Howard Jones, Shepherd: Jones (6-2, 229) had eight sacks, 12.5 tackles for losses and two forced fumbles en route to being named a Division II All-American. He was a finalist for the Cliff Harris Award, which goes to the best small-school defensive player. Jones started his career at Shepherd as a wide receiver but was moved to defense because he had band hands.
Zach Kerr, Delaware: Kerr (6-2, 310) was first-team all-conference and second-team All-American after a senior season of 57 tackles, 5.5 tackles for losses and 3.5 sacks. He ranked fourth among conference defensive linemen in tackles. His path to the NFL was almost derailed as Kerr enjoyed too much of the campus nightlife. "Don't bring the wrong people into the right situation," he said. Kerr spent 2009 and 2010 at Maryland but sat out 2011 because of his grades. He found new life at Delaware, so much so that he was voted team captain as a senior.
Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State: Early entrant. After spending 2010 and 2011 at a junior college, Lawrence (6-3, 245) flourished at Boise. He was first-team all-Mountain West in 2012, when he tallied 9.5 sacks, 13 tackles for losses, four forced fumbles and an interception. He was even better in 2013, when he rang up 72 tackles, 10.5 sacks, a conference-high 20.5 tackles for losses and three forced fumbles. After blocking two kicks in a game this season, Lawrence said, "The first thing, it's just about how bad you want it."
Aaron Lynch, South Florida: Early entrant. Lynch (6-5, 244) was a Freshman All-American at Notre Dame in 2011. He sat out 2012 upon transferring to South Florida to be close to family. In his one season at USF, he posted six sacks and 12.5 tackles for losses to earn first-team all-conference honors.
Missing out on the Irish's success in 2012 wasn't as bad as hearing about it from everyone else.
Eathyn Manumaleuna, Brigham Young: Manumaleuna (6-2, 305) was named first-team All-Independent as a senior with 48 tackles, including seen for losses. He missed most of 2012 with a knee injury, and served a Mormon mission to Oklahoma City in 2008 and 2009. He started at nose tackle as a true freshman in 2007. An uncle (Frank) and cousin (Brandon) played in the NFL. As his wife put it: "It is hard for me to believe I am married to him when I watch him on the field, hitting people and playing rough, because he is definitely not that kind of person off the field. He is very, very soft. He is very soft-spoken, very gentle, and he absolutely loves kids. A lot of people that know him in our ward [church congregation] tell him he's a beast, an animal, on the field, but a lamb off the field."
Cassius Marsh, UCLA: Marsh (6-4, 254) tallied six sacks and 10.5 tackles for losses, second only to star Anthony Barr, en route to being an honorable mention on the all-Pac 12 team. He started four games as a freshman when tipping the scales at 300 pounds. Taking a less-is-more approach, he slimmed down considerably. "It surprises me how fast I have gotten. I have chased down running backs and they're said to be fast." He said some teams might consider him at tight end; he scored two touchdowns in that role the past two seasons.
Kareem Martin, North Carolina: Martin (6-6, 272) was first-team all-ACC as a senior after a big season of 11 sacks, 20 tackles for losses, 78 tackles and three forced fumbles. He started in 2011 and 2012, as well, tallying a combined eight sacks and 22.5 TFLs. Martin played for six position coaches at UNC and became one of the faces of the program. He honors his deceased father by writing his name on his wrist before every game.
Josh Mauro, Stanford: Mauro (6-6, 276) was an honorable mention on the all-Pac 12 team. His senior year totals included 51 tackles, 12.5 tackles for losses, four sacks and two forced fumbles. He added six sacks as a junior. In his final play of that season, his deflected pass led to an interception that saved a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin. He comes from an athletic family, with his father, Joe, playing quarterback at Northwestern and three brothers/stepbrothers playing collegiately.
Tevin Mims, South Florida: Mims (6-3, 246) started his career at Texas, then spent a year in junior college, before playing for USF for his final two seasons. As a senior, he was named the team's defensive MVP after posting 1.5 sacks, six tackles for losses and 40 tackles.
Zach Moore, Concordia: Moore (6-6, 285) ranks ninth in Division II history with 33 career sacks. As a senior, he was a finalist for the Gene Upshaw Award, which goes to D-II's best lineman, and the Cliff Harris Award, which goes to the best small-school defender, after ringing up seven sacks and 9.5 tackles for losses. He sat out 2011 for academic issues but returned in 2012 as a team captain and All-American by posting 14 sacks. Playing in Division II was hardly the biggest obstacle standing in Moore's way. As a kid, he grew up on infamous South Side of Chicago. "You either join a gang or play sports," Moore said. "In between, there's not really an option."