2013 Preseason All-American Projections: Defensive Tackles

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2013 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 this coming fall’s stars could be the headline players next April for the 2014 NFL Draft.

First-Team Defensive Tackles:

Louis Nix, Notre Dame

Nix decided to return for his senior season Even though he could have ended up being a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. That currently looks like that was an astute move since tackles like Star Lotulelei, Sharrif Floyd, Jesse Williams, Bennie Logan and Kawann Short fell lower than many expected. Nix could have gotten caught up in that as well as the 2013 class had a lot of depth at tackle. Nix is one of, if not, the top defensive tackles returning to college football this season.

Nix was a bowling ball last year, causing havoc by rolling through the offensive line on a consistent basis. He was a disruptive force who set up teammates like Stephon Tuitt and Manti Te’o to make a lot of plays. Nix totaled 50 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, five passes batted and one forced fumble in 2012. He was an excellent run-defender who was impossible for offensive linemen to move out of his gap. Nix also is a better pass-rusher than his stats illustrate.

Nix had a strong sophomore season for Notre Dame, too. He was a tough run-plugger at the point of attack and did a good job of occupying blockers. Nix totaled 45 tackles with 4.5 tackles for a loss, .5 sacks and a pass batted in 2011. The senior could produce his best collegiate season this year given his two season of experience and the good talent around him.

The 6-foot-3, 340-pounder has a big personality and could garner a lot of the media attention that went to Manti Te’o last year. If Nix maintains his disruptive style of play, he should be a heavy favorite to be a First-Team All-American at the end of the 2013 season.

Will Sutton, Arizona State

Sutton took the Pac-12 by storm last year with a breakout season. He was one of the best pass-rushers in college football in 2012, recording 13 sacks. The junior also had 63 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss, five passes broken up and three forced fumbles. That kind of production came out of nowhere considering he had only 33 tackles and 2.5 sacks as a sophomore.

The 6-foot-1, 288-pounder is extremely quick off the ball. He presents a real speed mismatch against guards with the ability to fire by them to collapse the pocket. Sutton displayed uncanny natural pass-rush ability for an interior defensive lineman. Even though he had massive production, he made the right decision to return for his senior year as he could use more strength and development before entering the NFL.

A 13-sack season from a defensive tackle is tremendous and it wouldn’t be fair to Sutton to expect him to match that total in 2013. The senior is going to see constant double-teams all year, and he needs some teammates to step up and produce to help him get better looks. Sutton needs to add weight for the next level or he may not be able to be an every-down defensive tackle. Still, Sutton was a First-Team All-American last year and he has the explosiveness to repeat that honor with another quality season.

Second-Team Defensive Tackles:

Anthony Johnson, LSU

Johnson has flashed big-time ability over the past two seasons, but has been stuck behind some veterans on the depth chart. With Michael Brockers, Bennie Logan and Josh Downs all out of his way, Johnson could be poised for a breakout 2013.

Johnson helped to fill the void last year left by Brockers leaving for the NFL. Johnson totaled 30 tackles with 10 tackles for a loss, three sacks and one pass broken up in 2012. He recorded 12 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack in his debut season for LSU in 2011.

The 6-foot-3, 305-pound Johnson is nicknamed “The Freak” around LSU for his rare speed at such a large size. He is explosive off the snap and is a natural at shooting his gap to get penetration into the backfield. Johnson has also displayed some raw power to push offensive linemen aside and use strength to beat blocks. If the junior puts it all together, he could be an extremely disruptive defender at the point of attack. Johnson could easily contend to be a First-Team All-American selection and the top defensive tackle in the nation.

Daniel McCullers, Tennessee

The Tennessee defense had a rough 2012, but McCullers and linebacker A.J. Johnson were the exception as they both had excellent seasons for the Volunteers. McCullers started out his college career at Georgia Military College before landing in Knoxville. The 6-foot-8, 360-pounder spent 2012 as a load at the line of scrimmage who occupied blockers. He was a raw player and could turn into something special as a senior.

McCullers totaled 39 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, a pass broken up, a forced fumble and a blocked kick last year. Even though he didn’t record a sack, he has some bull rush ability to collapse the pocket. McCullers was meant to occupy the center and maybe a guard in Tennessee’s scheme to help free up the linebackers to make plays. He would be a natural 3-4 nose tackle in a similar NFL scheme.

The Volunteers have changed coaching staffs, so it will be interesting to see how the team uses McCullers in 2013. He is a rare commodity with surprising burst and athleticism for such a big blocker. It would be surprising if McCullers produces a big stat line, but he could be one of the top interior defenders in the country.

Third-Team Defensive Tackles:

Timmy Jernigan, Florida State

There is a ton of potential with Jernigan and he could be poised for a breakout year. The 6-foot-2, 298-pounder is very fast and athletic while also having some strength. Jernigan contributed as a freshman and sophomore, but will take on a more prominent role as a junior. Bjoern Werner, Tank Carradine and Everette Dawkins have all moved on to the NFL, so the Seminoles’ defensive line is counting on Jernigan to be the impact player who he was recruited to be.

Jernigan had 45 tackles, eight tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks last year. Surprisingly, the sophomore only officially started two games and was a rotational player. With Carradine and Werner commanding double-teams, Jernigan had a lot of single blocks. He led all of Florida State’s interior defensive linemen in 2011 with 30 tackles, six tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks.

Jernigan already has a developed body with a ton of upside. He is very quick at the point of attack and causes a lot of disruption by firing into the backfield. The junior has the talent to be one of college football’s best defensive tackles over the next two years.

DeAndre Coleman, California

California had a rough 2012 season, but Coleman played solid football. The junior totaled 48 tackles with 8.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks and one pass breakup. The 6-foot-5, 320-pounder has good size and can be a force at the point of attack. He totaled 19 tackles with six tackles for a loss and two sacks in 2011.

Coleman has some nice versatility to his game. In the NFL, he could fit as a 3-4 defensive end or a 4-3 nose tackle. He also could play 3-4 nose tackle. It will be interesting to see how Coleman is used in 2013 with the Golden Bears having a new coaching staff under Sonny Dykes. California ran more of a 3-4 defense in the past and is currently transitioning to a 4-3 set.

Coleman is an underrated player who is capable of having a good senior season and being a quality defensive tackle prospect for the pros.

Honorable Mentions: Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, Oklahoma State defensive tackle Calvin Barnett, Stanford defensive end/tackle Henry Anderson, USC defensive tackle George Uko, South Carolina defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, Alabama defensive tackle Jeoffrey Pagan and Purdue defensive tackle Bruce Gaston.

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