JETS’ AARON RODGERS DEFENDS NATHANIEL HACKETT AND FIRES BACK AT THE BRONCOS’ SEAN PAYTON
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Aaron Rodgers is sticking by his offensive coordinator and firing his hardest throw of the summer at Sean Payton.
The Jets quarterback was bothered by critical comments Payton, the Denver Broncos’ head coach, recently made about offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Payton told USA Today for a story published Thursday that Hackett’s 15-game stint with the Broncos last season ”was one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL.″
Payton also said there were “20 dirty hands” around Russell Wilson’s career-worst season, and took some shots at the Jets – Hackett’s new team where he and Rodgers are reunited after enjoying success together in Green Bay.
“It made me feel bad that someone who has accomplished a lot in the league is that insecure that they have to take another man down to set themselves up for some sort of easy fall if it doesn’t go well for that team this year,” Rodgers told NFL Network on Sunday. “I think it was way out of line, inappropriate, and I think he needs to keep my coaches’ names out of his mouth.”
Rodgers, acquired by New York in April from Green Bay, said Hackett is “arguably my favorite coach I’ve ever had in the NFL.” The pair was together for two of Rodgers’ four NFL MVP awards in 2020 and 2021 with the Packers.
During the interview with USA Today’s Jarrett Bell, Payton also criticized the Jets being the latest NFL team “trying to win the offseason” – something he said the Broncos under Hackett tried to do and were “embarrassed.”
Jets coach Robert Saleh said Thursday “Hackett’s doing a phenomenal job here” when asked about Payton’s comments. He also said the Jets are just focused on themselves, but recognizes “there’s a lot of people that are hatin’ on us and a lot of people looking for us to fail.”
Payton on Friday said he regretted his comments in which he disparaged Hackett, and said he would reach out to Hackett and Saleh “at the right time” to do so.
“Listen, I had one of those moments where I still had my Fox hat on and not my coaching hat,” said Payton, who’s returning to the sideline this season after a year’s sabbatical during which he worked as a studio football analyst for Fox Sports following a 15-year stint with the New Orleans Saints.
Rodgers told NFL Network he thought Payton’s initial comments “were very surprising, for a coach to do that to another coach.”
Meanwhile, the back-and-forth made the Jets’ matchup in Denver in Week 5 on Oct. 8 a bit juicier. Payton acknowledged Friday his comments “certainly will bring more interest to the game when we play them, but that seems like years from now.”
VIKINGS END STALEMATE WITH DANIELLE HUNTER BY GIVING EDGE RUSHER A BIG PAY RAISE
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Vikings have given outside linebacker Danielle Hunter a hefty pay raise, paving the way for the team’s best pass rusher to participate in practice after a months-long contract stalemate.
The Vikings announced Sunday on their website that they reached a new deal with Hunter, the three-time Pro Bowl pick with 71 sacks who will turn 29 in three months.
Hunter reported to training camp last week on schedule after skipping the offseason program and mandatory minicamp, but he has yet to join his teammates on the field. Head coach Kevin O’Connell said Saturday that Hunter has been “in the building” and that they’ve been in “daily dialogue” about his physical and mental preparation.
“Danielle Hunter is a very special player, and as soon as we can get him out here, you guys will see him out here,” O’Connell said.
Hunter’s previous contract called for a $4.9 million base salary. According to NFL Network, he’ll make $17 million guaranteed this year with an opportunity to earn an additional $3 million in incentives. Hunter will still hit the free agent market after the season, unless he and the team strike a deal on an extension in the meantime.
Hunter’s presence will be vital for a Vikings defense that has been one of the NFL’s worst over the past three years. They allowed the second-most yards and the fourth-most points in the league in 2022, despite decent production by their primary edge rushers. Hunter had 10 1/2 sacks, Za’Darius Smith had 10 sacks and backups D.J. Wonnum and Patrick Jones had four sacks apiece.
Smith was since traded to Cleveland in a cost-cutting move, leaving Hunter as the only proven pass rusher on the roster. Marcus Davenport was signed as a free agent to push for a starting spot, but this remains one of the biggest questions surrounding the team this season.
“I think Danielle’s a phenomenal player,” said defensive coordinator Brian Flores, who was hired to replace the fired Ed Donatell. “I look forward to working with him.”
Under Donatell, Hunter often found himself as a standup rusher in a three-point stance. The Vikings with Flores are aiming to get back to turning Hunter loose with his hand in the ground more often.
“Veteran players, they’ve seen a lot of defense, coverages, fronts, stunts. I think terminology will probably be the one thing that’s a little bit different, maybe, but some of it, there’s some crossover from some things he’s heard in the past so I don’t think it’ll take long for him to get up to speed,” Flores said. “At the end of the day, we’re telling him to go get the quarterback. There’s really not much to that. So I think he’ll be just fine.”
DALVIN COOK VISITS WITH THE JETS AND WATCHES PRACTICE AS HE CONSIDERS HIS OPTIONS
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Dalvin Cook got an up-close view of Aaron Rodgers and the New York Jets while watching practice from the sideline Sunday.
The free agent running back has to see if he’ll spend the rest of training camp in their backfield – or elsewhere.
Cook spent Sunday meeting with the Jets as he ponders the next stop of his playing career. The four-time Pro Bowl selection was released by the Vikings on June 8 for salary cap savings, according to a person familiar with Minnesota’s decision.
The Jets are the first team Cook has officially visited as a free agent, with his hometown Miami Dolphins also among possible suitors. New York also must consider whether to make him an offer before he leaves the team’s practice facility.
Cook, who turns 28 on Aug. 10, was greeted by chants of “Dal-vin Cooook! Sign that contract!” from fans in the stands as he walked onto the field. He later responded to the post on X, formerly known as Twitter, with a green heart emoji.
Several Jets players, including Rodgers, greeted Cook and he spent a few moments chatting with owner Woody Johnson.
“He’s a good young man, a very good young man,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said. “We didn’t interact too much. There’s a lot of stuff going on, especially when it’s open to the public. But it was good to say hello.”
Cook has talked up the Jets in TV interviews in recent days, telling NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” on Friday they “are right at the top of the list” and the odds of him signing with them were “pretty high.”
“It’s a unique situation because I think they’re building something special over there,” Cook told “Good Morning Football” during the interview. “When you look at it, you always want to be around a great QB, you always want to be around somebody you can pick his brain and just learn from. A-Rod is a four-time MVP. So, just being around a guy like that you can learn a lot more and just develop as a player.
“That’s what I’m looking to do.”
He reiterated those comments Saturday during an interview with ESPN, saying he thinks “the coaching staff, I think everything about what they got going on, just says winning.”
But Cook, a former Florida State star, also said in the interview he was interested in the Dolphins and it would be “a Cinderella story” to play for his hometown team.
He was the guest of the Jets on Sunday, though. And now they have to wait to see if they offer Cook a deal and he accepts – or explores his options.
Both sides have expressed interest, and the Jets wanted Cook to take a physical to be sure his surgically repaired shoulder is healthy.
“That’s pretty much it,” Saleh said. “Call it a meet and greet.”
Cook, who has run for at least 1,000 yards in each of the past four seasons, was scheduled to count more than $14.1 million against the Vikings’ salary cap before he was released. He’s third on Minnesota’s career rushing list with 5,993 yards in six seasons.
With the Jets, Cook could give New York some insurance in the backfield with Breece Hall working his way back from a knee injury that cut short a promising rookie season. New York also has Michael Carter, Zonovan Knight, Damarea Crockett, fifth-round draft pick Israel Abanikanda and undrafted free agent Travis Dye at the position.
NOTES: Saleh said WR Garrett Wilson has a lower right ankle injury and the Jets are being cautious by holding him out of practice. Wilson appeared to have a slight limp and his right ankle was wrapped. … WR Corey Davis remains out with an illness, but Saleh said he could return to practice Monday. … WR Randall Cobb was activated from the physically unable to perform list and participated in practice. … Saleh said the starters aren’t expected to play Thursday night in the Hall of Fame game against Cleveland in Canton, Ohio. Among those players who will play include QB Zach Wilson and OT Mekhi Becton.
NFL PREVIEW: TAMPA BAY
Tom Brady isn’t walking through that door. And right now, that door may as well be a revolving one of the Buccaneers.
After three years of Brady and, in that span, two division titles and a Super Bowl victory, Tampa Bay is left to rebuild with some aging parts and no quarterback of the future. With Brady retired, the job is left to a competition between Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask. With Mayfield likely to win the job, it’s his last chance to prove he can start and be productive after being the No. 1 pick of the Browns in 2018.
For general manager Jason Licht, the summer could hold some significant decisions. Should he trade Pro Bowl receiver Mike Evans, who is 30 years old and entering the final year of his deal? What about linebacker Devin White, who is playing out his fifth-year option and has already asked to be dealt?
With the Buccaneers nowhere near contention, Licht should consider all options with a roster low on young talent and high in cost. For Tampa Bay, it’s time to tear down their house and start the slow build back.
Biggest gamble this offseason: Not making a bigger splash at quarterback
One could argue this was the right decision by Licht and the front office. The Buccaneers need to think long term, and going after a bridge quarterback who starts for the next few years might not be the correct play.
Still, adding Derek Carr would have made Tampa Bay very intriguing in the NFC. Consider if Carr was under center, playing with Chris Godwin and Evans on the outside, along with tight end Cade Otton working the middle. Paired with a respectable defense, that could be the group that wins the NFC South and maybe fights in a playoff game.
Instead, the job falls to Mayfield, who is now on his fourth team in three years. Last year, Mayfield threw for 2,163 yards with 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions, between the Panthers and Rams. Even the most ardent supporters of the Heisman Trophy winner would be hard-pressed to argue he helps Tampa Bay in 2023.
Toughest stretch of the season: Weeks 8 to 12
The NFC gets only eight home games compared to nine away dates, and that catches up to the Buccaneers in Weeks 8 to 12.
Tampa Bay will be on the road four times in that span, including contests with the 49ers and Bills. They also have to make a pair of trips to Houston and Indianapolis, facing two highly touted rookie quarterbacks in C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson. Even the home game will be tough, taking on the Mike Vrabel–led Titans that promise to play a physical brand of ball.
Tampa Bay’s schedule isn’t too difficult with 10 games against the AFC and NFC South divisions, and that midseason stretch could determine its fate.
Breakout player to watch: Joe Tryon-Shoyinka
In his third year, Tryon-Shoyinka needs to become what the Buccaneers envisioned when they selected him at No. 32 in 2021.
The edge rusher has shown flashes of being a quality starter but little more, notching only four sacks in each of his first two campaigns. Tampa Bay moved on from veteran pass-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul before last season and now has Shaq Barrett coming off a torn Achilles tendon. If the Buccaneers are going to win games, it’s on their defense, and Tryon-Shoyinka must become an integral part of the unit.
If he struggles again in 2023, there’s a very good chance he doesn’t see his fifth-year option picked up. However, a strong season could mean big things for both Tryon-Shoyinka and the Bucs.
Position of strength: Secondary
If there’s one area the Buccaneers are stronger than most other teams, it’s the defensive backfield.
Licht has spent significant money and draft capital in this arena, including on corners Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean. At safety, Tampa Bay has seen the free-agency departures of Mike Edwards and Jordan Whitehead in recent years, but Antoine Winfield Jr. remains one of the league’s best on the back end.
In a division fielding young, inexperienced quarterbacks in Carolina and Atlanta, the Buccaneers might be able to force turnovers and get short fields from them.
Position of weakness: Quarterback
There’s no way to go any other direction. The Buccaneers have excellent receivers in Evans and Godwin, an intriguing tight end in Otton and a solid backfield. The problem is none of it matters if Mayfield can’t play.
At 28 years old, Mayfield hasn’t shown consistency or leadership that provides confidence he can lead the Bucs. If he can’t, the job falls to Trask, who now enters a new system under first-year offensive coordinator Dave Canales.
A 2021 second-round pick from Florida, Trask was a two-year starter for the Gators and threw for 69 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. If Trask gets the nod, can he succeed early after throwing nine passes since being selected?
X-factor: The NFC South
In any other division, the Buccaneers would almost be assured of a second-place ceiling. Yet in the NFC South, there’s no reason to believe Tampa Bay couldn’t surprise if Mayfield plays well, as big of an if as that may be.
The Saints, Panthers and Falcons all have reason for optimism, but they also have plenty of potential pitfalls. The Buccaneers enter the season with the lowest win total of the quartet, but they also have the most experience and are the only team with a coach and quarterback who have each been to the playoffs. That counts for something.
Sleeper/fantasy pick: RB Rachaad White
White is in prime position to outperform his draft stock, as the Buccaneers cut ties with Leonard Fournette in the offseason, and didn’t replace him in the draft or free agency. White could emerge to be a nice No. 2 fantasy back in 2023. –Michael Fabiano, SI Fantasy
Best bet: Look toward the over on Chris Godwin’s reception market when it is released. Godwin will be stronger in his second season back from the ACL injury, and this team will be playing from behind often. Mayfield will target his talented slot receiver, who caught more than 100 passes last season. –Jennifer Piacenti, SI Betting
Final record: 5–12, 4th in NFC South
COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWS
PAC 12 PRE-SEASON TEAMS
QB Caleb Williams, USC
RB Bucky Irving, Oregon
RB Jaydn Ott, Cal
WR Rome Odunze, Washington
WR Jacob Cowing, Arizona
WR Jalen McMillan, Washington
TE Jalin Conyers, Arizona State
T Jonah Monheim, USC
T Troy Fautanu, Washington
G Jarrett Kingston, USC
G Justin Dedich, USC
C Jake Levengood, Oregon State
DI Tuli Letuligasenoa, Washington
DI Tyrone Taleni, USC
Edge Bralen Trice, Washington
Edge Laiatu Latu, UCLA
LB Jackson Sirmon, Cal
LB Lander Barton, Utah
CB Travis Hunter, Colorado
CB Chau Smith-Wade, Washington State
S Calen Bullock, USC
S Evan Williams, Oregon
Flex Cole Bishop, Utah
K Joshua Karty, Stanford
P Nick Haberer, Washington State
RS Anthony Gould, Oregon State
QB Michael Penix Jr., Washington
RB Damien Martinez, Oregon State
RB Michael Wiley, Arizona
WR Dorian Singer, USC
WR Jeremiah Hunter, Cal
WR Troy Franklin, Oregon
TE Brant Kuithe, Utah
T Jordan Morgan, Arizona
T Taliese Fuaga, Oregon State
G Keaton Bills, Utah
G Spencer Holstege, UCLA
C Duke Clemens, UCLA
DI James Rawls, Oregon State
DI Popo Aumavae, Oregon
Edge Gabriel Murphy, UCLA
Edge Brandon Dorlus, Oregon
LB Darius Muasau, UCLA
LB Edefuan Ulofoshio, Washington
CB Trikweze Bridges, Oregon
CB Christian Roland-Wallace, USC
S Kitan Oladapo, Oregon State
S Patrick McMorris, Cal
Flex Ryan Cooper Jr., Oregon State
K Camden Lewis, Oregon
P Eddie Czaplicki, USC
RS Silas Bolden, Oregon State
QB Bo Nix, Oregon
RB Carson Steele, UCLA
RB Ja’Quinden Jackson, Utah
WR Tez Johnson, Oregon
WR Elijah Badger, Arizona State
WR Mario Williams, USC
TE Benjamin Yurosek, Stanford
T Joshua Gray, Oregon State
T Roger Rosengarten, Washington
G Junior Angilau, Oregon
G Jonah Savaiinaea, Arizona
C Jackson Powers-Johnson, Oregon
DI Bear Alexander, USC
DI Junior Tafuna, Utah
Edge Grayson Murphy, UCLA
Edge Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Washington
LB Karene Reid, Utah
LB Mason Cobb, USC
CB Zemaiah Vaughn, Utah
CB Nohl Williams, Cal
S Trevor Woods, Colorado
S Asa Turner, Washington
Flex Craig Woodson, Cal
K Cole Becker, Utah
P Kyle Ostendorp, Arizona
RS Devaughn Vele, Utah
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: THE TOP 10 DEFENSIVE LINES IN THE COUNTRY
1. GEORGIA BULLDOGS
Even after losing Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith, both of whom were 2023 first-round picks to the Philadelphia Eagles, Georgia still has the best defensive front in college football.
Mykel Williams enters his sophomore campaign as a top-five edge defender in the country. The former top-10 recruit tied for the most sacks (six) among true freshmen last season while his 33 pressures were tied for the second-most. Expect him to become more of a household name in 2023. Nazir Stackhouse made PFF’s preseason first-team All-SEC and was seventh among Power Five interior defensive linemen with an 86.1 run-defense grade last season. Warren Brinson is expected to start alongside him and was fifth among Power Five defensive tackles in 2022 with a 14.9% pass-rush win rate. The other edge spot will likely be manned by either Tramel Walthour or Chaz Chambliss, who each played over 200 snaps last year.
As for depth, the Bulldogs return interior defensive lineman Zion Logue, who played 332 snaps last season. Marvin Jones Jr. was a five-star edge defender in the 2022 class while edge defender Damon Wilson and interior defensive lineman Jordan Hall were five-star recruits from the 2023 cycle.
2. OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
Ohio State was the only school in the country that had four defensive linemen make PFF’s preseason all-conference lists.
J.T. Tuimoloau is a top-10 edge defender in the country and is a projected top-20 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Tyleik Williams was named to the second-team of our All-Big Ten list, and his 12.4% pass-rush win-rate in 2022 ranked second among Big Ten interior defensive linemen with at least 140 pass-rushing snaps. Michael Hall Jr. was third among that group with an 11.3% pressure rate last year and is a projected top-25 pick in the 2024 draft. Jack Sawyer was third-team preseason All-Big Ten and was one of 10 edge defenders in the conference last season with 70-plus grades as both a pass-rusher and run-defender.
That’s not even including Ty Hamilton, who was a starter for the Buckeyes in 2022 as an interior defensive lineman.
3. MICHIGAN WOLVERINES
The Wolverines have a top-five interior defensive lineman in the country in Kris Jenkins, whose 31 run-defense stops in 2022 were tied for the most among FBS defensive tackles. Next to him is Mason Graham, who was named to PFF’s preseason All-Big Ten second team. Last year, Graham led all true freshman defensive linemen with an 80.3 grade.
Josaiah Stewart was also on the second team of our preseason All-Big Ten list after transferring to Michigan from Coastal Carolina. As a true sophomore in 2022, his 40 pressures and 83.3 pass-rushing grade were top-20 marks among Group of Five edge defenders. Jaylen Harrell is also a returning starter along the edge and tied for seventh among Big Ten edge defenders with six sacks last season.
4. ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI
Illinois has the best duo along the interior defensive line in college football. It starts with Jer’Zhan Newton, the country’s best defensive tackle. He finished as the most valuable Power Five interior defensive lineman last season and led that same group with 59 pressures while his 13 tackles for loss/no-gain tied for the most among all interior defensive linemen in the country. Next to him is Keith Randolph Jr., whose 84.6 run-defense grade was eighth among Power Five defensive tackles in 2022.
The Fighting Illini also return both of their starting edge defenders from a year ago in Seth Coleman and Gabe Jacas, the former being named to PFF’s preseason All-Big Ten third-team. Among Big Ten edges in 2022, they each tied for sixth with 35 pressures.
Illinois is also expected to start junior TeRah Edwards on the interior, who played 206 snaps last season.
5. FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES
One of the most surprising returners to college football is Florida State edge defender Jared Verse, who likely would’ve been a top-20 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft if he declared. Instead, he returns to Tallahassee as the best edge defender in college football. His 24.4% pass-rush win rate last season was fourth among Power Five edge defenders while his 10 tackles for loss/no gain tied for sixth. Patrick Payton is expected to start at the other edge spot and earned a 70.8 grade on 367 snaps in 2022. The Seminoles can also turn to Gilber Edmond, who was a starting edge for South Carolina last year.
Florida State also picked up a couple big transfers along the interior in Western Michigan’s Braden Fiske and Miami (FL)’s Darrell Jackson. Fiske’s 81 pressures over the last two seasons were tied for fifth among all defensive tackles in the country and his 47 run-defense stops tied for third. Jackson tallied 16 run-defense stops last year as a true sophomore, tied for fifth for ACC interior defensive linemen.
The Seminoles also return Fabien Lovett, a third-team preseason All-ACC selection for PFF. Dennis Briggs Jr. is also back after placing eighth among Power Five defensive tackles last season with a 13.7% pass-rush win rate.
6. LSU TIGERS
LSU’s placement on this list depends on where Harold Perkins Jr. lines up the most this season. If he plays mostly at edge defender, the Tigers would easily be in the top five. If he sticks to off-ball linebacker, LSU would rank lower in the top 10. That’s because as a true freshman, Perkins led all Power Five linebackers with a 91.0 pass-rushing grade and he tied for second among all linebackers in the country with 18 quarterback knockdowns (sacks/hits). The Tigers would be wise to let him pin his ears back and rush the quarterback instead of asking him to play in coverage, a lot like what the Dallas Cowboys eventually did with Micah Parsons.
LSU also returns Mekhi Wingo and Maason Smith along the interior defensive line. Wingo was named to PFF’s preseason All-SEC first-team and tied for the most sacks (four) among all defensive tackles in the conference a year ago. Smith played only eight snaps in 2022 before tearing his ACL but has the freakish physical tools that make him a projected first-round pick in the 2024 draft.
The Tigers also bring in Ovie Oghoufo from the transfer portal, who was one of Texas’ starting edges last season.
7. ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE
Even after losing Will Anderson Jr., Alabama still has one of the best defensive fronts in college football.
Dallas Turner will attempt to fill Anderson’s massive shoes and is a top-five edge defender in the country. Over his first two seasons, Turner’s 14 sacks are tied for the most among returning Power Five edges. Chris Braswell will likely be the other starting edge and was named to the third-team preseason All-SEC by us. His 19.1% pass-rush win rate in 2022 led all SEC edge defenders.
Tim Smith also returns on the interior, and he was a starter last season. He’ll likely be joined by Jaheim Oatis and Justin Eboigbe, who each earned 75-plus grades as rotational defensive tackles a year ago.
Alabama also has the top edge defender from the 2022 recruiting class in Jeremiah Alexander returning. As for the 2023 class, Alabama brought in three five-star recruits along the defensive line: defensive tackle James Smith and edge defenders Keon Keeley and Yhonzae Pierre. Keeley was the No. 2 overall recruit in the class, trailing only Texas quarterback Arch Manning.
8. UCLA BRUINS
UCLA has the best group of edge defenders in college football, as it was the only school to have two of the top-10 edge defenders in the country on my list. Laiatu Latu was dominant in 2022 after missing the previous two seasons due to a neck injury. Among Power Five edge defenders, Latu was tied for second in pressures (64), third in pressure rate (21.7%) and tied for third in sacks (12). Gabriel Murphy was one of only three Power Five edge defenders who earned 80-plus grades as both a pass-rusher and run-defender last season. Gabriel’s twin brother, Grayson, also returns and was sixth among Power Five edges with 55 pressures and a 19.5% pressure rate last season.
The Bruins are noticeably weaker on the interior, but they do return a starter in Jay Toia while Dovid Magna earned a 66.9 grade on 240 snaps in 2022. The breakout candidate on the interior though is Gary Smith III, whose 84.7 run-defense grade last season led all Pac-12 defensive tackles with at least 240 snaps.
9. MIAMI (FL) HURRICANES
The Hurricanes have two preseason first-team All-ACC members on their defensive line in interior defensive lineman Leonard Taylor and edge defender Akheem Mesidor. Taylor posted a 19.5% pass-rush win rate and a 16.2% pressure rate in 2022, trailing only Calijah Kancey among Power Five interior defensive linemen. Mesidor was the fifth highest-graded Power Five edge a year ago, finishing with an 87.1 mark.
Miami also returns Jahfari Harvey along the edge, who started last season and earned a respectable 76.2 grade. As for the other starting defensive tackle spot, the Hurricanes have a few options. They could turn to Jared Harrison-Hunte, who missed three games due to injuries last year but earned a 71.7 grade as a starter in 2021. Miami also brought in Branson Deen from Purdue, whose 34 pressures last season placed him sixth among Power Five interior defensive linemen. Thomas Gore also transferred in from Georgia State and has earned a 90.7 grade since 2021, sixth among all defensive tackles in the country.
10. PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS
I asked Olu Fashanu, one of the top offensive tackles in college football, who his toughest opponents have been. He named four of his own teammates: Chop Robinson, Adisa Isaac, Dani Dennis-Sutton and Amin Vanover.
That makes sense considering the Nittany Lions have one of the deeper edge rotations in college football. It starts with Robinson, a top-three edge defender in college football. As a true sophomore, he led all Power Five edge defenders both in overall grade (90.6) and pass-rushing grade (92.4). Isaac tied for fourth among Big Ten edges in 2022 with 36 pressures. Dennis-Sutton and Vanover both earned 80-plus pass-rushing grades as well as rotational edges last season.
Hakeem Beamon is a returning starter on the interior and posted a 7.3% pressure rate last year, which tied for ninth among Big Ten defensive tackles.