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College Football's Top 25 Defensive Lines for 2022

Bryan Bresee, Clemson Tigers Football

With so many high-powered passing games and standout quarterbacks in college football this year, a standout defensive line disrupting the timing and rhythm of the offense is crucial to slowing down those attacks. The 2022 season has several standout lines slated to battle this season, as Clemson is the clear No. 1 unit in the Athlon Sports' defensive line rankings, followed by Alabama and Georgia. Pitt and Oklahoma State round out the top five, but the talent on the defensive front continues into the top 15 with programs like Texas A&M, LSU, Iowa and Auburn making an appearance.

How did we come up with these rankings? A couple of factors were considered. Depth, overall talent, production, level of competition and projected output in 2022 all factored into the rankings for the defensive line. While some teams may have experienced a down year last season, a new assistant, top recruit or a change of scheme can make a huge difference. These rankings reflect projections for '22, not solely what teams accomplished in '21.

2022 Unit Rankings: RB I WR I OL I DL I LB I DB

College Football's Top 25 Defensive Lines for 2022

1. Clemson
New defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin inherits a line overflowing with talent and one that could end up being the best of coach Dabo Swinney’s tenure. The Tigers limited teams to just 2.9 yards per carry and recorded 42 sacks last year, and the overall play of this unit was a big reason why the defense allowed only 14.8 points a game in ’21. A pair of All-America candidates man the interior, with Tyler Davis (2.5 TFL) and Bryan Bresee (3.0) each poised for a bounce-back year after both battled injuries in ’21. End Xavier Thomas could miss the start of ’22 due to injury, but the pass rush won’t suffer with Myles Murphy (14 TFL), K.J. Henry and Justin Mascoll coming off the edge.

Related: Ranking All 131 Quarterbacks for 2022

2. Alabama
The Crimson Tide may not have an All-America performer along its front, but this unit works well in tandem with the linebackers to dominate the line of scrimmage. End Byron Young recorded 9.5 tackles for a loss last season and should be the headliner for coordinator Pete Golding. He’s expected to be joined by DJ Dale and Justin Eboigbe in the starting lineup. Freshman Jaheim Oats could work his way into the rotation after making noise this preseason, while Jah-Marien Latham, Jamil Burroughs and Tim Smith are three other names expected to see plenty of snaps in ’22. This unit helped Alabama limit teams to just 86 rushing yards a game last year.

3. Georgia
Make no mistake: The losses are significant for coach Kirby Smart’s defense. Jordan Davis, Travon Walker and Devonte Wyatt were instrumental in Georgia’s dominant defensive effort and national championship last fall. However, thanks to elite recruiting, the Bulldogs won’t suffer much of a drop in production here. Junior Jalen Carter (8.5 TFL) is the next star in the trenches for Smart. Zion Logue could fill the void left by Davis at nose tackle, and Tramel Walthour could man the other end spot. With five-star talent like Bear Alexander and Mykel Williams arriving from the ’22 signing class, along with other options like Warren Brinson, Nazir Stackhouse, Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins and Bill Norton in the mix for time, Smart and line coach Tray Scott won’t have any issue mixing and matching to find the right group of starters and combination for depth.

Related: Ranking All 131 College Football Teams for 2022

4. Pitt
The Panthers are certainly going to miss Kenny Pickett directing an explosive offense, but coach Pat Narduzzi can keep this program in the mix to win the ACC Coastal again thanks to a standout defense. Calijah Kancey – a first-team Athlon Sports All-American for 2022 – headlines a unit that limited teams to 89.3 rushing yards a game and ranked third nationally in sacks (54) last fall. Kancey paced the team with 13 tackles for a loss last year. David Green, Tyler Bentley and Devin Danielson return as key pieces around Kancey on the interior. Habakkuk Baldonado and Deslin Alexandre (combined 17 tackles for a loss in ’21) are back off the edge, with Dayon Hayes and John Morgan III also expected to see a significant amount of snaps.

5. Oklahoma State
The Cowboys need to retool at linebacker and in the secondary coming off of a standout defensive (18.1 points a game allowed in ’21) showing, but the line is a reason to think this unit might not slip far on the stat sheet. New coordinator Derek Mason inherits three players – Brock Martin, Collin Oliver and Tyler Lacy – that accumulated at least 10 tackles for a loss last year. The end spot also regains the services of Trace Ford, who accumulated 7.5 sacks from 2019-20 before missing last season due to injury. Brendon Evers (21 tackles and 6 TFL) is back to man one of the interior spots, with Xavier Ross and Sione Asi in the mix for the other starting job. Oklahoma State finished second nationally in sacks (56) and limited teams to 87.6 rushing yards a game last year.

6. Baylor
7. Notre Dame
8. Ohio State
9. Texas A&M
10. LSU
11. Iowa
12. Auburn
13. Michigan
14. Wisconsin
15. Utah
16. Penn State
17. Oklahoma
18. Kansas State
19. Oregon
20. NC State
21. San Diego State
22. Houston
23. Cincinnati
24. West Virginia
25. Miami

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