Dienhart: Big Ten East defensive line unit rankings

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: Big Ten East defensive line unit rankings

B1G INTERVIEW - Jim Harbaugh discusses Michigan's heralded recruiting class.

The plaudits for the Michigan d-line began in the winter. And they continued in the spring to the point where some feel this front may not just be the best in the Big Ten … but maybe the best in the nation.

[ MORE: East OL | East receiving corps | East backfields | East predictions ]

Here is my ranking of the Big Ten East defensive lines.

1. Michigan. This could be the best line in the nation. Four seniors are slated to start with Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley on the ends and Maurice Hurst and Ryan Glasgow inside. Everyone is excited to see Rashan Gary, touted by many as the nation’s top recruit. How good is this guy gonna be? Depth is bolstered with senior tackle Matt Godin, junior tackle Bryan Mone and junior end Chase Winovich. D-line boss Greg Mattison will have these guys coached up.

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2. Michigan State. The Spartans lost good talent in end Shilique Calhoun and tackles Joel Heath and Lawrence Thomas. And Montez Sweat and Craig Evans have been booted from the team. But this still shapes up as a stout unit led by line coach Ron Burton, a top assistant. Junior Malik McDowell sets the pace inside and outside. Junior Demetrius Cooper should bring the heat off the edge. And MSU watchers are stoked about freshman Raequan Williams at tackle. Seniors Jamal Lyles and Evan Jones are being counted on at end. And watch true freshman Josh King, a stud, and Nebraska transfer Kevin Williams.

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3. Ohio State. Some big holes to fill with end Joey Bosa and tackles Tommy Schutt, Joel Hale and Adolphus Washington gone. The ends look good with sophomore Sam Hubbard and junior Tyquan Lewis serving as anchors. Lewis led the team with eight sacks in 2015. Incoming freshman Nick Bosa—Joey’s bro–should make a big impact. Juniors Michael Hill and Tracy Sprinkle will start inside. Depth looks good with sophomore end Darius Slade and junior end Jalyn Holmes. D-line coach Larry Johnson is one of the best in the biz.

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4. Penn State. This had been one of the Big Ten’s top fronts in recent years. But work must be done with players like tackles Antony Zettel and Austin Johnson and end Carl Nassib—the 2015 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year–gone. Junior end Garrett Sickels needs to be a big-time contributor. He’s the lone starter back up front. Senior Evan Schwan is the other end. Freshman Kevin Given impressed in the spring at tackle; junior Parker Cothren will get his shot inside. Depth is young.

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5. Rutgers. This is an underrated group. Senior tackle Darius Hamilton is back after missing last year with a knee injury. A pair of seniors returns to start at end in Quanzell Lambert and Julian Pinnix-Odrick. Junior Sebastian Joseph is back to start inside next to Hamilton. Junior Kemoko Turay is a force off the edge and a freak athlete. Depth inside is fortified by sophomores Kevin Wilkins and Eric Wiafe.

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6. Maryland. There is room for improvement. Job No. 1 is to find a pass rusher with Yannick Ngakoue, the program’s all-time sack leader, gone. Senior end Roman Braglio could be the guy. Senior nose man Azubuike Ukandu is 300 pounds of run-stuffing effectiveness. Keep an eye on freshman tackle Adam McLean. Junior end Jesse Aniebonam is an athlete on the edge who can bring the heat.

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7. Indiana. This unit is key for a defense that has lots of room for improvement under new coordinator Tom Allen. The arrival of new line coach Mark Hagan should help. There are no starters back but there is potential in guys like senior tackle Ralph Green III, along with junior tackles Nate Hoff and Robert McCray. Junior end Greg Gooch needs to impact along with sophomore end Nile Sykes. The run defense must improve. And it starts here.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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