Ranking the top 5 defenses in college football
While the College Football commentary is dominated by innovative and high-flying offenses, the game still relies on dominant defenses to lead the way.
Let’s meet the five highest-graded defenses this season.
1. Michigan Wolverines
Allowing an average of 11.9 points and 240 yards per game, the Michigan defense has clamped down on every opponent they’ve faced. No team has scored 30 points against them, and this group leads or sits near the top of every statistical category.
Our top-ranked defense has a plethora of talented players and no one has been better than Jourdan Lewis. He is our highest-graded cornerback (+19.0) and has allowed a meager 38.4 quarterback rating on targets when he’s in coverage. His 19 passes defensed are also the best mark in the country.
The Wolverines’ defensive line is a major catalyst for the lofty ranking as well. Led by seniors Chris Wormley and Ryan Glasgow, this unit is giving up a paltry 80.6 yards on the ground per game and has only ceded five rushing touchdowns all year. Every member of the defensive line rotation has a positive grade, and they are one of the stingiest groups Ann Arbor has had in a long time.
2. Alabama Crimson Tide
Fresh off of a dominant win against SEC West rival LSU, where they held Leonard Fournette to 31 yards on 19 carries, this unit absolutely deserves the outpour of praise they are receiving. Each position group is stacked on the Crimson Tide defense, but the defensive line may be the most impressive. Nose Tackle Jarran Reed (+37.0) is the highest-graded player on the entire defense and his ability to clog gaps and control opposing offensive linemen makes everyone around him better.
Alabama has our second-highest pass coverage grade (+45.0) and it’s a testament to the rangy linebackers as much the secondary. Reggie Ragland (+21.4) is one of only two linebackers that rank in the top ten of our coverage and pass rush grades.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
One of the most-hyped teams coming into the season, the Buckeyes’ defense has found their groove after a tumultuous start. Lauded junior defensive end Joey Bosa (+54.1) is our highest-graded edge defender and has been even better than some could imagine. While his sack numbers may be lagging, Bosa has 17 QB hits and 19 QB hurries (first and third in the country, respectively), so the pressures are there. Couple those numbers with the highest run defense grade for a defensive end (+22.9), and there is a reason NFL scouts are drooling over what he can bring to the table.
Linebackers Raekwon McMillan, Darron Lee and Josh Perry have been forces in the running game filling gaps, and all three of them rank in the top 30 at their position. Perry has been the most versatile player on this unit by stopping the run consistently and owning the best coverage grade (+7.2) on the entire defense.
4. Clemson Tigers
Clemson had the top-ranked defense in 2014 and lost standout starters Vic Beasley, Stephone Anthony and Grady Jarrett to the NFL. The 2015 mantra was to reload rather than rebuild and it has worked out pretty well for the Tigers, who sit atop the College Football playoff rankings largely due to the strong work from their defense.
The defensive line, which had zero returning starters, is led by junior defensive end Shaq Lawson. The highest-graded player (+22.8) on the Tigers’ defense has racked up 13.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks through ten games.
B.J. Goodson and Ben Boulware are the playmakers in the linebacker corps and have stepped up in a big way this season. Goodson was the main proponent behind holding Florida State to 13 points (they average 30.6 points per game) this past week, collecting 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a fumble recovery. Boulware, who forced the late-game fumble against Florida State has been a force all year. Look no further than the Boston College game in Week 7 to see Boulware’s impact. He earned the highest single-game grade (+7.0) of any Clemson defender all season against the Eagles.
The secondary was billed by head coach Dabo Swinney as the best he’s had in 13 years and was supposed to be the strength of the defense before the season. That’s debatable, but what can’t be denied is the stellar play from safety Jayron Kearse. Kearse is our seventh-ranked safety with a +15.4 overall grade. The nephew of former NFL All-Pro, Jevon “The Freak” Kearse, is the vocal and physical leader of the Clemson secondary and has earned comparisons to Seattle Seahawks strong safety, Kam Chancellor, for his similar build and style of play.
5. Missouri Tigers
While the football team has made waves off the field, the Tigers’ defense should garner some headlines as well despite the team’s disappointing record. The most recent battle against Mississippi State was not a good reflection of what this defense has been able to do this year. They are only allowing 14.6 points per game, which is the tied for the best in the SEC and fourth in the country.
Defensive end Charles Harris continues a streak of game-changing edge defenders suiting up for Missouri. Our second-ranked edge defender behind the aforementioned Joey Bosa, Harris has assumed the role of alpha dog on the defensive line. He has proven to be unblockable at moments with 44 pressures this season. Doing the majority of his damage over the right side is even more impressive, considering he’s taking on left tackles nearly every play.
Linebacker Kentrell Brothers has been 1A on the impact scale for the Missouri defense. Ranked as our second-highest graded linebacker, he has been a maniac in the run game. He has 52 stops (stops are defined as a “loss” for the offense), which is the best in the country and 16 more than any other 4-3 linebacker has racked up.