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The Defensive Players About To Explode
LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu
LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu
Posted Aug 19, 2011

Who are the new defensive stars you need to know about for the 2011 season? From Arkansas tackle Bryan Jones, to Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti, to LSU corner Tyrann Mathieu, here are players in the right situations to blow up and become mega-stars.

Defensive Players About To Explode

The Stars You Need To Know

By Richard Cirminiello 

- 2011 Offensive Players About To Explode
- 2010 Players About To Explode


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DE Ronald Powell, Florida
Powell was considered by many to be the top defensive prospect of the 2010 recruiting class. This fall, he sets out to back up the hype. After a quiet debut spent mostly learning as a reserve, he’s about to get an opportunity to explode as a on the outside. An end with the build and the speed of an outside linebacker, his get-off is going to be a nuisance for even some of the SEC’s better pass protectors. The sophomore from California is slated to play BUCK, a position designed for the Gators’ most disruptive edge rusher.

DE Nosa Eguae, Auburn
Just one season into his eligibility, Eguae can already claim to be the starter on a national champion. The quick study was in the lineup for 11 games, chipping in 22 tackles, 7.5 stops for loss and 3.5 sacks. However, the sophomore is expected to markedly improve those numbers in his second campaign of action. At 6-2 and 261 pounds, he’s the strongside option for the Tigers, injecting toughness and a tireless work ethic into the first line of the defense.

DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
It often gets mentioned that Jeffcoat is the son of former Dallas Cowboys lineman Jim Jeffcoat. Jackson, however, is determined to carve out his own legacy in the Lone Star State. After seeing spot duty as a rookie, he’s on the brink of securing one of the starting jobs in his second season of action. The former high school All-American has the foundation to be a complete defensive end, using long arms and outstanding technique to beat his man. It’s a matter of when, not if, Jeffcoat blossoms into a star in Austin.

DT Sharrif Floyd, Florida
By so many measurements, Floyd is the prototype interior lineman that NFL teams hunt for each April. At least for the next two seasons, he’ll be a run-stuffer for the Gators and a headache for opposing offenses. The former can’t-miss recruit from Philadelphia possesses all of the traits of stardom, a 300-pounder who moves explosively in all directions. After playing in all 13 games, and starting a pair, he could begin sneaking up on the All-SEC Team in just his second season on campus.

DT Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
While the Buckeyes have not been shocked by Hankins’ ascent, he has come along much faster than anyone in Columbus expected. The mid-tier prospect, who was slated to redshirt in 2010, went on to earn a crucial spot in the rotation. With that valuable season of experience behind him, he’s prepared to take over the starting job at the nose. The rest of the Big Ten will quickly learn that the sophomore moves a lot faster than the typical 325-pound interior lineman.

DT Bryan Jones, Arkansas
Despite conventional wisdom, the Hogs’ young stars of 2010 didn’t all play on the offensive side of the ball. Jones, for example. In just his first season on campus, he started five games to earn a spot on the SEC All-Freshman Team. The powerful 6-2, 312-pounder plays low to the ground, making those around him better by occupying multiple linemen. He’s an impact defender whose value is more likely to show up on film than in a box score.

LB Damontre Moore, Texas A&M
Yeah, Von Miller leaves a gaping hole on the Aggies defense, but Moore sees the departure as an opportunity of a lifetime. No, the sophomore won’t be Miller from jump street, but the similarities will be striking. The 6-4, 248-pounder is nicely suited for Joker, a position that combines the duties of an outside linebacker and a defensive end. Priority No. 1 is messing with the integrity of the pocket, which Moore did consistently in his first season of action.

LB Shaun Lewis, Oklahoma State
From reserve in the first half of the season to Big 12 co-Defensive Freshman of the Year, Lewis covered a lot of ground in his first fall in Stillwater. He consistently operated with the mindset of an offensive player, making 58 tackles, picking off three passes and forcing three fumbles. While built more like a safety at 5-11 and 220 pounds, his upper body strength and range allow him to shed blockers and make stops in the open field.

LB Michael Mauti, Penn State
Injuries, particularly an ACL tear prior to 2009, are the only reason Mauti hasn’t already started reaching his peak at “Linebacker U”. He returned last fall to finish fifth on the team with 67 tackles. A classic Nittany Lion defender in the mold of Paul Posloszny and Dan Connor, he’s ferocious, heady and athletic enough to chase down ballcarriers from behind. Assuming he’s past the health issues, the junior is primed for the kind of monster season that could garner him national recognition in 2011.

LB James Morris, Iowa
After just one season on campus, it already looks as if Morris is the kind of player the Hawkeyes can build around for the next three years. Despite starting only six games in 2010, he still finished fourth on the team with 70 tackles. By October, he was calling signals for the D, conducting himself with all of the poise and confidence of an upperclassman. The classic Kirk Ferentz recruit is instinctive, hard-working and always looking to improve away from the field.

LB DeDe Lattimore, South Florida
The Bulls’ rise to prominence in the Big East has been built around fast and physical defenders. Defenders like Lattimore who’ll be one of the unit’s catalysts for the next three seasons. On pure speed and desire, the 6-2, 237-pounder made 69 tackles and 6.5 stops behind the line as a first-year player. Now that he’s played a full season and spent another year in the film room, the coaches are convinced he’ll blossom into one of the league’s premier performers.

CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
In just his second season, Mathieu is about to become one of the game’s more dynamic defensive playmakers. Don’t get fooled by his size, a modest 180 pounds on a 5-9 frame. He plays far bigger, flying all over the field to break up passes and make stops in the open field. An auspicious debut was highlighted by 57 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and five forced fumbles. Overshadowed by Patrick Peterson in 2010, Mathieu has the instincts and passion to become a household name before long.

CB Xavier Rhodes, Florida State
In 2010, Rhodes took his first big step to becoming the country’s premier young cornerback. While built like a safety at 6-2 and 205 pounds, he has all of the tools of a rising pass defender. He breaks quickly on throws, and flashes the ball skills to encourage opposing quarterbacks to avoid his side of the field. Last season’s ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year made a loud statement by making 58 tackles and four picks, while breaking up 16 passes.

NB Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
The Big 12 co-Defensive Freshman of the Year immediately drew comparisons to former Sooner Roy Williams, high praise in these parts. As good as advertised as a rookie, Jefferson started nine games as a fifth defensive back, making 65 tackles and breaking up seven passes. He’s uniquely constructed to handle nickelback, a position that’s part safety and part linebacker. While the 5-10, 200-pound sophomore will pack a punch in run defense, he can also seamlessly drop back and cover the pass.

S Matt Elam, Florida
Expectations are soaring for Elam, one of the nation’s can’t-miss defensive recruits of 2010. The successor in Gainesville at strong safety won’t have Ahmad Black’s savvy or experience, so he’ll have to compensate in the early going with superior physical gifts. A 5-10, 200-pound administer of pain, he’s an asset in run defense and a prime candidate to come hard on the blitz. After making 22 tackles as a defensive reserve and special teamer, Elam is poised to step into a starring role.

S Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
Far more prominent programs, such as Auburn, Florida and Alabama, wanted Dixon. The Bears, however, signed the local kid, and are prepared to turn him loose this season. He has all of the physical tools to bloom into an All-Big 12 performer someday, blending blazing speed with a keen feel for his assignments. His apprenticeship as a backup in Waco now completed, the 6-0, 200-pound sophomore is charting a course to the starting lineup and increased notoriety.

S Craig Loston, LSU
The hard-hitting Loston is about to take his brand of nastiness into the starting lineup after earning his first letter a year ago. He has it all for a safety, a physical 6-2, 200-pounder, with the speed to keep pace in coverage. He also has a knack for intimidating opposing receivers by forcing them to rethink patterns across the middle of the field. Assuming he holds on to his lead at free safety, he’s capable of tripling last season’s 22 tackles.

S Hakeem Smith, Louisville
Smith is symbolic of the changes taking place in Louisville under head coach Charlie Strong. The emerging star out of the defensive backfield was named Freshman All-American and Big East Rookie of the Year in 2010. After scaling the depth chart in the summer, he posted a team-high 88 tackles and six stops for loss. More than just a good athlete, he showed crisp technique in the open field and an ability to stay with receivers. Already exceeding expectations as a recruit, he’s just getting started for the Cards.

- 2011 Offensive Players About To Explode

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