LOUISVILLE, Ky. - As we inch closer to the start of the 2022 college football season, Louisville Report will break down each individual position on the Cardinals' roster. Next in our positional breakdown series, we take at look at the defensive line.
Position Roster Movement:
Returning (11): Caleb Banks, Victoine Brown, Henry Bryant, Ryheem Craig, Jared Dawson, YaYa Diaby, Zach Edwards, Ashton Gilotte, Ramon Puryear, RJ Sorenson, Dezmond Tell,
Departing (6): Ja'Darien Boykin (Transfer - Middle Tennessee State), Malik Clark (Graduation), Derek Dorsey (Graduation), Dayna Kinnaird (Graduation), Tabarius Peterson (Graduation), Jacques Turner (Graduation),
Incoming (3): Selah Brown (HS), Jermayne Lole (Transfer - Arizona State), Tawfiq Thomas (HS)
Projected Depth Chart:
- YaYa Diaby (6-4, 270, Sr.)
- Ramon Puryear (6-3, 268, R-So.)
- Victoine Brown (6-4, 241, R-Fr.)
- R.J. Sorensen (6-3, 250, R-Fr.)
- Jermayne Lole (6-2, 305, Sr.)
- Dezmond Tell (6-1, 285, So.)
- Caleb Banks (6-7, 303, R-Fr.)
- Henry Bryant (5-11, 277, R-Fr.)
- Jared Dawson (6-1, 275, R-Fr.)
- Tawfiq Thomas 6-4, 325, Fr.)
- Ashton Gillotte (6-2, 265, So.)
- Zach Edwards (6-3, 265, R-So.)
- Ryheem Craig (6-3, 220, R-Fr.)
- Selah Brown (6-2, 250, Fr.)
If you ask Louisville fans what area of the field that they believe the football program needs the most improvement in, a vast majority of them would likely answer the defensive line. They wouldn't be completely far off, as there have only been a handful of times that the line has shown noticeable improvement since Scott Satterfield took over. Many fans often point to last season's Ole Miss and Kentucky games as proof that there is work to be done on the D-line.
While there have been instances that show the defensive line is little behind when compared to other positions on the roster, there is also evidence that Louisville has made more than marginal improvement in Satterfield's tenure. In 2020, the Cardinals were 73rd in FBS in sacks per game at 2.00, and were 79th in tackles for loss at 5.7. Last season, UofL made big strides in both areas, finishing 45th in sacks at 2.54 and 47th in tackles for loss at 6.2.
Of course, a lot of this was due to Louisville's linebacking corps collectively having a great 2021 campaign. Yasir Abdullah had the best season for a Louisville pass rusher in a half decade, and guys like C.J. Avery and Jack Fagot also had big contributions in this area. That being said, there is reason to believe the line will take a much needed step forward in 2022.
First let's start with the middle of the defensive line at nose tackle. The last time that Louisville truly had a disruptive presence at nose was in 2015 when Sheldon Rankins played his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Since then, it has been a little bit of a revolving door at the position. Barring a major disappointment, that will change in 2022.
Louisville has landed several impact transfers out of the portal this offseason, but arguably the most important one is Jermayne Lole. He enters the 2022 season as one of the top nose tackles in college football, and that is not hyperbole. Prior to the 2021 season while at Arizona State, he was tabbed as the No. 2 interior defensive lineman in college football by Pro Football Focus. Unfortunately, a preseason triceps injury sidelined him for the entire season.
How impactful is Lole? During the Sun Devils' COVID-shortened 2020 season, he logged 24 tackles, 5.0 for loss and 1.5 sacks in just four games. By comparison's sake, the Cardinals' three main NT's in 2021 - Malik Clark, Dezmond Tell and Jacques Turner - combined for just 24 tackles, 1.5 for loss and 2.0 sacks in 13 games. Lole is a game changer for the Louisville's line.
Not to mention the Cardinals actually have a little bit of depth at nose tackle now. Fighting for the backup spot will be Dezmond Tell and Caleb Banks, and both have the potential to seize it. Tell has the prior experience, but Banks has real breakout potential after redshirting as a true freshman last year and ballooning in his physical stature.
Henry Bryant and Jared Dawson were both role players last season, but do give Louisville a little bit of returning experience. Tawfiq Thomas, while only a true freshman, is someone that coaches have raved about in the offseason, and he could be a a candidate for early playing time.
Now let's take a look at the defensive end spots on the line for Louisville, and there is a lot to be excited about here. YaYa Diaby is coming back for his senior season, and while - a face value - it seems like he had a disappointing 2021 campaign, it was a lot better than most realize.
Diaby logged 39 tackles, 3.0 for loss and 1.5 sacks last season, but that also came with seven quarterback hurries - by far and away the best on the team last year. In fact, Diaby's PFF rating of 82.9 led all ACC edge rushers. Essentially, he was extremely close to turning his QB hurries and pressures into sacks and TFL's, and could very well produce an All-ACC caliber season.
One of last season's most pleasant surprises was Ashton Gillotte's dominance as just a true freshman. Despite missing a decent amount of time due to injury, he finished second on the team in both sacks and tackles for loss with 4.0 and 8.0, respectively. With another year under his belt, and maybe a little better injury luck, he is in line to have a high-caliber breakout season.
Louisville also has a solid rotational pieces in Ramon Puryear. He was serviceable in his first year under scholarship, and with additional reps, could be in line for a big jump in production.
After Puryear, it's going to be a massive battle for reps. Zach Edwards has the advantage of an additional year under his belt over guys like Victoine Brown, Ryheem Craig and R.J. Sorenson, but any one of them have the potential to jump into the two-deep. Don't sleep on true freshman Selah Brown, either.
Defensive line might not be the strength of the Louisville football program, but the Cardinals are better equipped here than they have been in recent years. Jermayne Lole gives UofL a much needed presence in the middle, with YaYa Diaby and Ashton Gillotte serving as tremendous compliments on the ends. Time will tell how much the reserves on the line have developed over the offseason, but Louisville - at minimum - has to be relatively optimistic regarding the defensive line heading into 2022.
Other Position Breakdowns:
- Running Back
- Wide Receiver
- Tight End
- Offensive Line
- Outside Linebacker
- Inside Linebacker
- Special Teams
(Photo of YaYa Diaby: Alton Strupp - Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC)
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