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Published: May 23, 2016 at 02:12 p.m.
Updated: May 23, 2016 at 02:24 p.m.

16 for '16: Defenders who will be NFL stars

» Complete 16 for '16 series

College Football 24/7's "16 for '16" series continues with a look at 16 defensive players who are on their way to being NFL stars. The group includes seven seniors who will be available in the 2017 draft, and nine underclassmen who will be draft-eligible no later than 2018. It’s especially deep with pass rushers, as 7 players on the list line up at defensive end or outside linebacker.

16 Photos Total

  • <b>Class (size):</b> Junior (6-foot-2, 205 pounds)
<br><br>How's this for being around the ball: Blanding posted 123 tackles as a freshman in 2014 and 115 last year, ranking as the No. 2 tackler in the entire ACC for both seasons. The first-team All-ACC pick is all over the field in run support as a free safety. This year, he'll be looking to show production in coverage after managing one interception and three pass breakups last year, but the talent to do so unquestionably is there. 16

    Ric Tapia/NFL

    16. Quin Blanding, DB, Virginia

    Class (size): Junior (6-foot-2, 205 pounds)

    How's this for being around the ball: Blanding posted 123 tackles as a freshman in 2014 and 115 last year, ranking as the No. 2 tackler in the entire ACC for both seasons. The first-team All-ACC pick is all over the field in run support as a free safety. This year, he'll be looking to show production in coverage after managing one interception and three pass breakups last year, but the talent to do so unquestionably is there.

  • <b>Class (size):</b> Senior (6-3, 273)
<br><br>Walker's college career has been one of vast improvement, culminating with an assortment of personal bests last year, including tackles (58), tackles for loss (15.5), sacks (10.5) and forced fumbles (4). What did all that mean to the Seminoles? He was named FSU's co-defensive MVP along with the No. 5 pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, Jalen Ramsey. NFL scouts will want to see more consistency from him in the area of run stopping. 15

    John Bazemore

    15. DeMarcus Walker, DE, Florida State

    Class (size): Senior (6-3, 273)

    Walker's college career has been one of vast improvement, culminating with an assortment of personal bests last year, including tackles (58), tackles for loss (15.5), sacks (10.5) and forced fumbles (4). What did all that mean to the Seminoles? He was named FSU's co-defensive MVP along with the No. 5 pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, Jalen Ramsey. NFL scouts will want to see more consistency from him in the area of run stopping.

  • <b>Class (size):</b> Junior (6-1, 211)
<br><br>Some might argue that LSU CB Tre'Davious White has more claim for listing here than Adams, but for now, the latest in the Tigers' line of standout safeties gets the nod. Adams led LSU with four interceptions last season and enters his third year as a starter. He cracked the starting lineup in a talented secondary as a freshman in 2014, and has progressed steadily from there. 14

    Aaron M. Sprecher/Associated Pre / CHERA

    14. Jamal Adams, DB, LSU

    Class (size): Junior (6-1, 211)

    Some might argue that LSU CB Tre'Davious White has more claim for listing here than Adams, but for now, the latest in the Tigers' line of standout safeties gets the nod. Adams led LSU with four interceptions last season and enters his third year as a starter. He cracked the starting lineup in a talented secondary as a freshman in 2014, and has progressed steadily from there.

  • <b>Class (size):</b> Senior (5-10, 175)
<br><br>In Jim Harbaugh's first year as coach, Lewis went from a reliable cornerback to a defensive star in 2015. Despite a size disadvantage that will be heavily scrutinized by NFL scouts this fall, Lewis broke up a school-record 20 passes last year to go with two interceptions. He played his best in the big games, posting six breakups against Michigan State and a sack against Ohio State. 13

    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press / AP

    13. Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan

    Class (size): Senior (5-10, 175)

    In Jim Harbaugh's first year as coach, Lewis went from a reliable cornerback to a defensive star in 2015. Despite a size disadvantage that will be heavily scrutinized by NFL scouts this fall, Lewis broke up a school-record 20 passes last year to go with two interceptions. He played his best in the big games, posting six breakups against Michigan State and a sack against Ohio State.

  • <b>Class (size):</b> Junior (6-0, 191)
<br><br>A physical and fearless corner, Tabor was a first-team All-SEC pick by a vote of the league's coaches last year. He picked off four passes, returning two for touchdowns, and broke up 14 others. Never lacking for confidence, Tabor has been a key member of the UF secondary since his freshman year. After playing for two head coaches over his first two years, he'll have some consistency under Jim McElwain and DC Geoff Collins in 2016. 12

    Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports / USA TODAY Sports

    12. Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida

    Class (size): Junior (6-0, 191)

    A physical and fearless corner, Tabor was a first-team All-SEC pick by a vote of the league's coaches last year. He picked off four passes, returning two for touchdowns, and broke up 14 others. Never lacking for confidence, Tabor has been a key member of the UF secondary since his freshman year. After playing for two head coaches over his first two years, he'll have some consistency under Jim McElwain and DC Geoff Collins in 2016.

  • <b>Class (size):</b> Senior (6-4, 237)
<br><br>Alabama's designated pass rusher was incredibly effective in the role last season for the Crimson Tide, piling up 10.5 sacks despite playing almost exclusively in obvious passing situations only. He's back to show scouts he can defend the run. 11

    Butch Dill/USA TODAY Sports

    11. Tim Williams, LB, Alabama

    Class (size): Senior (6-4, 237)

    Alabama's designated pass rusher was incredibly effective in the role last season for the Crimson Tide, piling up 10.5 sacks despite playing almost exclusively in obvious passing situations only. He's back to show scouts he can defend the run.

  • <b>Class (size):</b> Junior (6-6, 280)
<br><br>In McDowell, the Spartans return a disruptive interior presence (13 tackles for loss) who will likely see consistent double-teaming this fall. With the versatility to give MSU some help at defensive end, McDowell can be moved around to set up more single blocks. Curiously, with all his length, he didn't have a single pass deflection last year (his lone interception <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGSUwJKkFHQ" target="new">came off someone else's deflection</a>). Even more curious about McDowell is his single-digit jersey number (4), uncommon for a defensive lineman. 10

    Mike Carter/USA TODAY Sports / USA TODAY Sports

    10. Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State

    Class (size): Junior (6-6, 280)

    In McDowell, the Spartans return a disruptive interior presence (13 tackles for loss) who will likely see consistent double-teaming this fall. With the versatility to give MSU some help at defensive end, McDowell can be moved around to set up more single blocks. Curiously, with all his length, he didn't have a single pass deflection last year (his lone interception came off someone else's deflection). Even more curious about McDowell is his single-digit jersey number (4), uncommon for a defensive lineman.

  • <b>Class (size):</b> Junior (6-3, 257)
<br><br>Although Barnett is an outstanding pass rusher, he's a balanced defender as a run-stopper who can hold his own against much bigger offensive linemen. He's been remarkably consistent over his first two college seasons with 10 sacks each year and nearly the same tackle numbers, as well. He's 20 tackles for loss short of Leonard Little's school career record of 53, and if he stays in college for two more years, he's highly likely to break it. 9

    Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports / USA TODAY Sports

    9. Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

    Class (size): Junior (6-3, 257)

    Although Barnett is an outstanding pass rusher, he's a balanced defender as a run-stopper who can hold his own against much bigger offensive linemen. He's been remarkably consistent over his first two college seasons with 10 sacks each year and nearly the same tackle numbers, as well. He's 20 tackles for loss short of Leonard Little's school career record of 53, and if he stays in college for two more years, he's highly likely to break it.

  • <b>Class (size):</b> Senior (6-4, 245)
<br><br>Fields is one of the nation's top pass rushers and will anchor the Louisville defense this fall for DC Todd Grantham. A talented secondary behind him will force more second and third reads from quarterbacks, which isn't good news for the left tackles trying to hold him off. Fields had 22.5 tackles for loss, including 11 sacks, last season. TCU parted ways with Fields after the 2013 season, and he resurfaced at Trinity Valley (Texas) C.C. (2014) before transferring to UL last year. 8

    Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY Sports

    8. Devonte Fields, DE, Louisville

    Class (size): Senior (6-4, 245)

    Fields is one of the nation's top pass rushers and will anchor the Louisville defense this fall for DC Todd Grantham. A talented secondary behind him will force more second and third reads from quarterbacks, which isn't good news for the left tackles trying to hold him off. Fields had 22.5 tackles for loss, including 11 sacks, last season. TCU parted ways with Fields after the 2013 season, and he resurfaced at Trinity Valley (Texas) C.C. (2014) before transferring to UL last year.

  • <b>Class (size):</b> Senior (5-11, 200)
<br><br>King plays a more physical brand of cornerback than most, and at just 5-11, that's an important asset. He's been one of the best defensive backs in the Big Ten for the last two years. He won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back in 2015 with eight interceptions, tying a school record and ranking No. 2 in the nation. Throw in return skills for both kickoffs and punts, and NFL scouts have plenty to evaluate in King. 7

    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Pr / AP

    7. Desmond King, CB, Iowa

    Class (size): Senior (5-11, 200)

    King plays a more physical brand of cornerback than most, and at just 5-11, that's an important asset. He's been one of the best defensive backs in the Big Ten for the last two years. He won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back in 2015 with eight interceptions, tying a school record and ranking No. 2 in the nation. Throw in return skills for both kickoffs and punts, and NFL scouts have plenty to evaluate in King.

  • <b>Class (size):</b> Senior (6-2, 230)
<br><br>Florida linebackers coach Randy Shannon -- who has a Miami Hurricanes background -- compared Davis' competitiveness to Jonathan Vilma's, his athleticism to Jon Beason's and his understanding of the game to Ray Lewis'. <a href="http://gatorbytes.blog.palmbeachpost.com/2016/03/30/randy-shannon-compares-gators-lb-jarrad-davis-to-jonathan-vilma-jon-beason-ray-lewis/" target="new">That's a mouthful.</a> Like Ohio State's Raekwon McMillan, he'll be leading an inexperienced linebacking corps in 2016, but the senior has the makeup for that challenge. Davis made 98 stops with 11 tackles for loss last year, and returns as arguably the SEC's best linebacker. 6

    Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports

    6. Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida

    Class (size): Senior (6-2, 230)

    Florida linebackers coach Randy Shannon -- who has a Miami Hurricanes background -- compared Davis' competitiveness to Jonathan Vilma's, his athleticism to Jon Beason's and his understanding of the game to Ray Lewis'. That's a mouthful. Like Ohio State's Raekwon McMillan, he'll be leading an inexperienced linebacking corps in 2016, but the senior has the makeup for that challenge. Davis made 98 stops with 11 tackles for loss last year, and returns as arguably the SEC's best linebacker.

  • <b>Class (size):</b> Fourth-year junior (6-3, 255)
<br><br>The pass-rushing torch that never seems to go out at Missouri fell to Harris in 2015, and he responded with team-highs in tackles for loss (18.5), sacks (7) and quarterback hurries (10). He can beat offensive tackles with a quick first step on pass plays and fares well against the run. He caught fire near the end of the season with a four-game streak of SEC games with a sack (Florida, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State). Harris should be the Tigers' most heavily scouted player this fall. 5

    L.G. Patterson/Associated Press / FR23535 AP

    5. Charles Harris, DE, Missouri

    Class (size): Fourth-year junior (6-3, 255)

    The pass-rushing torch that never seems to go out at Missouri fell to Harris in 2015, and he responded with team-highs in tackles for loss (18.5), sacks (7) and quarterback hurries (10). He can beat offensive tackles with a quick first step on pass plays and fares well against the run. He caught fire near the end of the season with a four-game streak of SEC games with a sack (Florida, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State). Harris should be the Tigers' most heavily scouted player this fall.

  • <b>Class (size):</b> Junior (5-11, 185)
<br><br>Although Jackson has been known to play some receiver and is a highly explosive threat as a return man, his primary position is on defense. He's undersized, but as a <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000606437/article/adoree-jackson-expected-to-pursue-olympics-fulltime-in-spring" target="new">potential Olympic long jumper</a>, his athleticism is unquestioned. He'll draw the best receivers the Pac-12 has to offer in coverage, and they'll find him awfully tough to shake. 4

    Matt Cashore/USA TODAY Sports / USA TODAY Sports

    4. Adoree' Jackson, CB, USC

    Class (size): Junior (5-11, 185)

    Although Jackson has been known to play some receiver and is a highly explosive threat as a return man, his primary position is on defense. He's undersized, but as a potential Olympic long jumper, his athleticism is unquestioned. He'll draw the best receivers the Pac-12 has to offer in coverage, and they'll find him awfully tough to shake.

  • <b>Class (size):</b> Senior (6-3, 294)
<br><br>One of the surprise returns among players who passed on the 2016 NFL Draft, Allen is back for one more year to boost his stock. There isn't much boosting left to do, however, for a first-team All-SEC pick who notched 11 of his 12 sacks against ranked opponents. Allen can play multiple roles and is effective on any down at the college level. 3

    Ric Tapia/NFL / TAPIR

    3. Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama

    Class (size): Senior (6-3, 294)

    One of the surprise returns among players who passed on the 2016 NFL Draft, Allen is back for one more year to boost his stock. There isn't much boosting left to do, however, for a first-team All-SEC pick who notched 11 of his 12 sacks against ranked opponents. Allen can play multiple roles and is effective on any down at the college level.

  • <b>Class (size):</b> Junior (6-2, 240)
<br><br>The Buckeyes' middle linebacker was just another highly talented player among many in the OSU defense last year. This year, he'll be counted on for much more leadership. After leading the defense and all <a href="http://www.nfl.com/draft/2016/tracker?icampaign=draft-sub_nav_bar-drafteventpage-tracker#dt-tabs:dt-by-college/dt-by-college-input:37" target="new">its draft picks</a> in tackles with 119, that shouldn't be a problem. McMillan is also effective in coverage. Think <a href="http://www.nfl.com/draft/2016/profiles/reggie-ragland?id=2555169" target="new">Reggie Ragland</a>, only a step faster. 2

    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press / FR52593 AP

    2. Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

    Class (size): Junior (6-2, 240)

    The Buckeyes' middle linebacker was just another highly talented player among many in the OSU defense last year. This year, he'll be counted on for much more leadership. After leading the defense and all its draft picks in tackles with 119, that shouldn't be a problem. McMillan is also effective in coverage. Think Reggie Ragland, only a step faster.

  • <b>Class (size):</b> Junior (6-5, 262)
<br><br>The Aggies' best player by far, Garrett dropped opponents for 101 yards in losses last year among 19.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 of which were sacks. More importantly, he made strides as a run defender and made more of an impact in bigger games than he did as a freshman in 2014. Garrett is 18 sacks short of Aaron Wallace's career school record of 42. Off the field and in the weight room, he's an example-setter. 1

    Aaron M. Sprecher/Associated Pre / CHERA

    1. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M

    Class (size): Junior (6-5, 262)

    The Aggies' best player by far, Garrett dropped opponents for 101 yards in losses last year among 19.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 of which were sacks. More importantly, he made strides as a run defender and made more of an impact in bigger games than he did as a freshman in 2014. Garrett is 18 sacks short of Aaron Wallace's career school record of 42. Off the field and in the weight room, he's an example-setter.