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Alabama Is the Modern Defensive Line U.

We crunched 10 years’ worth of data to determine—based solely on the numbers—which college programs have the right to brand themselves the modern ‘U.’ Part VII: D-Line U.

We determined each “Position U.” by measuring what every college should strive to do, in sports and beyond: Prepare students for professional careers. For the full explanation of our scoring system, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Our D-line rankings include pure edge players that some (incorrectly) classify as linebackers, since they play the majority of their snaps on the line of scrimmage (Von Miller, for instance).

If split into interior and edge, Alabama would win inside—and by a wide margin, 85.9% of their DLU points come from interior DL (Tide edge rushers taken over the past decade have combined for just 17 sacks). Clemson is second in iDL. In terms of bang for your buck, it’s hard to top what Mississippi State has done inside. They’re eighth in our iDL rankings despite having only three DTs drafted in the 2010s: Fletcher Cox, Chris Jones and Jeffery Simmons.

Edge U. is Wisconsin, thanks almost entirely to the Watt brothers (J.J. and T.J.). O’Brien Schofield is the only other edge player the Badgers have put in the NFL over the past decade.

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WELCOME TO POSITION U.: Quarterback U. | Linebacker U. | Wide Receiver U. | Offensive Line U. | Running Back U. | Tight End U. | Defensive Back U.

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Quinnen Williams

Quinnen Williams

1. Alabama, 85 points
2. Clemson, 73
3. Georgia, 65
4. Ohio State, 62
5. LSU, 51
6(tie). Florida, 49
6(tie). Wisconsin, 49
8. USC, 44
9(tie). Mississippi State, 42
9(tie). Pittsburgh, 42

Interior D-Line U.: Alabama, 73; Clemson, 40; Pittsburgh, 34; Nebraska, 33; Ohio State, 32.

Edge U.: Wisconsin, 46; Georgia, 37; Missouri, 34; Clemson, 33; Texas A&M, 32.

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Quinnen Williams (2019 3rd overall, 9 starts)
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Dalvin Tomlinson (2017 second round, 48 starts)
Brandon Deaderick (2010 seventh round, 17 starts)
Quinton Dial (2013 fifth round, 34 starts)
Ryan Anderson (2017 second round, 4 starts)
Josh Chapman (2012 fifth round, 15 starts)
Da'Shawn Hand (2018 fourth round, 10 starts)
Damion Square (2013 undrafted, 23 starts)
Ed Stinson (2014 fifth round, 5 starts)
Tim Williams (2017 third round)
Isaiah Buggs (2019 sixth round)
Joshua Frazier (2018 seventh round)
Christian Miller (2019 fourth round)
Jeoffrey Pagan (2014 sixth round)
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Vic Beasley Jr. (2015 8th overall, 60 starts, All-Pro)
Clelin Ferrell (2019 4th overall, 15 starts)
Jarvis Jenkins (2011 second round, 50 starts)
Shaq Lawson (2016 first round, 17 starts)
Andre Branch (2012 second round, 38 starts)
Grady Jarrett (2015 fifth round, 62 starts)
Dexter Lawrence II (2019 first round, 16 starts)
D.J. Reader (2016 fifth round, 52 starts)
Christian Wilkins (2019 first round, 14 starts)
Da'Quan Bowers (2011 second round, 10 starts)
Brandon Thompson (2012 third round, 7 starts)
Kevin Dodd (2016 second round, 1 start)
Malliciah Goodman (2013 fourth round, 11 starts)
Carlos Watkins (2017 fourth round, 7 starts)
Austin Bryant (2019 fourth round)
Ricky Sapp (2010 fifth round)
Kevin Alexander (2010 undrafted)
Tavaris Barnes (2015 undrafted)
Kourtnei Brown (2012 undrafted)
Albert Huggins (2019 undrafted)
DeShawn Williams (2015 undrafted)

Geno Atkins (2010 fourth round, 134 starts, 2x All-Pro)
Justin Houston (2011 third round, 112 starts, All-Pro)
Leonard Floyd (2016 9th overall, 54 starts)
Jordan Jenkins (2016 third round, 50 starts)
Jarvis Jones (2013 first round, 35 starts)
John Jenkins (2013 third round, 28 starts)
Lorenzo Carter (2018 third round, 14 starts)
Abry Jones (2013 undrafted, 47 starts)
DeAngelo Tyson (2012 seventh round, 6 starts)
John Atkins (2018 undrafted, 6 starts)
Cornelius Washington (2013 sixth round, 4 starts)
Jonathan Ledbetter (2019 undrafted, 1 start)
Jeff Owens (2010 seventh round)
D'Andre Walker (2019 fifth round)
Kade Weston (2010 seventh round)
Demarcus Dobbs (2011 undrafted)
Kwame Geathers (2013 undrafted)
Toby Johnson (2015 undrafted)
Garrison Smith (2014 undrafted)
Kiante Tripp (2011 undrafted)

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In order to make it modern, we used a 10-year data set. Dipping further back would mean going across different coaching eras at the college level, as well as including a lot of players who are no longer active in the NFL. (We did run an unofficial 20-year data set for the quarterback position, which you can read about at the bottom of this article.)

We came up with a scoring system that balanced not just the quantity of players programs put into the NFL, but the quality of those players' careers. One measure we used is draft position—an inexact but still relevant measure of a player's approximate value when he left college. We credited players for career games started. But rather than assigning a point value to every game started, which would weigh too heavily in favor of older players, we lessened that effect by using ranges.

We also awarded points for the highest achievements (MVP, and for non-quarterbacks, Offensive/Defensive Player of the Year and All-Pro) and awarded a smaller amount of credit for Rookie of the Year, an indication of a player's preparedness when entering the league. (We made the decision to exclude the Pro Bowl. Between fan voting and the league's need to dig deep into the pool of alternates with so many players dropping out annually, there's been a reduction in the legitimacy of that achievement.)

For all positions in this series, scoring is based on alumni who entered the NFL between 2010 and 2019 and were either (1) drafted or (2) undrafted but appeared in at least one game. Players who transferred during their college careers are counted only as part of the last program they played for. Players are only credited for the position at which they were drafted. Our full scoring system:

Top 10: 4 points
Round 1 (non-top 10): 3 points
Rounds 2-3: 2 points
Rounds 4-7: 1 point
Undrafted: 0 points

80-plus: 5 points
48 to 79: 4 points
16 to 47: 3 points
5 to 15: 2 points
1 to 4: 1 point

Defensive Player of the Year: 4 points
First-Team All-Pro: 3 points
Defensive Rookie of the Year: 2 points

Research by Reid Foster and Gary Gramling.

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