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BamaCentral 22 for '22: Which Alabama Defensive Lineman Will Make the Most Impact?

The Crimson Tide returns plenty of experience on its defensive front, but who will step up as the biggest game-changer?

After falling one win short of adding a 19th national title last season, Alabama will look to rebound and take the next step this year. The Crimson Tide returns a loaded roster, including reigning Heisman winner Bryce Young and a rebuilt offense as well as one of the most talented defenses in the Nick Saban era.

Alabama will open its season on Sept. 3 when it hosts Utah State inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. To help pass the time, BamaCentral’s Joey Blackwell, Tony Tsoukalas and Katie Windham will discuss 22 topics and questions concerning the 2022 season.

Today we continue our series by asking which one of Alabama's defensive linemen will make the biggest impact this season.

Blackwell's take

Alabama’s defensive line returns three seniors with starting experience in 2022 with D.J. Dale, Byron Young and Justin Eboigbe. When the final depth chart releases this fall, all three of them will likely be listed as starters.

However, that doesn’t mean that they won’t have competition.

Juniors Jamil Burroughs and Tim Smith look to spoil the senior party this season. At the A-Day Game back in April, Burroughs led all White Team defensive linemen with two tackles (with both of them being sacks), while Smith tied Eboigbe with one tackle. Of those two players, I give Burroughs the most potential of garnering a look as a starter this season.

Look, the path isn’t going to be easy for Burroughs. In all likelihood, he still probably won’t start. That being said, just because he isn’t the first defensive lineman on the field doesn’t mean that he won’t have an impact.

Burroughs made waves during the spring and looks to continue that momentum through to the fall. Dale has a history of injuries, and while we all hope he turns that around this season and remains completely healthy, Burroughs is more than capable of stepping up should his number be called.

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The question for today wasn’t who is going to have the most tackles or sacks. Rather, it was who will be the most impactful. For me, my answer begins and ends with Burroughs.

Tsoukalas' take

I’m going to go with a player who should be making a bit more buzz than he currently is. Byron Young was one of Alabama’s most underrated defenders as he quietly finished fifth on the team with 9.5 tackles for a loss despite taking part in just 306 defensive snaps.

According to Pro Football Focus, Young also finished second on the team with an 88.7 run-defense grade, narrowly behind Anderson’s 90.4. While his pass-rushing numbers — two sacks and 12 total pressures — are nothing to write home about, Alabama should have more than enough help in that department with the five-star trio of Anderson, Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell.

Young’s numbers might not jump off the page, but his ability to set the edge in the running game and make tackles behind the line of scrimmage will be an important factor in the Crimson Tide’s defense next season. Don’t be surprised if he finds himself in a position to be a Day 2 pick in next year’s NFL Draft if he can continue to build on last year’s production. 

Windham's take

In the spring, we learned that DJ Dale had been added to Alabama’s leadership council. He also revealed why he wanted to come back for his senior season.

“It was an easy decision,” Dale said. “I didn’t feel like leaving after a loss. And then I knew I could create more value for myself as a player. And then there was a lot of unfinished business that I feel like needed to be taken care of personally and as a teammate.”

While he is working on his leadership skills off the field, Dale is poised for a big season on the field. The senior out of Birmingham had 18 tackles with two sacks and four tackles for loss last season. With three years of experience under his belt, and the expectation that he will step up as a senior leader, I think Dale will post even bigger numbers this season.

This Alabama defense is extremely motivated and will be led on the edge by Will Anderson, Henry To’oTo’o in the middle, Jordan Battle on the back end and Dale in the trenches. Another name I’m keeping an eye on along the line is Tim Smith, who found a spot in the starting lineup late in the season last year.