Jarran Reed, Alabama (6-3, 311): After two years of junior-college ball, Reed was an instant starter during his two seasons at Alabama. He earned all-SEC accolades both seasons, including second-team honors as a senior, when he recorded 57 tackles, including one sack and 4.5 tackles for losses. Reed was an anchor for a defense that ranked No. 1 against the run entering the playoffs. Reed started his season with a bang by tallying five tackles vs. Wisconsin and helping hold the Badgers to just 40 rushing yards. In 2014, he had 55 tackles, including one sack and 6.5 tackles for losses. Reed was born big. At birth, he was 10 pounds, 7 ounces. He’s always been a prodigy, too. He skipped crawling and started walking at 7-and-a-half months old. "I knew then something would come from that," his mom, Anjanette, said. "I believe that was the beginning of what we have now in him being an athlete." Reed was a linebacker in high school before moving to the defensive line at Hargrave Military College. From there, it was to East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, Miss. It was a trying time for Reed, and he almost gave up football to return home. "He had to go the way he's gone to make him the type of person he is now," Anjanette said. "Sometimes when things are given to you, you don't appreciate them quite as much. The fact he's had to work for everything he has done to get to where he's at, he's appreciated that road he's had to travel."
Hassan Ridgeway, Texas (6-3, 320): Underclassman. Ridgeway started the final eight games of his junior season and was named an honorable mention on the all-Big 12 team with his 36 tackles (24 solos) including 3.5 sacks and 6.5 for losses. He added two fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a touchdown. He was better as a sophomore, when he started 10 games. Ridgeway tallied 43 tackles (27 solos), with six sacks and 11 for losses. "I call him ‘The Green Mile,’ and it's probably going to embarrass him," Texas coach Charlie Strong said at a preseason banquet, “but he is so fun to watch." Added Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford: “One of these days, Hassan is actually going to get mad. He is one the nicest young people I've ever been around. If he ever gets mad, I'm going to be the first person to leave the room because he will hurt somebody. My man could be a beast.”
A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama (6-3, 312): Underclassman. Robinson was a Freshman All-American in 2013 and a consensus All-American in 2015. During his final season, Robinson was a finalist for the Outland Trophy (top interior lineman) as he posted 46 tackles (18 solos), including 3.5 sacks and 7.5 for losses, plus 10 quarterback hurries, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. In his three seasons, Robinson had nine sacks and 22 tackles for losses. He was the no-nonsense enforcer of Alabama’s defense and a big-time leader. “If I’m going to tell you something, I got to show you something,” Robinson said. “I’m going to show it to you the whole time. I’m not going to slack off. I’m going to give you everything I got.” He got his first taste of tackle football when he was 4. Even at that age, he was big enough to compete with the 7- and 8-year-olds. He didn’t like being hit, though, so he quit. "He's always been big for his age," his mom, Abigail, said. "I called him the man child." His favorite teacher at Arlington Heights (Texas) High School called him a “big teddy bear.” Robinson, however, is a different player on the football field than the Mr. Nice Guy who enjoys volunteering with 3-year-old Special Olympians.
DeVaunte Sigler, Jacksonville State (6-3, 292): Sigler was a second-team all-Ohio Valley Conference selection as a senior, despite a pair of one-month absences. In 10 games, he had 32 tackles (13 solos), with two sacks and seven for losses. As a junior, he was the Ohio Valley Defensive Player of the Year and won All-America accolades, with his 37 tackles including 3.5 sacks and nine for losses. Sigler started his career at Auburn but was dismissed from the team in March 2013. He returned to his mom’s home in Mobile, Ala., but didn’t have the money to have a phone — and without a phone, it was hard to get a job to help support himself and his 2-year-old daughter. "My mother, she raised me, and I'm looking like, 'That's my child, I'm a man and I can't do anything about it,'" Sigler said. "I've got to find something to do to feed my daughter and make things better." Finally, he got a job as a mason. Then, he landed at Jacksonville State and earned his degree in December “It humbled me. It made me a better person and football player. Those things happen to guys. They need that step down to better their career and better their lifestyle.”
Lawrence Thomas, Michigan State (6-4, 281): Thomas started the final 27 games of his career, at defensive tackle as a junior and defensive end as a senior. In 2015, he had career-high totals of 38 tackles, five tackles for losses, three sacks and six passes defensed to earn honorable-mention all-Big Ten. In 2014, he was voted MSU’s most-improved player with his 30 tackles including three sacks. As a redshirt freshman, he moved from linebacker — he was a four-star recruit at that position and a finalist for the High School Butkus Award — to defensive end to fullback. He started three games and caught seven passes for 78 yards. “My heart is always linebacker, I still think I can play linebacker. But right now I’m in love with D-line.” He sat out 2011 with a torn labrum and missed the first half of the 2013 season with a back injury. Never mind reaching the NFL — Thomas accomplished something by being the first member of his family to graduate from high school. "Those experiences right there have shaped me into the player I am today because they take you through so much mentally and have you grow as a player," Thomas, a sociology major, said. "I've already exceeded the expectations in my family and in my household, and I have a younger brother that I'm trying to set a path for and lay out a path for as well. (I've been able to) just open doors for my family, so it's kind of a big deal."
Vincent Valentine, Nebraska (6-2, 320): Underclassman. Valentine, who graduated in December, decided to enter the NFL coming off a down season in which he recorded just 10 tackles, with three sacks and four for losses. He was slowed for most of the season by a bone bruise to his left ankle, which limited him to 10 games (seven starts). When the new coaching staff arrived following the 2014 season, Valentine weighed 344 pounds. He was down to 320 in August. History suggests he might not be drafted.
Adolphus Washington, Ohio State (6-4, 297): As a senior, Washington delivered 49 tackles (23 solos), with four sacks, seven tackles for losses, one forced fumble and a 20-yard pick-six. He was second-team all-conference but earned some first-team All-America accolades. His career ended in disappointing fashion, however, after he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute and suspended for the Fiesta Bowl. After starting five times as a sophomore, Washington was key as Ohio State won a national title in 2014. He started 14 games and recorded 48 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 10.5 tackles for losses to earn honorable-mention all-Big Ten. At Taft High School in Cincinnati, he was the Division III Co-Defensive Player of the Year and the No. 1-ranked prospect in the state. Plus, he was Gatorade’s Mr. Basketball. With all of that talent and potential, big things were expected at Ohio State. When it didn’t happen, Washington considered leaving the program. He called his father, who had played two years at Cincinnati, for advice. "I went to UC, I was good," Washington Sr. said. "I could've started, but I let so many other things cloud my mind, the coaches don't like me. From my experience, I didn't want him to miss out because I knew the stuff wasn't true. Don't walk away from a great opportunity. That's what I did and you'll end up like me, working. I believe I gave him a good life, but I'd rather his life be much better than mine. I didn't want him to end up like I did." Between his junior and senior seasons, a blunt talk from coach Urban Meyer got Washington on the path to his big senior year.
Antwaun Woods, USC (6-1, 320): Woods, a three-year starter, had 41 tackles (16 solos) among his three sacks and seven tackles for losses as a senior. He had 37 tackles, with one sack, as a junior before missing the bowl game with a torn chest muscle. He was voted a team captain — a big honor for a player who escaped “The Jungles,” a low-income neighborhood in Los Angeles. He lived with his father and grandmother. “It’s like a dream come true. Growing up in L.A., I never imagined being named captain of the USC football team. I feel like I made my way into history.” With a tough background, he fits right in at nose tackle. “I love being the guy who has to do the dirty work. You don’t make a lot of highlight plays, but being the guy who is unselfish, who sacrifices, who takes on two people – I love it. It’s kind of being accountable.” He earned a degree in sociology and was pursuing a second degree in health and human sciences. He’s had some of his artwork displayed on campus.
Connor Wujciak, Boston College (6-3, 297): Wujciak was named first-team all-ACC and to the all-New England team following a senior season of 31 tackles (24 solos), 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles for losses. Wujciak started nine games as a sophomore before earning third-team all-ACC as a full-time starter as a junior with his 33 tackles (18 solos), three sacks and 7.5 TFLs. His father, Alan, was a guard on Notre Dame’s 1973 championship team, sister Megan swims at Penn State and brother Alex was an all-ACC linebacker at Maryland in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and got a shot with the Browns. "They'd start wrestling, and the house would shake," the elder Wujciak said of the boys. Wujciak, who has a way with words, is the definition of dependable.
Anthony Zettel, Penn State (6-4, 273): Zettel recorded 47 tackles (20 solos) with four sacks and 11 tackles for losses as a senior. He also broke up six passes and forced a fumble to win third-team all-Big Ten. He had a monster junior season with eight sacks, 17 tackles for losses and three interceptions to earn first-team all-Big Ten honors. He was the only player in FCS ranked among the national leaders in sacks and interceptions per game. At Ogemaw Heights High School in West Branch, Mich., he set the state record with a heave of 61 feet, 8 inches in the shot put. Before an early-season game this season against San Diego State, Zettel’s father died after a battle with cancer. "It was an emotional little spurt for me there, but at the same time, my dad, that's what he would want. When I would come home and he was going through chemo sessions, he would be yelling at me, like, 'Get back to college and go do your thing, because sitting here with me, you're not doing anything you want to do and bettering yourself.'" Zettel turned in a career-high seven tackles in that game. “I know every game I play from now on out or whatever I do in life, he's going to be with me,” Zettel said. He’s also known for tackling trees.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.