Philadelphia, PA – Getting after the quarterback and causing havoc in the backfield are traits teams look for in their defensive linemen. Those that can do it on a regular basis, usually hear their names called rather early in the NFL Draft.
With that said, here are the top playmakers along the defensive line heading into the 2012 FBS season.
JACKSON JEFFCOAT - This Texas Longhorn certainly has the pedigree. being the son of former Dallas Cowboy standout Jim Jeffcoat. The 6-5, 250-pounder had a strong sophomore season, earning All-Big 12 Conference Second-Team honors by racking up 71 total tackles, with 21 TFL and eight sacks. He has a tremendous burst off the ball and is a natural pass rusher. Nicknamed "Action Jackson," he won't stick around in Austin too much longer if he lives up to that moniker.
BJOERN WERNER - Coming into last season, a ton was expected from Florida State rush end Brandon Jenkins, and although Jenkins had a good season when all was said and done, this 6-4, 275-pound monster stole some of the spotlight. A native of Berlin, Germany, Werner lacks a lifetime of football experience, but that hasn't prevented him from showing the skill set that NFL teams covet. A big, powerful end, Werner can play all three downs. Last season, he posted 37 tackles. with 11 TFL and seven sacks. If he continues to play with ferocity, he may just elevate himself into an NFL Draft first-rounder.
ALEX OKAFOR (Texas) - Teams with Jackson Jeffcoat to give Texas one of the nation's most dangerous pass rushing tandems. The 6-4, 260-pounder had a strong 2011 campaign, earning All-America honors, while also being named an All-Big 12 First-Teamer. He finished his junior campaign with 58 tackles, 14 TFL, seven sacks and 17 QB hurries. He may not have the burst off the ball like his partner on the other side of the line, but Okafor is a strong, disciplined rush end who keeps getting better.
SAM MONTGOMERY - LSU is once again going to be stacked on the defensive side of the football and the 6-4, 245-pound Montgomery is a big part of it. Last season, he earned All-America honors, was a First-Team All-SEC selection and was a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award. He finished the season with 49 total tackles, 13.5 TFL and nine sacks. A disruptive force off the edge, Montgomery will be the focus of opposing gameplans, but should still put up big numbers. If that happens, his junior campaign may be his last on the Bayou.
WILLIAM GHOLSTON - One of the top defensive sophomores in the nation a year ago, this Michigan State Spartan is just scratching the surface of his potential. At 6-7, 275 pounds, Gholston is a physical specimen. He finished 2011 with 70 total tackles (most among MSU's defensive linemen), with 16.0 TFL and five sacks. The Big Ten always produces top-notch talent along the defensive front, and Gholston has a chance to be as good as anyone this season.
HONORABLE MENTION: Barkevious Mingo (LSU), Brandon Jenkins (Florida State), Corey Lemonier (Auburn), Ronald Powell (Florida), Devon Taylor (South Carolina)
STAR LUTULEILEI - The top interior lineman in the country resides in the Pac-12. Utah has a monster in the middle in the form of this 6-4, 320-pound senior. Compared favorably to Baltimore Ravens' star Haloti Ngata, Lutuleilei, is a big, strong, gifted athlete, who can face double and triple teams and still make the play. As a junior, Lutuleilei earned First-Team All-Pac-12 honors and won the Morris Trophy, awarded to the conference's top defensive lineman. He was able to start all 13 games for the Utes, posting 44 tackles, 9.0 TFL and 1.5 sacks. He heads into 2012 as a top-10 draft selection and could go in the top-five with a dominant season.
KAWANN SHORT - A seasoned veteran with a great resume', Short is the heart-and- soul of the Purdue defense. The 6-3, 310-pound senior is a two-time All-Big Ten Conference selection, including earning First-Team honors in 2011, finishing with a career-high 54 tackles, with 17.0 TFL and 6.5 sacks. Short received a third-round grade heading into last year's NFL Draft. The decision to return to West Lafayette could pay off big time for him, and the Boilermakers.
JOHNATHAN HANKINS - Short may be the crafty veteran at the position in the Big Ten, but Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins has as much potential as any defensive tackle in the country. The Buckeyes have a star in the making in the middle, as the 6-3, 320-pounder has put in the work in the off-season and is in tremendous shape heading into the summer. As a sophomore, Hankins finished the season with 67 tackles (fourth on the team), with 11.0 TFL and 3.0 sacks. Hankins has a desire to win a national title in Columbus, but the Buckeyes aren't eligible in 2012. If potential becomes reality, he may not get a chance and jump ship after his junior year, as a first-round grade is likely.
BENNIE LOGAN - Yet another fastball that the LSU defense will be throwing at opposing offenses on a weekly basis, the 6-3, 290-pound Logan has an incredibly high ceiling. He played in all 13 games and started 12 for the Tigers as a sophomore, posting 51 tackles, 5.0 TFL and 2.0 sacks. With a pair of star rush ends in Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo, Logan has the chance to see single teams and may flourish as a result.
SHARIFF FLOYD - This selection is based more on potential than anything else. The 6-3, 295-pound Floyd has been touted as a big-time athlete, with great quickness for a guy his size. He has the versatility to dominate inside or move outside to provide pressure off the edge. He was able to start the final 11 games of the 2011 season for Florida and finished with 46 tackles, 6.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks. It was a decent sophomore season after being named to the All-SEC Freshman Team in 2010. Florida's defensive front has a chance to be a special unit in 2012, and Floyd will be a big part of it.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jesse Williams (Alabama), Akeem Spence (Illinois), Sheldon Richardson (Missouri), Sylvester Williams (North Carolina), Johnathan Jenkins (Georgia)