Opponents only sacked Hayden Moore 15 times last season, part of a total of 17 surrendered by the Cincinnati Bearcats. That means UC did a pretty great job when it came to neutralizing the front sevens of its foes, including more than a few talented defensive ends.
Continuing that strength in pass protection would be a major benefit for the Bearcats once again, and they will be helped by the graduation of a number of very good pass rushers in the conference. However, there are still plenty of good defensive linemen on the edge to contend with. Here are the three best, with honorable mention shout outs to Tulane’s Robert Kennedy as well as Navy’s Jarvis Polu and Josh Webb.
Tyeson Neals, SMU
A three-game starter in 2017, Neals finished with 4.5 sacks, including a half sack against Cincinnati itself. A junior college transfer, Neals is a junior and has plenty of time to develop beyond a rather solid first year with the Mustangs, especially based on the two-sack performance he had on the road against TCU last fall. In the wake of AAC-sack leader Justin Lawler’s departure, Neals could really earn the starting job and vastly increase his production.
Jaelan Phillips - UCLA
It’s no surprise that Phillips is making a quick ascension at UCLA. A five-star recruit for the 2017 class, the 6’5”, 255-pound defensive end from Redlands, Calif. played right away for the Bruins, earning four starts and logging time in seven games total. Despite a somewhat abbreviated debut, he still managed to record 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss, ranking second and fourth, respectively, on UCLA’s roster.
Editor’s Note: Phillips has since been listed as a linebacker on UCLA’s roster, but you can still expect him to be an edge rusher, even if its not technically from a defensive end position.
Quincy Roche - Temple
Houston’s Ed Oliver is obviously the best defensive lineman in the American Athletic Conference (and perhaps the best player in college football), but Roche is in the conversation for second on that list. While studying under the tutelage of Sharif Finch and Jacob Martin as a redshirt freshman last year, Roche learned the ways of rushing the passer and is ready to step in as the leader of the attack for the Owls now. He had seven tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss last season and was even named the defensive player of the year in the AAC for his three-sack game against UMass. In addition to his ability to create negative plays, he has a talent for crafting turnovers out of thin air, with a team-high three forced fumbles in 2017. He will make life difficult for the Bearcats on Sept. 20.