The 2019 season will see star defensive tackles across the country, with Houston’s Ed Oliver and Alabama’s Raekwon Davis among the preseason headliners. In the ACC several defensive lines project to be fearsome. Clemson returns multiple potential first round picks, Miami led the nation in sacks in 2017, and Virginia Tech is always dangerous defensively.
Chris Slayton: The Orange’s best defender didn’t start football until high school and has improved steadily every year at Syracuse. You may remember him knocking Kelly Bryant out of the game in Clemson’s regular season loss last year. The 6’4” Slayton relies on a combination of strength (he squats 700 pounds) and technique to collapse the pocket and demand double teams. Though not much of a pass rusher (his sack of Bryant was his only one for the year) Slayton has been able to dominate at the point of attack for Syracuse. A strong senior campaign could easily place him in the NFL.
Demarcus Christmas: One of the best run stuffers at the college level, he has so far appeared in forty consecutive games for the Seminoles. Christmas chose to postpone the NFL draft for his senior year, providing a massive boost for the FSU front seven. Though not the best pass rusher (1 sack in 2017, 2 in 2016) Christmas is able to control the A gaps as FSU’s nose tackle. Christmas’s strength and quickness allow him to clog the middle and occupy blockers in fronts of FSU’s speedy linebackers.
Ricky Walker: The Hokies preseason All-American had 4.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in a breakout first full year as a starter. With Virginia Tech’s offseason/draft losses he will be the leader of the defense in 2018, and might be the best player on the roster. He is a defensive lineman with a single digit number, which is obviously a positive. Walker will likely be anchoring the front as a penetrating nose tackle and will be asked to generate pressure often to cover for a secondary that returns only one starter.
Dexter Lawrence: Lawrence, a five star recruit, took the world by storm in 2016 while notching six sacks as a freshman. Nagging foot/ankle injuries kept him from reaching the same levels of production in 2017. Despite the drop in production Lawrence was an All-ACC defensive tackle, and could easily be an All American. Though he is still progressing pass rushing, at 6’4”, 340 lbs. Lawrence is a massive presence in the middle. He has enough quickness split double teams and enough strength to ensure he collapses the pocket on passing plays.
Christian Wilkins: Shakinthesouthland’s #1 large adult son, Wilkins return was surprising to just about everyone. He was even honored at Senior Day last year. Wilkins has registered 141 tackles in three years as a starter, with 5 sacks in 2017. At 300 lbs. the two time All-American has the ability to play tackle and defensive end, even occasionally dropping into pass coverage. He doesn’t look terribly out of place playing safety. Wilkins is at his best using that athleticism to attack downfield and create havoc in the middle. Along with Lawrence he seems set to lead a Clemson defensive line that has historic potential in 2018.