For the most part, the nation's best defensive tackles are spread out this season.
The Pac-12 has the best one. The Big Ten and SEC each have four of the top 15. And the Big 12? Zero of the top 15.
This is the fifth part of our breakdown of the nation's best players at each position; today, we're picking the top 15 defensive tackles. Part one of our position breakdowns was on running backs, part two covered wide receivers and tight ends, part three dealt with interior offensive linemen and part four was on offensive tackles.
"Best" doesn't necessarily mean the most pro potential or even the most talent. Instead, it's a mix of what the player has accomplished and how we think the player will do this season. But production does trump potential.
We will look at a position a day until Aug. 27, when we rank all 124 of the nation's quarterbacks. Next, we will look at defensive ends.
Here are the defensive tackle rankings.
15. Aaron Tipoti, California
Particulars: 6-2/280, Sr.; Honolulu Word of Life Academy
Buzz: Cal has produced a handful of big-time defensive tackles of late, and Tipoti looks as if he is the latest. He appears primed for a breakout campaign. He is stocky and good against the run, but hasn't been as consistent as needed. That is expected to change this season. He had 25 tackles, four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in 2011.
14. Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
Particulars: 6-0/275, Jr.; Pittsburgh Penn Hills
Buzz: Donald played every spot on the line last season, when Pitt ran a 3-4 set. The Panthers have switched to a 4-3, and Donald – despite a lack of size – will play inside. He has exceptional quickness and used it last season to notch 11 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. Coaches hope his first-step quickness will enable Donald to muck up things at the line and also enable him to provide a pass rush up the middle.
13. Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
Particulars: 6-2/298, Soph.; Lake City (Fla.) Columbia
Buzz: He was a four-star recruit who might actually have outplayed his high school hype as a true freshman last season. He didn't start but played in all 13 games and proved to be a disruptive force, finishing with 30 tackles (the most of any FSU interior player), 2.5 sacks, six tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. Jernigan has good quickness and also is stout and hard to move at the point of attack, and he has a sky-high upside. Watch for him to truly emerge as a playmaker this season.
12. Sharrif Floyd, Florida
Particulars: 6-3/303, Jr.; Philadelphia George Washington
Buzz: Floyd, a former five-star recruit, has played extensively since arriving on campus, but this is expected to be a big season because he is playing tackle, his natural position. He started at end last season and had 46 tackles (including 11 against LSU) and 6.5 tackles for loss. His style of play translates better in the interior, where his strength at the point of attack will be put to better use.
11. Kaleb Ramsey, Boston College
Particulars: 6-3/288, Sr.; Uniontown (Pa.) Laurel Highlands
Buzz: Ramsey missed all but two games last season with a foot injury. He was one of the ACC's most dominating linemen in 2010, with 39 tackles, two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. Ramsey already has a sociology degree and is seeking his master's in criminal justice this fall.
10. Taylor Hart, Oregon
Particulars: 6-6/292, Jr.; Tualatin (Ore.) High
Buzz: He's taller than most tackles but that didn't hamper him last season, his first as a starter. Hart had 44 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two pass breakups last season. He was signed as a defensive end and should truly come into his own this season as he gets even more comfortable playing inside.
9. Akeem Spence, Illinois
Particulars: 6-1/305, Jr.; Fort Walton Beach (Fla.) High
Buzz: After redshirting as a true freshman in 2009, Spence has started every game the past two seasons. He was fourth on the team with 69 tackles last season, including 5.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He will be a key part of what should be a solid Illinois line this season.
8. Jordan Hill, Penn State
Particulars: 6-1/292, Sr.; Steelton (Pa.) Steelton-Highspire
Buzz: After serving as a part-time starter in 2010, Hill became a full-fledged starter last season and emerged as one of the better linemen in the Big Ten. He's squatty and tough against the run, and he is a high-intensity player. He had 59 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks; he also had three fumble recoveries, a figure that led the Nittany Lions and was second in the league.
7. Sylvester Williams, North Carolina
Particulars: 6-3/320, Sr.; Coffeyville (Kan.) CC, preceded by Jefferson City (Mo.) High
Buzz: Williams had a strong showing last season, his first at UNC after transferring from junior college. He finished with 54 tackles, 2.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss. He played just one season of high school ball (starting just once as a senior), and after high school, Williams worked for a year at a truck-parts manufacturer. He decided to give football and school another shot, and it has paid off.
6. John Jenkins, Georgia
Particulars: 6-3/358, Sr.; Gulf Coast CC (Miss.), preceded by Meriden (Conn.) Maloney
Buzz: Georgia coordinator Todd Grantham wanted a big run-stuffer to anchor the Bulldogs' 3-4 set, and he got his man in Jenkins, who is massive and clogs up the middle. Jenkins made 28 tackles last season and added three sacks, six tackles for loss and an interception.
5. Jesse Williams, Alabama
Particulars: 6-4/320, Sr.; Western Arizona CC, preceded by Brisbane (Australia) Cavendish Road State High School
Buzz: He was considered one of the top three JC recruits in the class of 2011 and started every game for the Tide last season. He played end in Alabama's 3-4 defense but will slide inside this season; he should fit better at nose tackle than he did at end. Last season, Williams had 24 tackles and four tackles for loss. He is incredibly strong, with a 600-pound bench press to his credit.
4. Bennie Logan, LSU
Particulars: 6-3/295, Jr.; Coushatta (La.) Red River Parish
Buzz: LSU might have the best end duo in the nation in Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery; the Tigers unquestionably would've had the best tackle duo had Michael Brockers remained in school for his junior season. Logan was overshadowed last season but still put up big numbers: 57 tackles, three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. He played end in high school but has bulked up and moved inside, where his quickness makes him hard to handle for opposing centers and guards.
3. Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
Particulars: 6-3/317, Jr.; Detroit Southeastern
Buzz: Hankins is a physical and active force in the middle of the Buckeyes' line. After making 16 tackles as a true freshman reserve in 2010, Hankins became a star last season, finishing with 67 tackles, including 14 tackles for loss. He has a quick first step for a burly guy and used it to finish fourth on the team in tackles. He has four sacks in his two seasons.
2. Kawann Short, Purdue
Particulars: 6-3/310, Sr.; East Chicago (Ind.) Central
Buzz: Purdue had an All-America defensive lineman in 2010 (E Ryan Kerrigan) and could have another this season. Short is coming off a big season in which he had 54 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, two blocked kicks, a forced fumble and two pass breakups. He will be a four-year starter for the Boilermakers, and has 12.5 sacks, 33.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and four blocked kicks in his career. He played basketball in high school with former Purdue standout E'Twaun Moore.
1. Star Lotulelei, Utah
Particulars: 6-4/320, Sr.; Snow College (Utah), preceded by South Jordan (Utah) Bingham
Buzz: His last name is pronounced "lo-too-LEH-lay." He is a force in the middle of the line for the Utes, winning Pac-12 defensive lineman of the year honors last season, his second with Utah after transferring from junior college. He had 44 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and two sacks in 2011. Lotulelei is quick and extremely strong, generally occupying two blockers. He signed with BYU out of high school, but didn't make it academically and went to junior college.
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