Last week I discussed the most explosive offensive players currently in the college football game. While offensive stars like these may dominate the media, highlight reels, and even Heisman voting, an elite talent on the defensive end is just as capable of dominating the game.
In the highly competitive college football arena, a single clutch interception, forced fumble, sack or even tackle for loss can change the course of a team’s entire season. And top defense players are making more than one key play a game. Here are the top five defensive difference-makers in the college game today.
In 2019, Rousseau’s 15.5 sacks in his redshirt freshman year were second only to Chase Young. At 6-foot-7, the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year often simply out-reached or out-muscled his opponents on the way to the quarterback. While he is primarily a pass rusher, Rousseau is talented enough to contribute against the run as well. His 20 tackles for loss led the ACC.
For his size, Rousseau is also insanely athletic. The former high school wideout (seriously) has a lightning-fast first step that often has him in the backfield before a play even has time to develop. That electric first step, combined with his immense size and power, makes Rousseau a threat to change the game with every snap he takes. With all the tools at his disposal, it’s no wonder this athletic marvel is already being mocked as high as third overall in the highly talented 2021 draft class.
As freakishly talented as Rousseau is, he isn’t even the best defensive end on the Hurricanes roster heading into 2020. While Quincy Roche spent his first three seasons playing outside the Power 5 at Temple, he is moving to Miami and the AAC for his senior campaign.
Unsurprisingly, Roche was dominant during his time with the Owls. Especially during his final season, the redshirt junior was unstoppable, racking up 13 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. Both of those figures were good for top in the conference and top 10 in the nation.
With this level of production, the AAC Defensive Player of the Year would likely have been selected in the first few rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft had he declared. Instead, look for Roche to join Rousseau in terrorizing ACC O-lines and helping Miami turn its fortunes around.
Like Roche, Wilson could easily have been a top pick in the 2020 NFL draft, often being mocked in the first round. Instead, Wilson will return for his fourth straight season as the anchor inside for Florida State’s defensive line. The Seminoles captain decided to return after his 2019 season was cut short due to a hand injury suffered in November.
Listed at 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds, Wilson’s massive stature makes him a disruptive force against the run. However, his true strength is against the pass. According to Pro Football Focus, he generated 26 pressures on just 291 pass rushes during his injury-shortened 2019. Assuming he returns to full health in 2020, Wilson’s senior season will likely be more of the same: taking on double teams and holding down the interior.
In 2019, Micah Parsons forced four fumbles, tied for fourth best in the country. He led the top-10 Nittany Lions defense in tackles with 109. He made plays in coverage, deflecting the third-most passes on the team, and in the backfield, with 14 tackles for loss. Yet these stats still don’t do justice to the All-American linebacker’s impact.
Parsons is an athletic marvel, with a speed and size combination that already has draft analysts drooling. While he came into Penn State raw, he has developed the football IQ and decision-making skills to make him a complete player.
Nothing better exemplifies Parson’s game-breaking impact when he puts it all together than Penn State’s 2019 Cotton Bowl clash with Memphis. Parson’s stat line for the game — two forced fumbles, two pass breakups, two sacks and 14 tackles — looks like something from a video game. The nation’s top linebacker will surely continue stuffing the stat sheet, not to mention opposing ball-carriers, in 2020.
In his true freshman season at LSU, Stingley quickly lived up to his third-overall ranking among 2019 recruits. In fact, Stingley was so good he may have even outperformed expectations in his first campaign.
Stingley broke up 15 passes in 2019, and added six interceptions, both top-five figures. Even more indicative of his generational talent, he led all Power 5 corners in maintaining tight coverage, which he did on over 75% of his targets.
In 2019, at 18 years old, Stingley was already the best corner in the nation. As he continues to develop, the best advice I have for SEC quarterbacks is simple: Just throw the other way.