We continue our Conference USA Preseason Position Reviews by looking at the defensive line position. The grading categories: “Great Shape,” “Good Shape,” and “We’ll See.”
To elaborate on the grades, “We’ll See” means exactly what it means. We have no idea if that position is going to turn out to be a plus due to a lack of proven contributors and questionable depth. At this time, there’s no way to know.
“Good Shape” means known commodities are at the position but there’s still room for this unit to improve. Depth is above average to good, with a player or two having the potential to make an All-C-USA Team.
“Great Shape” means All-C-USA performers are at this position or there is good-to-great depth across the board. You obviously want your team to be here.
1. Old Dominion: The Monarchs will return five senior linemen who combined for 45 TFLs and 23.5 sacks last year. That type of production led to the most disruptive DL in the conference as they ranked 13th in DL Havoc Rate (a stat that measures TFLs, forced fumbles and tipped passes). Oshane Ximines is the headliner as he’s made multiple all-conference teams in his career, but don’t sleep on Miles Fox and Tim Ward, as they are just as capable of making big plays.
2. FIU: The Panthers ranked 56th in DL Havoc and only lose one contributor in Newton Salisbury. All-conference performer Fermin Silva and Anthony Johnson are back as the duo combined for 22.5 TFLs and 14 sacks. Throw in four-star JUCOs Taylor Humphrey, Teair Tart-Spencer and this could easily be the best defensive line in the conference.
3. Louisiana Tech: Jaylon Ferguson enters 2018 as one of the best defensive linemen in the conference after making All C-USA First Team last year. Jordan Bradford made Honorable Mention after recording 4.5 TFLs with 2 sacks. There’e a ton of juniors and seniors in the two-deep, giving the Bulldogs a combination of talent and experience.
4. UTSA: Marcus Davenport is gone but UTSA returns a lot of contributors and potential stars. Junior end Eric Banks (7.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks), senior tackle Kevin Strong Jr. (7.5 TFLs, three sacks), and juniors King Newton and Jarrod Carter-Mclin combined for 6.5 TFLs. The fact this unit should still be among the best in the conference despite the departure of a first round pick is a credit to Frank Wilson’s recruiting and the staff’s ability to develop.
5. FAU: Nose tackle Jeremiah Taleni departs, but everyone else who saw significant action returns. Defensive ends Leighton McCarthy and Hunter Snyder combined for 17 TFLs and 10.5 sacks in 2017 and are by far the most productive players in this unit. Former prized recruit Kevin McCrary will compete for playing time at tackle as the junior has failed to produce on a consistent basis during his career. Former JUCO three-star recruits Ernest Bagner, Tim Bonner and Charles Cameron round out the depth.
6. UAB: The Blazers ranked 33rd in DL Havoc Rate behind the play of Garrett Marino and Anthony Rush as they combined for 17 tackles for loss. They didn’t sack the QB often (just one sack between the two) but for a 3-4 defense that job typically goes to the speed outside linebacker. Seniors Stacy Keely and Quindarius Thagard wrap up the two-deep.
7. Marshall: All C-USA Second-Team tackle Ryan Bee is the leader as he led the team with 5.5 sacks last season. Juniors Marquis Couch, Channing Hames and Ty Tyler combined for 9.5 sacks last year and will step into bigger roles with the departures of Blake Keller and Davon Durant due to graduation and Larry Aaron, who tragically passed due to a gunshot wound.
8. Southern Miss: LaDarius Harris and Jacques Turner return after combining for 13 TFLs and five sacks but USM will be without all-conference performer Xavier Thigpen, top two tackles, Rod Crayton and Draper Riley, and former defensive coordinator Tony Peccaro. JUCO three-stars are on the way though in Isaiah Johnson and Von’Darius Freeman.
9. Rice: All-conference performer Brian Womac is gone along with his 10 sacks and 22 TFLs. The Owls have a lot of returning juniors and seniors from a unit that ranked 30th in DL Havoc Rate though. Roe Wilkins, who was an Honorable Mention on the All-Conference team after recording 6.5 sacks in 2017, will be the lead pass rusher. Tackles Zach Abercrumbia and Preston Gordon combined for 8.5 TFLs and 3 sacks. This is by far Rice’s deepest position group.
10. Middle Tennessee: Defensive coordinator Scott Shafer turned this defense around much faster than anticipated as the Blue Raiders ranked 47th in Def. S&P+ last season. However, that wasn’t really due to fantastic DL play. Walter Brady was the most disruptive player and his surprising decision to transfer leaves a big void. Jordan Ferguson made the All-Freshman Team as a tackle but beside him will be a lot of undersized linemen with no precedent of huge success.
11. North Texas: UNT ranked 107th in DL Havoc Rate and loses four of its top seven havoc creators from the line. JUCO transfers Darrian McMillan and tackle Tuulau Saafi will be relied on heavily for depth purposes. Kansas State transfer Bryce English returns after missing 2017 with an injury. If English fails to make an impact, this unit could be in trouble.
12. WKU: The Tops lose stalwarts Derik Overstreet and Chris Johnson. Tackle Evan Sayner returns as the most experienced player. A lot of young players received playing time last season but we’ll see how productive they are in bigger roles.
13. Charlotte: The 49ers ranked 126th in DL Havoc Rate. Zach Duncan had 7 TFLs and Timmy Horne had 3 TFLs. They both return. JUCO three-star Dantrell Barkley was a former South Carolina commit and brings much-needed talent to this group.
14. UTEP: The Miners used a 3-4 defense and got very little disruption from the DL last season, as they ranked 127th in Havoc Rate. A lot of young players saw the field though and they only lose one lineman (Sky Logan), but with a new scheme its tough to project just how successful this position group can be.