We continue on with the defensive side of the ball. Some of these defenses may come into play later in the season when you're looking to fill a hole in the schedule or plan A has taken a turn for the worse.
For updated player rankings and additional player/defensive breakdowns please refer to our 2008 Draft Kit. (Rankings updated on 6/24/08)
26) Cougars, Brigham Young
Except for a 47-point meltdown against Tulsa, the Cougs' defense was solid in 2007. The defense will be once again be led by pass rushing specialist Jan Jorgensen. Only a sophomore last year, Jorgensen registered 13.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss. The good news for Jorgensen and the Cougs, who run a 3-4, is they return their entire defensive front. The bad news is the Cougs' linebacking and secondary two-deep have been decimated by graduation including team leading tacklers/linebackers Kelly Poppinga and Bryan Kehl. The secondary could see as many as six or seven new faces in the two-deep. We love veteran defenses, and unfortunately this is not looking like one of them. Despite all the pre-season pub BYU appears to be getting, if replacements are not found in the secondary, Coug fans could be in for a bit of a disappointment. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 4 2007 Stats: 18.5 Pts agst, 210.38 yds pass agst, 97.5 yds rush agst, 20 turnovers
27) Seminoles, Florida St.
The linebacking group loses Geno Hayes but should still be strong with the team's leading tackler Derek Nicholson (99) and veterans Dekoda Watson and Marcus Ball all returning. The secondary should be even stronger where rover Mayron Rolle has started 23 straight games and corner Tony Carter has started 20 straight games. Carter (4) and fellow Patrick Robinson (6) picked off a combined 10 passes in 2007. On paper this looks like a potential fantasy defense of old. Now for the bad news: Florida State will also be without several defensive players for the first three games because of the carry-over academic suspension from a season ago. Details are sketchy but projected starters Watson, Ball, Robinson, Budd Thacker and Paul Griffen did not travel with the team to the Music City bowl...you do the math. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 7 2007 Stats: 22.9 Pts agst, 245.38 yds pass agst, 116.6 yds rush agst, 28 turnovers
28) Gamecocks, South Carolina
Not only does the ol' ball coach need to figure out a way to run the ball on offense more effectively, he better figure out a way to stop it on defense. It is hard to consider a team that gave up 200 per on the ground last year as a top 25 defense in 2008, but signs do point to improvement. Ten starters return, not including standout linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who could return this fall and is recovering from a knee injury suffered early last year. The Gamecocks return three All-SEC performers from a season ago in defensive end Eric Norwood, cornerback Captain Munnerly and safety Emanuel Cook. Cornerback Carlos Thomas, who has 20 career starts, is currently suspended. If he does not return, Stoney Woodson steps in, and he had three starts in 2007. Tier: D2 Returning Starters: 10 2007 Stats: 23.5 Pts agst, 168.75 yds pass agst, 209.3 yds rush agst, 21 turnovers
29) Hurricanes, Miami (Fla.)
Miami has been unable to return to the menacing Hurricane defense of old in recent years. Defensive end Calais Campbell and safety Kenny Phillips leaving early certainly isn't going to help. Despite the losses the Canes should have plenty of experienced players in the starting lineup, with all eleven projected starters being juniors or seniors. The linebackers should be particularly tough with vets Colin McCarthy and Darryl Sharpton looking to make the next step. The Canes also get eight true freshmen on campus early this year. Don't be surprised to see defensive tackle Marcus Fortson push for time in the 2-deep. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 5 2007 Stats: 26 Pts agst, 212.17 yds pass agst, 133.8 yds rush agst, 25 turnovers
30) Gators, Florida
The Gators' pass defense was worst in the SEC in 2008. All the blame can't be placed on the Florida secondary, which started two true freshman, as the Gators' pass rush struck little fear in opposing team's offenses. Making matters worse, defensive end Derrick Harvey (8.5 sacks) left early for the NFL. However, the future looks bright for the UF defense. Injuries on the front line thrust a number of true freshmen into early duty, and the secondary can only improve from last year's game experience. Add junior linebacker Brandon Spikes (131 tackles) to the mix and the Gators defense can't be worse than they were last year, can they? Former Iowa State head coach Dan McCarney also comes in to help Charlie Strong shore things up. The question is can the Gators defense improve enough to become a championship caliber team? All signs from this spring suggest that the Gators will be better on defense in 2008. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 7 2007 Stats: 25.5 Pts agst, 258.54 yds pass agst, 103.3 yds rush agst, 20 turnovers
31) Crimson Tide, Alabama
Alabama has a mixed bag of returnees, led by the team's leading tackler and future NFLer safety Rashad Johnson (94 tackles / 6 INTs). In all the Tide will look to start nine juniors and seniors in 2008. The schedule also sets up well with games against Tulane, Western Kentucky, Arkansas, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Arkansas St. and Mississippi St. Arkansas and Kentucky will both be in a rebuilding mode on offense. The biggest area where the Tide needs to improve is in getting after the quarterback. It doesn't help that they will need to find a way to replace defensive end Wallace Gilberry's 10 sacks and 27 TFLs. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 6 2007 Stats: 22 Pts agst, 221.31 yds pass agst, 124.2 yds rush agst, 24 turnovers
32) Spartans, Michigan St.
The Spartans made some nice strides under defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi in 2007. The secondary should continue to improve and linebacker Greg Jones might be one of the best in the Big Ten. Replacing defensive ends Jonal Saint-Dic (10 sacks) and Ervin Baldwin (8.5 sacks) will be a tough task. Cincinnati transfer Trevor Anderson will get the first crack at becoming the team's pass rusher extraordinaire. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 6 2007 Stats: 26.6 Pts agst, 219.69 yds pass agst, 125.8 yds rush agst, 20 turnovers
33) Hawks, Miami (Ohio)
Nearly everyone returns from one of the best defenses in the MAC. The linebackers should once again be the strength of the team led by Clayton Mullens (143 tackles / 4 sacks), Caleb Bostic (103 tackles) and Joey Hudson (99 tackles). The Redhawks didn't put up eye popping fantasy stats in 2007, but based on the amount of experience returning, we expect this to increase. Playing in the MAC should also provide some good mid-season defensive match-ups. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 9 2007 Stats: 25.6 Pts agst, 206.85 yds pass agst, 168.5 yds rush agst, 25 turnovers
34) Broncos, Boise St.
Eight return including the entire linebacking unit and a good portion of the defensive line rotation. In short this should be a veteran defense that should keep pace or improve on last year's numbers. The schedule has its share of pitfalls like everyone else, but also has enough places that you can pick your spots. Especially when they get teams on their blue turf. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 8 2007 Stats: 21.6 Pts agst, 207.15 yds pass agst, 130.8 yds rush agst, 22 turnovers
35) Panthers, Pittsburgh
The defense that spoiled Pat White and West Virginia's national title hopes returns mostly intact. Linebacker Scott McKillop (151 tackles) will anchor a linebacker unit that returns all three starters. The Panthers were fifth in total yards allowed per game. They were also very good at pass defense and getting after the quarterback. If they can improve on creating turnovers and keeping opposing teams off the scoreboard, they could be a good sleeper option on defense. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 7 2007 Stats: 24.3 Pts agst, 167.25 yds pass agst, 130.4 yds rush agst, 19 turnovers
36) Lobos, New Mexico
The Lobos shocked many by shutting out the high-powered Nevada offense in the New Mexico Bowl. The Lobos play a 3-3-5 defense and the strength should be in the back five where a number of the players in the 2-deep return. Among these returnees is leading tackler Ian Clark, who mans the free-wheeling Lobo position (hybrid LB/S). If there is one weakness it is getting after the quarterback. The Lobos only got to the quarterback 23 times last year, and the front seven will see some losses from a year ago. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 5 2007 Stats: 19 Pts agst, 197.38 yds pass agst, 122.5 yds rush agst, 25 turnovers
37) Bulldogs, Mississippi St.
The Bulldogs return eight from a sturdy defense last year. Even more important, key cogs safety Derek Pegues (5 INTs) and linebacker/leading tackler Jamar Chaney are back. The schedule has its share of pitfalls, but there are plenty of places you can pick your spots, including early dates with Louisiana Tech and Southeast Louisiana, along with mid-October gem against Middle Tennessee State. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 8 2007 Stats: 23.2 Pts agst, 174.92 yds pass agst, 156.8 yds rush agst, 28 turnovers
38) Illini, Illinois
Cornerback Vontae Davis is on the verge of becoming a household name. The physical corner registered four INTs as a sophomore last year, and we expect even more in 2007. Unfortunately the Illini lose linebacker J Leman. Not only does he have a cool one-letter first name and kick-ass hair but he was also the Illini's leading tackler and defensive leader. In total the Illini lose four of their top five tacklers, a pair of safeties, two at linebacker and a 4-year starter on the defensive line in Chris Norwell. However the D-line looks strong and they should once again be able to get after the quarterback, especially with pass rusher Will Davis (9.5 sacks) back. The Illini are a tough one to gauge in 2008. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 6 2007 Stats: 21.8 Pts agst, 244.62 yds pass agst, 132.2 yds rush agst, 25 turnovers
39) Mountaineers, West Virginia
The defense has to replace seven starters including four All-Big East performers in nose tackle Keilen Dykes, defensive end Johnny Dingle, linebacker Marc Magro and strong safety Eric Wicks. Help could very well be there, but we are being cautious and downgrading a team that put up very good fantasy numbers last year. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 4 2007 Stats: 18.1 Pts agst, 188.77 yds pass agst, 112.9 yds rush agst, 34 turnovers
40) Commodores, Vanderbilt
The defense finished 16th in the nation and was tremendous against the pass. Everyone returns to the secondary, led by top corner D.J. Moore, big hitting safety Reshard Langford and the team's two best pass rushers, DE Broderick Stewart and LB Patrick Benoist. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 6 2007 Stats: 22.6 Pts agst, 197.08 yds pass agst, 128.2 yds rush agst, 23 turnovers
41) Sun Devils, Arizona St.
The Sun Devils lose their leading tackler in linebacker Robert James (106) and five others off the starting unit. Sack leader/defensive end Dexter Davis (10.5) is back as is safety Troy Nolan who picked off six passes in 2007. The mixed bag of returnees and losses has us a bit up in the air on the Sun Devils' defense for 2008. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 6 2007 Stats: 22.5 Pts agst, 228.92 yds pass agst, 116.2 yds rush agst, 26 turnovers
42) Yellowjackets, Georgia Tech
All eyes will be on the Paul Johnson's offense this fall, but the real focus (or concern) should be on the defense. The Yellow Jackets only return four starters from last year and lose one of the best and most aggressive defensive coordinators in the country in Jon Tenuta. New defensive coordinator Dave Wommack brings a more conservative defensive philosophy to Atlanta. All this adds up to a defense that is unlikely to repeat as last year's sack leader. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 4 2007 Stats: 20.8 Pts agst, 215.92 yds pass agst, 114.5 yds rush agst, 20 turnovers
43) Falcons, Air Force
The defensive line returns intact, and it should be strong, led by defensive end Ryan Kemp, but losses to the linebacking corps and secondary could take its toll. The good news is Air Force should start nine juniors and seniors in 2008. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 5 2007 Stats: 21.1 Pts agst, 232.23 yds pass agst, 136.5 yds rush agst, 28 turnovers
44) Red Raiders, Texas Tech
The Red Raiders were efficient at containing opposing teams' passing attacks. Having Jamar Wall and his five interceptions back won't hurt. Of course Tech's pass defense efficiency could stem from the fact that teams ran the ball on them at will. Tech had problems stopping anyone with a decent running, giving up over two bills on the ground in six games last year. Defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill took over the Red Raider defense after a 610 yard thrashing by Oklahoma State and has been officially named the defensive coordinator for 2008. With eight returnees, the Tech defense should be sturdy, but you will need to pick your spots from a fantasy perspective, especially in the Big Twelve, which returns a ton of firepower on offense. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 8 2007 Stats: 25.9 Pts agst, 188.38 yds pass agst, 177 yds rush agst, 21 turnovers
45) Hoosiers, Indiana
Indiana, yes Indiana, was one of the top teams in the country last year in getting after the quarterback. This was mainly due to pass rushing specialist Greg Middleton who led all Div-1A players with 16 sacks. Middleton returns for 2008. If your league ignores that pesky scoreboard and yardage tallies and only scores turnovers and sacks, the Hoosiers are an excellent sleeper pick. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 7 2007 Stats: 28.5 Pts agst, 243.69 yds pass agst, 159.7 yds rush agst, 31 turnovers
46) Cardinal, Stanford
Watch out for Jim Harbaugh and his Stanford Cardinal team. Harbaugh is an intense coach and his defense showed signs of mirroring its leader last year with 26 turnovers and 38 sacks. Jimmy has to be a tad bit pleased that most of the sack production in linebacker Clinton Snydor (8 sacks), linebacker Pat Maynor (6 sacks) and defensive end Pannel Egboh (6 sacks) all return. In total the Cardinal return eight starters, depending on how you chalk them. Like with Indiana, if your league ingnores the scoreboard amaze your friends, pick the Cardinal, endure the draft day laughter and then laugh twice as hard after every quarterback drop in 2008. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 8 2007 Stats: 28.3 Pts agst, 266.17 yds pass agst, 169.3 yds rush agst, 26 turnovers
47) Knights, UCF
Central Florida was best known for the work Kevin Smith did on the offensive side of the ball. However the defense was no slouch forcing 28 turnovers and registering 39 sacks. 24 of those turnovers came via interception. This is also a defense that held the highpowered Tulsa offense to 23 points last year. The good news is entire secondary and linebacking core return. The bad news is they won't have Kevin Smith ringing up points and teams in desperation mode trying to keep up with him. Look for teams to ground and pound UCF a little more in 2008. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 9 2007 Stats: 26.6 Pts agst, 233.29 yds pass agst, 133.1 yds rush agst, 28 turnovers
48) Bruins, UCLA
Losing your top three tacklers, your top ball hawk and your sack leader is never a good thing. UCLA's defense has made some solid progress the last few years, but the losses suggest they could be in for a little bit of dip in production this year. Sorry Rick. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 5 2007 Stats: 22.3 Pts agst, 234.08 yds pass agst, 109.2 yds rush agst, 27 turnovers
49) Bears, California
The Bears may have some holes to fill on offense, but they are looking solid on defense. Senior linebackers Zach Follett, Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder should provide strength and leadership up the middle. Cal is looking to parlay their depth at linebacker into 2008 success by switching to a 3-4 defense. The Bears also return enough up front and in the secondary to provide for optimism. They'll need to improve on their run defense, sacks and keeping opponents out of the endzone to make them worthy of fantasy starts but could be worth a late round filler defensive selection. The problem is the Cal only has one game against a non-BCS school in Colorado State. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 8 2007 Stats: 26.8 Pts agst, 214.31 yds pass agst, 164.2 yds rush agst, 24 turnovers
50) Golden Eagles, Southern Miss.
Four return. Most notable is one of C-USA's best linebackers in Gerald McRath (139 tackles / 4.5 sacks. However new head coach Larry Fedora has some work to do patching up the defensive line which loses all four starters. Tier: D3 Returning Starters: 5 2007 Stats: 24.2 Pts agst, 232.08 yds pass agst, 134.3 yds rush agst, 28 turnovers
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