Top Returning Defensive Ends For 2017

    These top returning defensive ends in college football will generate the most pressure in 2017, forcing quarterbacks to flee for their safety.

    February 28, 2017

    These top returning defensive ends in college football will generate the most pressure in 2017, forcing quarterbacks to flee for their safety.

    This year’s race for All-ACC defensive end will be hotly contested. Ditto the battle for reps at Ohio State, which will boast more topflight options off the edge than any other program in 2017. In this era of pass-heavy offensive attacks, it’s impossible to survive without an offsetting pass rush that regularly harasses quarterbacks in the pocket. These defensive ends in college football are poised to administer the most punishment to those passers this fall.

    Top Returning Defensive Ends

    10. K.J. Smith, Baylor

    In the haze of confusion and chaos that was the 2016 season in Waco, Smith emerged as a terrific and versatile playmaker for the Bear defense. Following a relatively quiet start to his career, he blossomed as a junior into a First Team All-Big 12 selection with a dozen tackles for loss and seven sacks. Additionally, Smith defended the run like an active linebacker, leading all league linemen with 67 tackles.

    9. Hercules Mata’afa, Washington State

    At 6-foot-2 and 255 pounds, Mata’afa is built like an inside linebacker. However, his off-the-snap quickness, motor and intensity have allowed him to excel up front, both as an end and a tackle. He’s just too quick for opposing blockers, schooling them before they have a chance to engage and leverage their size advantage. The Second Team All-Pac-12 selection has amassed 24.5 stops for loss and a dozen sacks in just first two seasons as a Cougar.

    8. Dorance Armstrong, Kansas

    Talk about a surprise performer at defensive end. Yeah, Armstrong flashed in his first season in Lawrence, but no one could have predicted he’d bag 10 sacks and a Big 12-best 20 tackles for loss as a sophomore. He’s just now filling out and beginning to hit his stride, welcome news for a Jayhawk team that needs all the defensive help it can get. Armstrong is the kind of explosive quick-twitch athlete who’ll become even tougher to contain once he sharpens his technique and adds new moves to his pass-rushing repertoire.

    7. Nick Bosa, Ohio State

    Bosa is trying to carve out his own niche at defensive end in Columbus. And yet, he looked an awful lot like his older brother, Joey, in his Buckeye debut. He was a rookie playing in a deep rotation, so the final output was a modest seven tackles behind the line and five sacks. However, Bosa left no doubts that he’s ready to quickly bloom into one of the country’s premier pass rushers in 2017. He’s powerful, moves well and plays with the fundamentals and instincts of a much older lineman.

    6. Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State

    Lewis is the seasoned veteran of the nation’s deepest and most talented defensive end rotation of 2017. He returns for his senior year after earning All-Big Ten First Team with a Buckeye-high 10.5 stops for minus yards and eight sacks. Lewis has the punch and the lower body strength to jolt blockers off their base, and the motor to hunt down quarterbacks from behind. He’s both productive and fiery, lighting the fuse beneath the Ohio State defense when it’s needed most.

    5. Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest

    Finally healthy for an entire season, Ejiofor was able to showcase his full array of potential as a pass rusher in 2016. He arrived from Houston four years ago as a skinny and untapped recruit. Today, he’s a 6-4, 270-pound riser who has the full attention of NFL scouts. Ejiofor, who uses his long arms and quick first step off the snap to get around the edge. He notched 50 tackles, 17 stops for loss and 10.5 sacks in a breakout junior campaign.

    4. Bradley Chubb, NC State

    Pack fans are a little surprised that Chubb is still in Raleigh. Thrilled, but surprised. Chubb put it all together as a junior, flashing the breadth of his skill set with 58 tackles, 22 stops for loss, 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Unlike many of his situational peers, he’s a genuine three-down lineman who’ll impact both the run defense and the pass rush. Chubb has always possessed the measurables, but now he also has the want-to in what ought to be a salary run finale.

    3. Christian Wilkins, Clemson

    Players like Wilkins are anomalies. At 6-4 and 310 pounds, he’s built like a tackle. And yet he moves with the quickness and agility to line up on the outside. That rare combination of attributes means it takes a special offensive tackle to prevent Wilkins from blowing up the backfield. He had 13 tackles behind the line a year ago and was constantly applying pressure. This fall, he makes his case to be a high draft pick before declaring early for the 2018 NFL Draft.

    2. Arden Key, LSU

    Key has off-the-charts potential as a pass rusher. But when will he suit up next? And where? On Feb. 15, LSU announced its budding star was stepping away from football for personal reasons, yet will still remain with the team. Fingers are crossed in Baton Rouge, because Key is a 6-foot-6, 238-pound condor, with the closing speed and wingspan to torment opposing quarterbacks. In just his second season removed from high school, he ranked No. 10 nationally with a dozen sacks. And as Key continues to fill out and hone his fundamentals, he’s liable to be as unblockable as Derek Barnett, Myles Garrett and Jonathan Allen were in 2016.

    1. Harold Landry, Boston College

    Landry might not be the highest pass rusher selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. But purely in terms of disruptive ability at this level, no one in the college game is better. The 6-3, 250-pound Landry gets after the quarterback with all of the force and single-mindedness of a guided missile. He led the country with 16.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles, while wreaking havoc even when he didn’t make the stop. Landry will have a chip on his shoulder in 2017, determined to prove to scouts he can thrive in any defensive alignment.

    MORE: Top Returning Defensive Tackles For 2017


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