College Football: The top-10 defensive lines in the country

2JW6B0A Columbus, Ohio, USA. 3rd Sep, 2022. Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Jack Sawyer (33) celebrates a sack during the game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio. (Credit Image: © Scott Stuart/ZUMA Press Wire)

Ohio State is the best in the country: The Buckeyes have the best defensive line in America thanks to three players who turned down the 2024 NFL Draft.

Michigan is a close second: The Wolverines sport the best defensive tackle duo in the country in Mason Graham and Kenneth Grant.

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Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

A great defensive line can wreck an entire offensive game plan. Just look at Michigan’s recent run to a national championship for example. The Wolverines sacked Alabama Jalen Milroe eight times in the Rose Bowl before placing Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. under pressure on 35.9% of his dropbacks in the national title game.

Here’s a look at the 10 best defensive lines in college football as we head into the 2024 season.

Check out our other position group rankings:

Quarterback Rooms | Running Back Units | Receiving Corps | Offensive Lines

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State saw three defensive linemen return to Columbus for their senior campaigns despite the fact that all three would’ve likely been selected on Day 2 of the 2024 NFL Draft. That includes edge defenders Jack Sawyer and JT Tuimoloau, who were the only pair of edges to make my top-10 list

Tyleik Williams was one of my top-five returning interior defensive linemen after tying for fourth in the Power Five with 26 run-defense stops last year. Ty Hamilton will likely start alongside him and posted a 76.4 grade on 350 snaps in 2023. 

2. Michigan Wolverines

The defending champs still have the best tandem of defensive tackles in the country even after Kris Jenkins was selected in the top 50 of the 2024 NFL Draft. It starts with Mason Graham, the best interior defensive lineman in the nation. He was one of only two defensive tackles in the country to finish with top-10 grades as both a pass rusher and run defender. Next to him is Kenneth Grant, who placed sixth in my top-10 returning interior defensive linemen list. His 78.4 pass-rushing grade in 2023 was a top-15 mark among Power Five defensive tackles. 

Michigan also brings back two very good edge defenders in Josaiah Stewart and Derrick Moore, both of whom posted PFF grades above a 78.0 last season. Stewart in particular is my No. 9 returning edge defender in college football. 

3. Miami (FL) Hurricanes

Miami has the deepest group of edge defenders in the nation. Rueben Bain Jr. is the best of the bunch and is my No. 6 edge in the country after a spectacular freshman season. In fact, his 89.3 pass-rushing grade last year was the second-best PFF has seen by a Power Five true freshman. The only one above him is the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Myles Garrett

Starting opposite of him will be former Tennessee edge defender Tyler Baron. He was sixth among SEC edges last year with 41 pressures. The Hurricanes also added Marshall edge Elijah Alston from the portal as well. His 91.3 grade last year was third among all edge defenders in the nation. Akheem Mesidor missed all but two games this past season due to a foot injury but was fifth among Power Five edges the year before with an 87.2 grade. 

Miami also added Simeon Barrow from Michigan State in the transfer portal and welcomed three five-star true freshmen along its defensive line as well, setting this unit up beautifully for the present and the future.

4. Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia brings back four defensive linemen who played at least 325 snaps last year and all four earned 70-plus PFF grades. The biggest name from that bunch is undoubtedly junior edge defender Mykel Williams, who’s gone as high as No. 1 overall in some way-too-early mock drafts. While there’s work to be done to get to that point, there’s no denying the sheer power he possesses at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds.

Unsurprisingly, the Bulldogs also have some highly-touted freshmen and sophomores waiting in the wings. Damon Wilson, Jordan Hall and Joseph Jonah-Ajonye were all five-star recruits in their respective classes and are all projected backups.

5. Ole Miss Rebels 

Ole Miss finds itself in the top five of this list thanks to two massive additions via the transfer portal. Princely Umanmielen is one of my top-10 edge defenders in the country after an excellent last couple of seasons for Florida. This past season, he was fourth among Power Five edge defenders with a 22.2% pass-rush win rate. Since 2022, Umanmielen’s 42 run-defense stops are tied for second among that same group.

The Rebels also found some help along the interior in Texas A&M’s Walter Nolen. The former No. 1 overall recruit in the 2022 class posted seven sacks in 2023, which was tied for third among SEC interior defensive linemen. He was also third in that same group with eight tackles for loss/no gain. 

Both Umanmielen and Nolen could be first-round picks next April. 

6. Notre Dame Fighting Irish 

Michigan might have the best defensive tackle duo in the country, but Notre Dame isn’t too far behind. Howard Cross III is my third-best returning defensive tackle in the country and leads all returning FBS ones with a 90.1 grade last season. Rylie Mills placed 10th on that list after tying for fourth among FBS interior defensive linemen in 2023 with a 13.5% pressure rate.

The Fighting Irish added Duke edge defender R.J. Oben from the transfer portal as well. He was 10th among ACC edge defenders with a 13.6% pass-rush win rate last year. 

7. Penn State Nittany Lions

Two Penn State edge defenders, Chop Robinson and Adisa Isaac, were selected within the first two days of the 2024 NFL Draft. The Nittany Lions have a very good chance of repeating that feat in 2025. Abdul Carter is moving from off-ball linebacker to edge defender this year. He has ridiculous athletic gifts and posted a 24.1% pass-rush win rate in 2023 that led all FBS linebackers with at least 100 pass-rushing snaps. That mark would’ve placed him third among edge defenders as well.

Dani Dennis-Sutton was fourth among Big Ten edge defenders last year with a 17.7% pass-rush win rate and has similarly freakish tools as a former five-star recruit. Penn State also returns its top-four interior defensive linemen from last season and all four earned a 70-plus PFF grade.

8. Texas Longhorns

Even without Byron Murphy II and T’Vondre Sweat, Texas is still set up to have a very good defensive line. Alfred Collins is poised to be the Longhorns’ next star defensive tackle after posting an 11.1% pressure rate last year, second among Big 12 interior defensive linemen.

Texas also returns both of its starting edge defenders from a year ago in Barryn Sorrell and Ethan Burke, who each earned 70-plus grades. The Longhorns also added Trey Moore in the transfer portal from UTSA who was fourth among Group of Five edges last year with 13 sacks. True freshman edge defender Colin Simmons is also being welcomed into the fold and was a top-15 overall recruit in the 2024 class. 

9. Clemson Tigers

Clemson finds its way into the top 10 of this list thanks to two outstanding true sophomores. Peter Woods was third among FBS defensive tackles in pass-rush win rate (17.1%) and seventh in run-defense grade (88.6). His 87.6 PFF grade was the third-best we’ve seen by a true freshman interior defensive lineman since we began charting college football in 2014. The only two above him were Dexter Lawrence and Ed Oliver in 2016, who each currently make over $15 million a year from their respective teams.

T.J. Parker was one of the Tigers’ starting edge defenders as a true freshman and excelled as a run-defender. His 83.0 run-defense grade was eighth among Power Five edge defenders last season. 

10. Oregon Ducks

If there’s one word to describe Oregon’s defensive line, it would be large. All four of the Ducks’ projected starters at edge and interior defensive line weigh at least 270 pounds and the average weight is over 300 pounds.

Unsurprisingly, those four all excel as run-defenders. They all earned 70-plus run-defense grades in 2023 while three were above the 75.0 level. Senior edge defender Jordan Burch is the only returning starter of the bunch and will look to mentor sophomore Matayo Uiagalelei, a former top-40 recruit who played over 300 snaps as a true freshman. The interior defensive line will consist of a couple of transfers: Derrick Harmon (Michigan State) and Jamaree Caldwell (Houston). Harmon was fourth among Big Ten defensive tackles with an 81.1 run-defense grade in 2023 while Caldwell was fourth in the Big 12 with an 82.0 mark.

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