With NCAA college football finding their upcoming season in limbo like so many sports leagues given the current climate, there’s a chance the 2020-21 season will look very different.
Over the coming weeks, I will take a peak at the top five names at each position who are set to make their mark in season 2020, with the caveat of not knowing what the season might look like or when it will even start.
Today, I begin with the most important defensive position: edge rushers.
1. Gregory Rousseau – red-shirt sophomore, Miami – 6’7’’, 253 pounds
Rousseau saw limited action in just two games in his freshman year of 2018 before bursting onto the scene last season. He delivered one of the most dominant seasons in school history as a first-time starter, amassing 54 total tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks (second only to Ohio State’s Chase Young). The local Florida product also added a team-high seven quarterback pressures with two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery while appearing in all 13 games for the Hurricanes. At the completion of an incredible red-shirt freshman season, Rousseau was named as a member of both the All ACC first team and All American second team. He needs a bit more work in the gym, but Rousseau enters season 2020 as the number one edge rushing prospect.
2. Quincy Roche – red-shirt senior, Miami – 6’4’’, 235 pounds
Roche transferred to Miami from Temple at the completion of the 2019 season to give the Hurricanes the most feared one-two pass rush tandem in the country. Roche leaves Temple having put together an incredible resume, finishing with 137 tackles, 39.5 tackles for loss and 26 sacks. The fifth-year senior added six forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and three blocked kicks for good measure, before being named the ACC defensive player of the year in 2019. In Roche and Rousseau, the Canes will boast two of the top three returning sack masters from last season flying off the edges in season 2020. Enjoy the fireworks while you can, it’s likely they will only be together for one season before both being selected in round one of the 2021 NFL draft.
3. Carlos Basham – red-shirt senior, Wake Forest – 6’5’’, 275 pounds
Basham enters his fifth and final season at Wake Forest with 31 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks, which ranks sixth in school history. Returns after earning first team All ACC honors at defensive end in 2019. He has appeared in 36 games over the last three seasons and is coming off an exceptional season with 11 sacks (second most in the ACC behind Miami’s Rousseau) and a team-high 18 tackles for loss. Basham’s tally of 11 sacks is the second most ever in a season by a Deacon and the most since 1992. A well-rounded edge defender who started all 13 games in 2019, he tallied 900 plays over the course of the season including a season-high 99 snaps in the final regular-season game against Syracuse.
4. Xavier Thomas – junior, Clemson – 6’2’’, 265 pounds
He had an underwhelming season in 2019 after contributing straightaway as a freshman in Clemson’s national championship-winning season in 2018. Thomas made 43 tackles with 10.5 for loss, 3.5 sacks and two pass break-ups in 304 snaps over 15 games in a reserve role in 2018. As a starter last year, Thomas collected 31 tackles with eight for loss, two sacks, two pass break-ups and a fumble recovery in 434 snaps in 12 games. In two seasons, it hasn’t quite come together for the star Clemson pass rusher in the form of production. The talent and traits are there, and there’s every chance Thomas goes to the level everybody expected of him last season and emerges as the elite pass rusher of this draft class.
5. Joe Tryon – red-shirt junior, Washington – 6’5’’, 262 pounds
He played in every game bar two across his first two seasons after red-shirting in 2017. He has 61 total tackles to his name including 14.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Tryon exploded in the final two games of 2019, tallying 13 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. The incredibly athletic edge defender was named second-team All Pac 12 after his first year as a starter, just reward for one of the Pac 12’s budding young pass-rushing stars. Tryon appears to be a scheme versatile edge rusher who will combine with defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike to cause offences problems next season. Look for the hustling Huskie to go on to bigger and better things next season.
Others to watch are Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, Tulane’s Patrick Jones, Penn State’s Jayson Oweh, Auburn’s Big Kat Bryant and Oregon State’s Hamilcar Rashed.
The best non-draft-eligible player is Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux.