Heading into the 2012 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation's leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and the next fall's stars could be the headline players next April for the 2013 NFL Draft.
First-Team Defensive Tackles:
Star Lotulelei, Utah
Entering his senior season, Lotulelei could be the top defensive draft prospect in the entire nation. He was one of the breakout stars in the Pac-12 and across college football last season.
Furthermore, Lotulelei was one of the most dominant linemen in the Pac-12 and won the Morris Trophy as the conference's top defensive lineman. That award is even more impressive considering it is decided by the votes of the offensive linemen. Lotulelei totaled 44 tackles, 1.5 sacks, nine tackles for a loss and a forced fumble in his junior season. He was far more disruptive than the numbers indicate.
The 6-foot-4, 325-pound Lotulelei is really just scratching the surface of his talent. The Tonga product is a strength and speed mismatch who should control the Pac-12 offensive linemen on a weekly basis. Lotulelei will see plenty of double-teams, but he should be even better with a year of starting experience. The senior has more than enough ability put up some nice totals in 2012.
The Pac-12 is a quality conference,so Lotulelei will see some good competition; however there aren't elite offensive linemen who are projected to be high picks. Thus, Lotulelei should be able to overwhelm his competition on a weekly basis. He could be one of the best defensive players, regardless of position next season.
Kawann Short, Purdue
Short may be the best pass-rushing defensive tackle in the nation. He has totaled 12.5 sacks for the Boilermakers over the past two seasons. The quick defensive tackle is very skilled at firing through his gap and disrupting the offensive play. Pass-rushing tackles are hard to find, so Short figures to receive a lot of attention from NFL scouts compared to some of the run-stuffing defensive tackles.
Short had a breakout sophomore season in 2010 playing next to Ryan Kerrigan. Short recorded six sacks and 12.5 tackles for a loss. He also had 41 tackles with two blocked kicks.
Short took over as Purdue's defensive leader last year. Though slowed down by constant double-teams in the beginning of the season, he adjusted and was excellent in the second half of 2011. For example, the junior dominated Ohio State and picked up three sacks. He totaled 54 tackles with 17 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks and one forced fumble for the season.
Short's two years of experience should let him, at least, stay consistent in 2012. At the same time, it won't be easy. Purdue has a serious lack of talent throughout the team on both sides of the ball. No other defensive lineman could even reach four sacks in 2011.
Short won't get help from his teammates, but he was good enough to overcome that last year. If Short is able to do that again, he deserves the recognition as being one of the best in the nation.
Second-Team Defensive Tackles:
Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
Hankins was one of the top run-stuffing defensive tackles in the nation last year. The 6-foot-4, 325-pounder was a load at the line of scrimmage. He stonewalled blockers at the point of attack and controlled the interior of the defensive line. Hankins totaled 67 tackles with 11 tackles for a loss and three sacks in 2011. He had 16 tackles as a backup in his freshman season.
In order to help become a Second-Team All-American - or potentially a First-Team selection - Hankins needs to improve his pass rush as a junior. He has a year of experience and he should be better in 2012. If Hankins becomes a more consistent pass rusher and is able to produce a quality sack total, he could skyrocket.
Hankins will see some quality offensive lines in the Big Ten in 2012. A key matchup will be when he goes against Wisconsin and guard Travis Fredrick. Hopefully, Hankins lines up over the tough guard. The junior Hankins could be poised for a big season.
Bennie Logan, LSU
Logan is another defensive tackle who could be poised for a massive season. The 6-foot-3, 287-pounder is a speedy athlete who is very quick at firing into his gap and causing disruption.
Logan formed an excellent duo as a sophomore with Michael Brockers. Logan recorded 57 tackles with 6.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks and one forced fumble in 2011. Brockers is in the NFL, but the Tigers have talented depth to replace him.
Logan will get a lot of help from the Tiger's impact defensive ends. Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo will create a lot of pass rush off the edge. Logan could rack up sacks with quarterbacks stepping up towards the tackles to avoid the edge-rushers.
In the long-term as a professional, Logan could prove to be among the best tackles on this list. Entering his junior season, he has a ton of upside and untapped potential. Logan is very fast and has the makings of a three-technique pass-rusher in the NFL.
Third-Team Defensive Tackles:
Jonathan Jenkins, Georgia
Jenkins made an impact in his first season for the Bulldogs. He was a perfect fit as a nose tackle in Georgia's 3-4 defense. Jenkins caused disruption in the middle of the line. The junior had 28 tackles, six tackles for a loss and three sacks. He played a big role in Georgia having a tough defense last year.
After playing in the junior college ranks, Jenkins has only one more year of eligibility, but with the Bulldogs bringing back a lot of talent, he should have a good season. The 6-foot-3, 351-pounder has a year of experience battling SEC offensive linemen and that should help him to produce in 2012. Jenkins will most likey have a bigger impact than his numbers indicate.
Jesse Williams, Alabama
The Australian plays the game with real power and quickness. He was an unheralded but essential defender as part of the Crimson Tide defense last year. Williams (6-4, 320) played a couple seasons of community college before breaking into the lineup as a junior for Alabama. He had 24 tackles with four tackles for a loss and .5 sacks in 2011. Williams was a starting five-technique defensive end and moved inside to tackle as part of a four-man front in pass-rushing situations.
Williams should take on a prominent role in the Alabama defense this season since the Crimson Tide lost a number of players to the NFL. He plays on a high-profile team, so his play won't go unnoticed this season.
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