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FAU 2017 Outlook: Defensive Line - New Faces must Emerge

After being one of the worst units in 2016, the defensive line has a lot to prove.

UTEP v Florida Atlantic Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

New FAU head coach Lane Kiffin signed the best recruiting class in Conference USA, bringing in a conference-high 17 three-star prospects. We will take a look at the new roster and do a position-by-position breakdown of what the roster looks like going into Spring camp.

Previously: Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End, Offensive Line

Returning contributors: Haiden Nagel (SR), Defensive end who played in 12 games and registered 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Steven Leggett (JR), Defensive tackle who played in 12 games and registered four tackles for loss. Hunter Snyder (JR), Defensive end who played in 11 games and registered one tackle for loss.

Incoming recruits: Ernest Bagner (3 Star JUCO), Tim Bonner (3 Star JUCO), Chase Hooper (3 Star)

What we know: FAU had one of the least disruptive defensive lines in the country and that was with one of the best defensive ends in the nation in Trey Hendrickson.

The fact the DL Havoc Rate finished 70th is a testament to how good Hendrickson was. Unfortunately, he couldn’t play everywhere as the Stuff Rate ranked 114th, Adjusted Line Yards ranked 108th and Opportunity Rate ranked 114th. No matter what you scheme you ran against FAU in 2016, you were able to control the line of scrimmage.

With Hendrickson off to the NFL this unit could struggle big time. Lane Kiffin saw the lack of production returning from last year’s unit and brought in immediate help as Ernest Bagner and Chase Hooper join the team from the junior college ranks.

Both of them held P5 offers and both of them are likely to see the field immediately as defensive ends. Haiden Nagel is the best returning lineman but given how ineffective he was while Hendrickson was being double-teamed I can’t see him being the starter. He may however, garner some looks as a defensive tackle.

If Bagner and Bonner are able to provide a pass rush this defense will improve quickly given the experience in the secondary. However, the rushing defense is still a major concern.

Sophomore defensive tackle Kevin McCray (a former three star recruit) is the player with the biggest upside on the defensive line at 6'2, 285 pounds. He struggled as a freshman but with a year of experience under his belt he could blossom as an enforcer.

Chris Kiffin comes over after being the former defensive line coach at Ole Miss. Given that this will be his first time ever operating as a defensive coordinator and line coach there could be growing pains for the Owls in 2017.

Final thought: It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if we saw tight end Justin Bowers switch to defensive tackle given his size or even a few more players. FAU still needs more bodies here.

Position grade: D+. If Hooper and Bagner become immediate contributors this could turn into a good unit real fast but that’s a huge if. As of now we have a bunch of Owls in this unit trying to find their way after an abysmal 2016 performance.