With spring practice underway for many college football teams, the countdown to the 2013 season has officially started. With preseason predictions right around the corner, it’s never too early to start thinking about which players might be the next breakout stars.
With several of college football’s top defenders from 2012 moving on to the NFL, the door is open for a handful of newcomers to make an impact in 2013. Georgia’s Jordan Jenkins is due for an increase in playing time with the departure of Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree, while Florida State’s Mario Edwards is expected to step in for likely first-round pick Bjoern Werner.
Defining who fits the rising star or breakout player label isn’t easy. Although these 10 players might not be household names in March, it could be a different story by the end of the season.
10 College Football Defensive Players on the Rise for 2013
Arik Armstead, DT, Oregon
Seven starters are back on Oregon’s defense, but the four departing seniors will be tough to replace. Hybrid end/linebacker Dion Jordan and linebackers Michael Clay and Kiko Alonso each earned all-conference honors last season, while tackle Isaac Remington was named as a honorable mention. Armstead ranked as the No. 8 prospect in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and didn’t disappoint in his first year in Eugene. The California native played in all 13 games, recording 26 tackles and two tackles for a loss. With Jordan and Remington no longer on campus, look for Armstead to become one of the stalwarts on Oregon’s defensive line.
Alex Carter, CB, Stanford
In an offensive-minded league like the Pac-12, it’s not easy for a true freshman to start eight games at cornerback. However, that’s exactly what Carter did last season, playing in all 14 contests with those eight starts, recording 46 tackles and three tackles for a loss. At 6-foot and 204 pounds, the Virginia native has the size and athleticism to match the top receivers in the conference. And with another offseason to get acclimated to Stanford’s nasty 3-4 defense, Carter could emerge as one of the Pac-12’s top cornerbacks.
Mario Edwards, DE, Florida State
With the departure of ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, along with tackles Everett Dawkins and Anthony McCloud, there will be a lot of new faces on Florida State’s defensive line in 2013. The Seminoles have recruited well, so there is talent waiting in the wings. Edwards is the most likely candidate to emerge as a star in 2013, as he was the No. 2 overall recruit in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100 and played in 11 games and recorded 17 tackles and 1.5 sacks as a true freshman last year. With another offseason to work in the weight room and learn from new defensive coaches Jeremy Pruitt and Sal Sunseri, Edwards is poised to have a breakout season and challenge for All-ACC honors.
Tracy Howard, CB, Miami
Last season was one to forget for Miami’s defense. The Hurricanes ranked 116th nationally in yards allowed and 102nd against the pass in 2012. That’s the bad news. The good news? Miami has some promising young talent that could take a step forward in 2013. Howard is one of the names the Hurricanes’ coaching staff wants to see claim a starting job this spring, as he played in all 12 games last year and recorded 17 tackles and four pass breakups. Howard made only one start last fall, however, and he struggled to carve out a consistent role in the secondary. With 2012 behind him, Howard’s potential should turn into production for Miami’s defense in 2013.
Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia
The Bulldogs are a slight favorite over South Carolina to represent the East in Atlanta, but winning a third consecutive division championship will rest on a revamped defense. Only three starters return for Todd Grantham’s defense in 2013, and each level of the unit suffered some heavy losses. Defensive lineman John Jenkins and three starters in the secondary won’t be easy to replace, but the linebacking corps was hit hardest by departures, as both Alec Ogletree and Jarvis Jones chose to enter the NFL Draft. Losing Ogletree and Jones certainly stings, but Georgia has to be excited about Jenkins and the promise he showed last season. In 14 games as a true freshman, he recorded 31 tackles and five sacks, while forcing one fumble. If Jenkins can maintain Georgia’s pass rush off of the edge, the defense may not be in as bad of shape as some may have believed this offseason.
Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
No matter what season it is, LSU always seems to have an All-SEC-caliber defensive lineman ready to step up to replace a departing senior or early entrant into the NFL. This year is no different, as Johnson is expected to ease the blow from losing Bennie Logan and Josh Downs. As a sophomore in 2012, Johnson recorded 30 tackles and 10 tackles for a loss. He also registered three sacks and two quarterback hurries. With LSU losing six key linemen from last season, it’s up to Johnson to keep the Tigers’ defensive line among the best in the SEC.
James Ross III, LB, Michigan
With the emergence of Ross, along with the return of Jake Ryan, Joe Bolden and Desmond Morgan, Michigan should have one of the Big Ten’s top linebacking corps in 2013. Ross came on strong at the end of the year and finished with 36 stops. His best performance came against Iowa, recording 12 stops in the 42-17 win over the Hawkeyes. Michigan has a good problem to have with a surplus of linebackers for three starting spots. Considering how he played at the end of 2012, Ross will be difficult to keep off of the field in 2013.
Geno Smith, CB, Alabama
With Dee Milliner expected to be selected among the first 10 picks of the 2013 NFL Draft, Alabama will have a defensive back taken in the first round in three out of the last four years. So while losing a player of Milliner’s caliber hurts the Crimson Tide’s defense, Nick Saban always has someone waiting in the wings to emerge as the next superstar. Smith was considered one of the top-100 recruits in the 2012 signing class and played in 13 games last year, recording nine tackles and two pass breakups. Deion Belue is expected to man one of Alabama’s starting corner spots this year, but Smith could win the job on the other side. Even if Smith doesn’t beat John Fulton for the starting spot, he will play a ton of snaps in 'Bama's secondary.
Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
If there’s one area that will keep coach Urban Meyer and co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers awake at night – it’s the defense. The Buckeyes return only four starters on that side of the ball and must replace four key players from the defensive line. Thanks to Meyer’s relentless recruiting efforts, talent isn’t an issue with the new defensive linemen. Spence was one of the most sought-after defenders in last year’s class, ranking No. 4 in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. In 11 games as a true freshman, the Pennsylvania native recorded 12 tackles and one sack. As with any first-year starter, expect a few ups and downs. However, Spence and fellow sophomore Adolphus Washington also will wreck havoc on opposing offensive lines.
Chaz Sutton, DE, South Carolina
Despite the departure of end Devin Taylor and tackle Byron Jerideau, South Carolina’s defensive line remains one of the best in college football. Of course, having a player like Jadeveon Clowney makes everyone’s job a little easier, but the Gamecocks have solid depth at the other positions. Sutton is a player that should thrive with Taylor’s departure, as he will slide into a starting role. With Clowney commanding plenty of double teams, Sutton will have an opportunity to easily improve on last season’s totals – 23 tackles, five sacks and seven tackles for a loss. And with just one season left at South Carolina, Sutton needs a big year to jump into consideration as one of the top-10 defensive ends for the 2014 NFL Draft.
10 Others to Watch in 2013
Jonathan Bullard, DE, Florida
Bullard recorded 27 tackles in an impressive freshman season and should see a bigger role in Florida’s defensive line with Sharrif Floyd, Omar Hunter and Lerentee McCray departing.
Darius Hamilton, DT, Rutgers
Ranked as the No. 7 defensive lineman in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100, Hamilton should slide into the starting lineup to replace Scott Vallone.
Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE/LB, Northwestern
Odenigbo played in one game last season but was forced to redshirt due to a shoulder injury. The four-star recruit should help Northwestern replace departing defensive end Quentin Williams.
Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
Playing time wasn’t easy for Goldman to find last year, as Florida State had one of the deepest and most talented defensive lines in the nation. With a couple of players departing, Goldman (No. 4 defensive lineman in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100) is due for an increase in snaps.
Ondre Pipkins, DT, Michigan
Pipkins was expected to be one of Michigan’s top freshmen last year but never managed to crack the starting lineup. With the departure of Will Campbell, Pipkins will be counted on for more of a contribution in 2013.
Peter Jinkens, LB, Texas
In addition to developing consistency at quarterback, fixing the defense is the top spring priority for Mack Brown. Jinkens could be one of the answers in the linebacking corps after recording 29 tackles and one sack in 13 games last season.
Kwontie Moore, LB, Virginia
With Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds expiring their eligibility, Moore will be fighting for a starting spot this spring. He played in 12 games and registered four tackles as a true freshman last year.
Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama
Hubbard was Alabama’s top pass-rush threat last season (seven sacks) and is due for an even bigger total in 2013.
Kevin Peterson, CB, Oklahoma State
Peterson was impressive in limited action last season and is expected to replace Brodrick Brown in the starting lineup.
De’Vante Harris, CB, Texas A&M
Harris had a solid freshman season, recording 30 tackles and one interception in 12 games. He should be one of the leaders for Texas A&M’s secondary in 2013.
Related College Football Content
College Football's Top Transfers to Watch for 2013
College Football's Top 20 Head Coaches on the Hot Seat for 2013
Ranking All 125 College Football Jobs for 2013
College Football's Top 5 Quarterbacks on the Rise for 2013
College Football's Top 5 Running Backs on the Rise for 2013
College Football's Top 5 Wide Receivers on the Rise for 2013