, speed, and physicality make him one the scariest players in the nation.
1. Ed Oliver (DT), Houston Cougars
Let’s set the record straight, he already declared for the 2019 NFL Draft. Oliver winning the 2017 Outland Trophy enters his junior year with 39.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, and boasting 39 run stops from the 2017 season—more than anyone else in college football. He will dominate opponents in front of him, and if he has a repeat season like last year, it will be hard for him not to be an overall No. 1 pick in the draft.