Michael Bennett, Ohio State (6-2, 286): Among his 42 tackles, Bennett finished second on the Buckeyes with seven sacks, 14 tackles for losses and three forced fumbles to earn All-American accolades. That came on the heels of his seven sacks, 11.5 TFLs and three forced fumbles as a junior. For his four-year career, he had 18 sacks and 29 TFLs. As a senior, his play surged after the death of friend and teammate Kosta Karageorge. To honor Karageorge, he switched to No. 53. A couple weeks later, he tallied two sacks in the Big Ten Championship rout of Wisconsin. He is the son of two West Point grads. They were strict and had high standards. Almost impossibly high. Their discipline rubbed off on him at an early age, and he soared to new heights under coach Urban Meyer. His take on whether college athletes should be paid, near the end of this link, is quite enlightened.
Angelo Blackson, Auburn (6-5, 319): The senior had three sacks and 5.5 tackles for losses as a senior. He had 26 tackles as a sophomore starter but just 28 tackles in his final two seasons combined. He reflected on his time at Auburn late in the season.
Malcom Brown, Texas (6-3, 305): Brown’s redshirt junior season makes him a likely first-round pick. He was a consensus first team All-American, one of three finalists for the Outland Trophy (best interior lineman) and one of five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (top defensive player). Brown led the team in sacks (6.5), tackles for losses (15) and forced fumbles (two), and tied for first in quarterback pressures (eight). His 0.5 sacks per game ranked No. 1 among Big 12 defensive tackles. He’s the first Texas defensive tackle to lead the team in TFLs and sacks since Tony Degrate in 1984. With a wife and two children, Brown has plenty of motivation to make it big. However, football doesn’t define him.
Xavier Cooper, Washington State (6-4, 303): Cooper started 34 of his 36 games during his three years at WSU. Among his 37 tackles were five sacks and a team-high 9.5 TFLs. He finished his career with 13 sacks and 31.5 TFLs. He’s so athletic that he ran the sprints as a 260-pounder in high school. Cooper was diagnosed with a learning disability as a high school freshman — tough news to handle for his masters degree-holding parents. “I was placed in some classes I didn’t want to go to,” said Cooper. “So, I chose not to participate in school.” Football got him back in the classroom.
Christian Covington, Rice (6-2, 295): Covington’s junior season — and college career — ended with a dislocated kneecap that required surgery. The Preseason All-American finished with 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in seven games. As a sophomore in 2013, he was first-team all-Conference USA with four sacks and 11.5 TFLs among his 59 tackles. Covington is from Vancouver, British Columbia. His father, Grover, is a member of the CFL Hall of Fame with a record 157 sacks. "It feels awesome to be known as Christian instead of Grover's son," Covington said. "It's been going pretty well for me. The pressure is still there. I'm playing because I love the game." It’s not often you see a 300-pounder wearing No. 1.
Carl Davis, Iowa (6-4, 318): The senior was voted second-team all-Big Ten with his 36 tackles, which included nine tackles for losses and two sacks. He also was second-team all-conference as a junior. He is a film junkie who isn’t easily outsmarted by the opposition. Because of his skill, strength and smarts, he’s got a chance to be Iowa’s first defensive tackle taken in the first round since Alex Karras in 1958.
Eddie Goldman, Florida State (6-3, 314): Goldman — a former five-star recruit — tallied 35 tackles, including four sacks and eight TFLs as a true junior in 2014 to earn first-team all-ACC honors and All-America accolades. His two critical plays at Clemson saved FSU’s season. "Eddie's able to take up two guys, sometimes even three just because he's so strong," star pass rusher Mario Edwards said. "When you have one guy taking up two to three guys, it leaves your linebackers and other guys able to make plays." He’s a “quiet riot on the field.”
Grady Jarrett, Clemson (6-0, 280): Jarrett was first-team all-ACC and earned some All-America accolades after the senior posted 73 tackles, including 1.5 sacks and 10 for losses. He added 12 pressures and two forced fumbles. The three-year starter was an honorable mention on the all-ACC team as a sophomore and junior, when he totaled four sacks and 19 tackles for losses. Jarrett’s father is former NFL linebacker Jessie Tuggle and Jarrett called Ray Lewis an “uncle.” He might have a famous dad but that doesn’t mean Jarrett isn’t going to go full speed every play.
Derrick Lott, Tennessee-Chattanooga (6-4, 295): Lott took advantage of a sixth year of eligibility to earn all-Southern Conference honors. Playing as a reserve in 14 games, his six sacks ranked fourth in the league and his 13.5 tackles for losses ranked third. The headline reads “Helped a Lott,” which fit his life story. Middle-school basketball coach Chris Myers went from giving Lott a ride home from practice to essentially becoming his dad to the boy who changed residences 21 times by his sophomore year in high school. "Stuff that you do with your family and take for granted, he never had experienced, because there just wasn't any consistency in his life,” Myers’ wife, Carrie, said. “I would ask what he wanted for dinner and he couldn't believe I was asking or that we were going to all sit down and eat together. He'd never had that."
Joey Mbu, Houston (6-3, 313): Mbu was first-team all-conference during a senior season in which he posted 32 tackles, including 2.5 sacks and 4.5 TFLs. The two-year captain started 34 games over his final three seasons. His father, Charles, is a FIFA soccer scout, and it’s the sport he grew up playing until he moved to Texas. "Soccer is really about footwork," Mbu said. "I've carried that attention to detail from soccer to football. Using that footwork is key in football."
Ellis McCarthy, UCLA (6-3, 330): It was three years-and-done for the former five-star recruit. It was an underwhelming career, though, for a player who battled his waist line and knee problems. After starting eight games in 2013 and earning honorable mention all-conference, he was relegated to reserve duty in 2014, though he played better down the stretch. He had eight sacks in his three seasons.
Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Southern Mississippi (6-2, 309): Nunez-Roches was first-team all-conference in 2014 before entering the draft. He started 11 games and tallied 58 tackles, including a team-high 14 for losses. The native of Belize saw himself when helping deliver food and other necessities to the homeless. "We've been in those situations ourselves where we've been unfortunate and didn't have anything, or lost what we did have," Nunez-Roches said. "But my mom is always about impacting someone else's life. Even when you don't have the most, doing something for someone else."
Leon Orr, Florida (6-5, 305): Upset that he wasn’t in the starting lineup at Vanderbilt, Orr complained to coach Will Muschamp. Muschamp sent Orr home on a bus. For good. For his career, the fifth-year starting tackle started 10 games, recorded 62 tackles and had 4.5 sacks.
David Parry, Stanford (6-2, 300): Parry was an honorable mention on the all-Pac-12 team and a first-team all-academic choice as a senior. He tallied 34 tackles, including 4.5 sacks and 7.5 for losses, in 2014. He was a semifinalist for the Burlsworth Trophy, which goes to the best player who started his career as a walk-on. Beyond the obvious of playing his high school ball in Iowa, Parry came a long way at Stanford.
Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma (6-5, 329): After missing most of 2013 with a back injury that required surgery, Phillips returned to earn second-team all-Big 12 honors. The redshirt sophomore tallied 39 tackles, including two sacks and seven for losses. Phillips is a huge, athletic man. How athletic? Start typing “Jordan Phillips” into a Google search and watch the hits come up with stories about his standing backflips. That athleticism was evident in high school.
Darius Philon, Arkansas (6-2, 283): As a redshirt sophomore in 2014, Philon totaled 46 tackles, including 11.5 for losses and 4.5 sacks to earn all-SEC second-team honors. Philon ws part of one of the all-time Signing Day moments. On national TV, he donned an Alabama hat, only to learn that Alabama wasn’t going to give him a scholarship.
Bobby Richardson, Indiana (6-3, 286): Richardson, a senior team captain, led all IU defensive linemen with 35 tackles and career highs of 5.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for losses. The three-year starter tallied 11 sacks and 22 TFLs. This is the best we could do for a link.
Danny Shelton, NT, Washington (6-1, 327): Shelton is the best nose tackle prospect in years. Just how rare is he? He was the only player in the nation to be named a first-team All-American and first-team Academic All-American. He is a rarity in the middle of a defense as a playmaker, not just a two-gapping behemoth to keep the linebackers’ jerseys clean. As a senior, he led the nation in fumble recoveries with five, ranked 14th with 16.5 tackles for losses and 19th with 9.0 sacks. He was an Academic All-American as a junior, too, though not nearly as productive on the field with 3.5 TFLs. He credits his dogs for tempering his anger issues after his older brother was shot and killed in 2011. “I like to put a lot of responsibility on my back. So right after practice, I know they’re at home waiting for me so I have to hurry up, get dressed and get back home because they can’t eat without me. When other guys go out or things like that, I go home and I’m with my dogs and my girlfriend.” Among his other passions are his Samoan heritage, anthropology studies and teaching — he taught a freshman orientation class at Washington. “I have a chance to change their lives and also change mine in the process.”
Deon Simon, Northwestern State (6-4, 332): Simon started 19 games in his career, including seven during a senior season cut short by injury. Despite missing 5.5 games, he recorded 26 tackles, including 5.5 for losses and one sack. One of his two forced fumbles came during an impressive showing against Baylor. Simon was out of football for 2.5 years because of a high school knee injury and eligibility issues. Simon graduated in December. Simon told his draft story to NFL.com.
J.T. Surratt, South Carolina (6-1, 305): The fifth-year senior and team captain started every regular-season game, though he did not play in the bowl game due to illness. He tallied 30 tackles, including 4.5 for losses. Getting more “boisterous” to fill the void left by three standouts graduates was his focus entering the season.
Louis Trinca-Pasat, Iowa (6-2, 287): Trinca-Pasat was second-team all-conference and the team’s MVP on defense during a senior season of 69 tackles, which included team-leading figures of 6.5 sacks and 11.5 TFLs. He started all 38 games over his final three seasons. He’s the youngest son of Romanian immigrants who instilled in him a tireless work ethic that showed up in the classroom and on the field.
Leterrius Walton, Central Michigan (6-5, 294): Walton anchored the MAC’s best defense with his 33 tackles, which included two sacks and 3.5 TFLs. His dominant senior season was foreshadowed during CMU’s spring game when the coaches sent him to the sideline.
Leonard Williams, USC (6-4, 299): After starting as a true freshman and earning All-American honors as a sophomore and junior, there wasn’t much more to accomplish for Williams. So, it’s off to the NFL for Williams, who is the No. 1 overall player in this year’s draft, according to the league’s own scouting department. As a junior, he tallied 80 tackles, including 9.5 for losses and seven sacks. It’s been a long road to the NFL for Williams, who grew up Daytona Beach, Fla., and was a Gators fan but followed his heart to the West Coast. As the story linked above reads, “Williams, 20, has a 2-year-old daughter, Leana. Leonard is the middle of Aviva Russek’s five children. For much of the past decade, she has had to take care of them largely on her own. Williams’ father, Clenon, is an inmate at the Marion Work Camp in Lowell, Fla. He is serving time for multiple offenses, including robbery with a deadly weapon, according to the Florida Department of Corrections database. His current release date is Oct. 2, 2019.” His older brother, a hulking 6-foot-5, 300-pounder named Nate, became Williams’ father figure. Nate’s advice: Don’t make the same mistakes I did. “My big brother had to step up and make sure I stayed off of that type of stuff,” Leonard said. “He knew I had scholarships and didn’t want me to get hurt. He was really strict.”
Gabe Wright, Auburn (6-3, 283): The senior recorded 24 tackles with one sack and 4.5 TFLs. He started 26 games in four seasons and wound up with 20.5 TFLs. His versatility was a focal point of the defense.