2014 Football Season Preview Series - Top Defensive ReturnersAugust 7, 2014
Top Offensive Returners – Top Special Teams Returners
Despite boasting one of the most potent offenses in NJCAA history last season, East Mississippi’s run to the national championship was anchored by the country’s most electrifying defense. Over the past decade, offensive production has undeniably been on an upward trend but the fact remains that seven of the last 10 NJCAA national champions have had a top 10 rated defense.
Many offensive stars across the nation have moved on, which could provide for an increased emphasis on defense in 2014. With over half of the Rivals Top 100 two-year prospects residing on the defensive side of the ball, there will be no shortage of talent.
The NJCAA continues to be the epicenter for finding premier talent along the defensive front. Rivals’ Top 100 listing features 20 NJCAA defensive lineman. In all, there will be 56 defensive tackles and 57 defensive ends returning this year after recording at least 10 tackles as a freshman.
Few players struck fear into the hearts of quarterbacks last year like Copiah-Lincoln defensive tackle Demond Tucker (right, #98). He led all players during the regular season with 13 sacks, while recording 53 tackles on the year. Named the Spalding® NJCAA Defensive Player of the
Year in 2013, Tucker now has the opportunity to become the first player to win the award twice since it
was created in 2000. As the No. 28 overall two-year prospect according to Rivals, Tucker has offers from 14 NCAA FBS teams including power conference programs Arizona State, TCU,
Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Kansas State and West Virginia.
Two programs in the middle of the country will look to make some noise in 2014 behind their stacked defensive lines. Vermilion returns the dominant duo of Ashton Elmore and Houston
Wynn. Meanwhile at Hutchinson, second-year defensive ends Marquavius Lewis (right, #40)
and Jeremiah Ledbetter will provide the Blue Dragons with plenty of size and skill on the edges.
East Mississippi’s D.J. Jones is Rivals’ top-rated defensive lineman and ranks No. 6 overall. Jones announced in July that he is committed to defending national champion Florida State.
Click here for a list of top returning Defensive Tackles.
Click here for a list of top returning Defensive Ends.
Despite the lack of highly-touted players at the linebacker position this season – only three included in Rivals’ Top 100 – several playmakers and team leaders return with a year’s experience under their belt. This year, 70 linebackers – 37 middle and 33 outside – return after tallying at least 25 tackles last season.
One of the biggest impact players on the defensive side of the ball in 2013 returns for Arizona Western. Outside linebacker Antonio Kinard (right) compiled 106 tackles during his freshman
year, including 16.5 for a loss. His performance behind the defensive front will be vital to the Matadors this season.
Rivals’ top-rated returning player at the position is Hutchinson’s Claude George. The outside linebacker is the No. 33 overall two-year prospect after racking up 56 tackles and 10 sacks in 2013. In June, George declared his commitment to Miami.
Despite the massive amount of talent on the outside, Jamal Lucas provides Jones County with
a significant presence inside. The middle linebacker leads all returning players with 108
tackles in his collegiate career. Lucas also showcased his big play ability last season with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.
Click here for a list of top returning Middle Linebackers.
Click here for a list of top returning Outside Linebackers.
In recent years, the NJCAA has provided four-year colleges and the NFL with an influx of talent in the secondary. This season should be no different as 77 defensive backs with at least 20
tackles or eight pass break-ups return, including 34 cornerbacks and 43 safeties.
The top-rated defensive back and No. 4 overall two-year prospect according to Rivals will look to continue his dominance on the outside for Mississippi Gulf Coast. Tony Bridges (right) served
as the Bulldogs’ shutdown corner last season, continuing the growing tradition of top-notch
defensive backs to play in Perkinston. He is also expected become part of Mississippi Gulf Coast’s Southeastern Conference (SEC) pipeline after verbally committing to Auburn last February.
Behind Bridges stands the Bulldogs’ top playmaker on defense – Justin Evans. The safety intercepted five passes and forced two fumbles as a freshman, while accumulating 47 tackles. Ranked as the No. 18 overall two-year prospect, Evans also looks to become part of the SEC tradition after committing to Texas A&M in April.
Other top returning defensive backs of note include Fort Scott safety James Gray, East
Mississippi safety Allen Sentimore and Nassau cornerback Rasul Douglas who was Rivals’
No. 21 rated two-year recruit.
Click here for a list of top returning Cornerbacks.
Click here for a list of top returning Safeties.
Photos courtesy of Hutchinson Athletics, Copiah-Lincoln Athletics, Arizona Western Athletics and Mississippi Gulf Coast Athletics.