Andrew Billings, Baylor (6-1, 310): Underclassman. Billings was first-team all-Big Ten during his final two seasons at Baylor, including second-team All-American in 2015. In 2014, he had 37 tackles (26 solos), including two sacks and 11.5 for losses in 13 games. Playing in 12 games in 2015, he had 40 tackles (32 solos), including 5.5 sacks and 15 for losses. He’s strong: At Waco (Texas) High School, he broke a 22-year-old state record with a combined 2,010 pounds in the squad, bench press and dead lift. The former record holder? Mark Henry, a two-time Olympian and WWE wrestler whose nickname is “The Strongest Man That Ever Lived.” Billings was 9 pounds, 14 ounces at birth. “He had huge thighs," his father, Anthony, recalled. "They were kinda fat and jiggly and not baby-sized.” He was a top recruit but decided to stay home and go to Baylor.
Jonathan Bullard, Florida (6-3, 283): Bullard, a former five-star recruit, started twice as a true freshman and eight times as a sophomore. He had a breakout junior season, with his 52 tackles ranking second among the defensive linemen and his 8.5 tackles for losses ranking third on the team. That set the stage for his big-time senior season: 66 tackles (39 solos), 6.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for losses to earn first-team all-SEC honors. Bullard could have entered the draft last year but didn’t, mostly because of his grandmother, Joyce Robbs. “My parents went through a divorce that wasn’t too pretty. The first little bit of it was kind of hard on my mom and my grandparents just stepped in. My grandma didn’t really want us to be in the middle of all that, to see that, so she kind of pulled us away and taught us, raised us. During his freshman season at Florida, his grandma — Maw Maw — became sick. A few months later, she died at age 65. He dreams about her frequently. In one of them, Bullard was at a convenience store. When he walked out, she was pumping gas. She then said, “I’m back.”
Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech (6-4, 325): Butler was first-team all-Conference USA and first-team all-Louisiana as a senior. He registered 50 tackles (28 solos), with three sacks and 10 tackles for losses to anchor one of the top run defenses in the nation. He added a team-high eight quarterback hurries and two pass breakups. He also started as a junior, netting 56 tackles (35 solos) with one sack, 13.5 tackles for losses and a forced fumble. Even though he didn’t play at an elite school, he is considered one of the top defensive tackle in the draft. “It’s not about what’s on your helmet or your jersey, it’s about what’s in your heart. No matter where you went to school, you can still be the top player.”
Kenny Clark, UCLA (6-2, 310): Underclassman. Clark was a two-year starter who was first-team all-Pac-12 and earned some All-America recognition this season. In 2015, Clark set career highs with 75 tackles (47 solos), six sacks, 11 tackles for losses and five passes defensed. He was second-team all-Pac-12 in 2014 with 58 tackles, including 5.5 for losses. It’s not just the tackles but his ability to keep linebackers such as Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack free of blockers. "Effort doesn't always mean running 10, 20 yards down the field and making a play," coach Jim Mora said. "It can be shedding a double team and laying out to make a shoestring tackle at the line of scrimmage that no one really notices. What you see with Kenny is just a consistent level of effort, high effort, high energy." His wrestling background certainly helps. “Some people wrestle differently, but I think every wrestler has an attack mentality. It’s about using your hands, being able to snap people down.”
Maliek Collins, Nebraska (6-2, 300): Underclassman. Collins had 29 tackles, including 2.5 sacks and seven for losses, during his final season to earn second-team all-Big Ten. He was a second-team pick in 2014, as well, with 4.5 sacks, 14 tackles for losses and 13 quarterback hurries. The back of his jersey read “Collins Sr.” He has a 2-year-old son. "My main goal is to set my son up for the rest of his life. I want to make sure he has all the things that I didn't have growing up. Whether I get that done through education or through playing in the NFL, I feel like I'll be setting him up." Adding to the importance of being a good father? Collins’ father died when he was 6. "It forced me to mature at a young age. Ever since I got to college, I've always been a little more mature. But really my son helped me even more. He made me understand I'm responsible for someone other than myself. I have to hold myself accountable to that." As a senior at Kansas City (Mo.) Center HIgh School, he won the state heavyweight championship with a perfect 48-0 record. One of his favorite players is Green Bay’s Mike Daniels.
Sheldon Day, Notre Dame (6-1, 286): Day emerged as a big-time playmaker as a senior — his third year in the starting lineup — with his 45 tackles (33 solos) highlighted by four sacks and 15 tackles for losses. He added two forced fumbles and four passes defensed to earn All-America accolades. In his first three seasons, he had 3.5 sacks and 16.5 TFLs. The difference was obvious to everyone. Even his mom. “Even on the field warming up, he has an air about himself where, kicking and running, there’s just an air about him that he’s just transformed into this new — you can see it,” Carol Boyd said. “His physique is different. The way he carries himself is so different. I’m like, ‘That’s my baby!’” The two-time captain graduated in October, leaving him plenty of time to kill. He’s tried his hand at music, drawing and cooking. A failed attempt at steak solidified that he’d spend 2016 in the NFL rather than pitching a Food Network series. “I don’t know why,” he said. “I might as well have just grilled it, right. It was the worst decision of my life. It was really pink on the inside. It was just a bad situation for me and my cooking experience.”
Adam Gotsis, Georgia Tech (6-5, 285): Gotsis suffered a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 31. In nine games, he had 31 tackles (20 solos), with three sacks, five tackles for losses and two fumble recoveries — enough to earn honorable-mention all-ACC. The three-year starter had a breakout sophomore season with 38 tackles (5.5 sacks, 14.5 for losses) and added 36 tackles (three sacks, 6.5 for losses) as a junior. Gotsis was born in Melbourne, Australia. He played Australian Rules Football for eight years. His introduction to American football came when he was 13 when he watched the 2005 Rose Bowl between USC and Texas. He played for Team Australia. That opened the door at Georgia Tech, with Tech coach Paul Johnson working at coaching clinics Down Under. On signing day in 2012, Johnson said: "I will match him up against almost anybody. He's 6-foot-5, 300 pounds and can run." Gotsis cheered louder than most when the 49ers signed Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne as a running back and returner. For his final season, his parents rented an apartment in Atlanta. "I left a family of seven" Gotsis says, "and came here and gained a family of 120."
Javon Hargrave, South Carolina State (6-1, 315): Hargrave is the MEAC’s two-time Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time first-team FCS All-American. As a senior, he tallied 13.5 sacks, 22 tackles for losses, 11 additional quarterback hits and two forced fumbles. As a junior, he led the MEAC with 16 sacks and 24 tackles for losses and was a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, which goes to the best defender in the FCS ranks. In a game against 13th-ranked Bethune-Cookman in 2014, Hargrave broke the FCS record with six sacks. “That one game changed my life — it really did,” Hargrave said. “Since that game, lots of scouts have come around to watch me. That game was the spark for a lot of good things that have happened to me.”
Joel Heath, Michigan State (6-5, 296): All 24 career starts and all 60 career tackles came as a junior and senior. As a senior, Heath was in on 31 tackles (13 solos), including two sacks and 5.5 for losses, and one forced fumble to earn honorable-mention all-Big Ten. Those numbers were nearly identical to his junior season (29 tackles, 2.5 sacks, five TFLs). Heath arrived at Michigan State weighing 230 pounds. He bulked up from 265 to 295 in moving from defensive end to defensive tackle as a junior. "You eat four times a day, and you eat the right foods and train, and as you get older your body matures.'' At first, he was reluctant to make the change. His best friend — and future best man — is star defensive end Shilique Calhoun. Finally, he relented and blossomed into a starter. “When I first got here, coach (former MSU defensive line coach Ted Gill) mentioned to me, ‘You would be a great defensive tackle.’ He told me that from the start,” Heath said Monday at MSU’s media day. “I denied it a lot. Being a defensive end all along, you feel like, I want to be able to pass rush outside.”
Willie Henry, Michigan (6-2, 310): Underclassman. Henry was an honorable mention on the all-Big Ten team in 2015 with career-high totals of 34 tackles (13 solos), 6.5 sacks, 10 tackles for losses and two passes defensed. He started six times in 2013 and six more times in 2014, finishing his three-year career with 86 tackles (40 solos), 10 sacks and 18.5 TFLs. “Everybody was always telling Willie how great he can be,” said Tony Overton, an assistant coach during Henry’s career at Cleveland Glenville High. “There’s never a mean bone in his body until he gets on the field, and then he’s still not mean. ‘I can beat this offensive lineman. I can get to the quarterback. I’ll celebrate with my teammates and go back to the huddle. And do it again.’ Once he gets that in his head, there’s no stopping him.”
Matt Ioannidis, Temple (6-4, 303): Ioannidis was a two-year starter and two-year team captain for the Owls. As a senior, he was first-team all-conference and earned some All-America recognition. He tallied 39 tackles (26 solos) with 3.5 sacks, 10.5 tackles for losses and two fumble recoveries. His best production came as a junior, when he was second-team all-conference with 47 tackles (26 solos), including 3.5 sacks and 11 TFLs. As a junior, he was awarded No. 9 — the single-digit jerseys are given to the toughest players on the team. He also was one of the smartest. It took him three-and-a-half years to get his degree in communications He was known as “The Professor” by his teammates, since Ioannidis led and organized offseason film sessions.
ALSO IN THIS SERIES
Defensive ends, Part 1
Defensive ends, Part 2
Defensive tackles, Part 1 (FREE)
Defensive tackles, Part 2 (FREE)
Defensive tackles, Part 3 (FREE)
Offensive tackles, Part 1
Offensive tackles, Part 2
Offensive guards, Part 1 (FREE)
Offensive guards, Part 2 (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 1 (FREE)
Tight ends, Part 2 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 1 (FREE)
Wide receivers, Part 2
Wide receivers, Part 3
Wide receivers, Part 4 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 1 (FREE)
Running backs, Part 2
Running backs, Part 3
Quarterbacks, Part 1 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 2 (FREE)
Quarterbacks, Part 3 (FREE)
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.