Rivals Preseason All-America Team: Defense
The college football season is only weeks away, so this week Rivals national recruiting director Adam Gorney is releasing his Rivals Preseason All-America Team, finishing up today with a look at the defense and some memories of the players when they were in high school.
RELATED: Rivals Preseason All-America Team: Offense
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First Team: Bryan Bresee (Clemson), Jalen Carter (Georgia), Will McDonald (Iowa State), Myles Murphy (Clemson)
The combination of a healthy Bresee and Murphy on Clemson’s defensive line should be the best duo in all of college football. When he's 100%, Bresee could be one of the most dominant players in college football. He’s an aggressive, attacking machine on the defensive line.
In high school, I remember Bresee wasn’t going to do the bench press competition at the Rivals Five-Star Challenge but after seeing some other counterparts do it, Bresee got right in there and didn’t back down. That’s the kind of competitor he is and the former five-star should have a great season ahead. Murphy isn’t overly animated, but coming off the edge with his length and power is something special and he’s more than backed up his five-star rankings.
Carter was ranked as the fifth-best defensive tackle in the 2020 class, which might’ve been a tad low, but the names ahead of him - Bresee, Kentucky’s Justin Rogers, Florida’s Gervon Dexter and Alabama’s Timothy Smith - can all play, too. The four-star could be in line for a monster season and even last year he finished with 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks along with 37 tackles, the same number as No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick, Travon Walker.
Like so many top Iowa State players, McDonald was a nondescript three-star. He was from Waukesha (Wis.) Waukesha North and he didn’t have many other Power Five offers, but he has surprised big-time in Ames through coaching and development. He tied for the Big 12 lead in sacks with 11.5 for the second-straight season and could be an unstoppable force for the Cyclones this year.
Second Team: Isaiah Foskey (Notre Dame), Calijah Kancey (Pitt), Derrick Hall (Auburn), Zach Harrison (Ohio State)
First Team: Will Anderson (Alabama), Noah Sewell (Oregon), Jack Campbell (Iowa)
Anderson, who had 17.5 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss last season, might be the best overall player in college football and should be in the Heisman Trophy running if the award is actually for who’s best and not just the best quarterback. I remember being on the field at the Army All-American Bowl when Anderson showed up and he was so much more fierce and violent during one-on-ones that it was actually stunning to see. Anderson ended up as a five-star, but finishing No. 22 in the 2020 recruiting class was far too low - although it was a loaded year.
So many discussions were had about Sewell because of his size. He was 6-foot-1 and 260 pounds in high school - that there was some hesitancy to move him to five-stars because we worried he would continue to get bigger (his brother Penei weighed 340 in high school) but it got to the point where he was so dominant at every national event that his ranking just took care of itself. I’m so happy we upgraded Sewell to five stars and just trusted our eyes because he has been incredible at Oregon and finished with 114 tackles last season. Putting him on the same field with a healthy Justin Flowe could be incredible to watch.
Campbell picked Iowa over Iowa State and Minnesota, hardly a national-level recruitment for the prospect out of Cedar Falls, Iowa. But he resembles so many elite players that have gone through coach Kirk Ferentz’s program over the years. He was clearly under-ranked as a three-star prospect, but could anybody have guessed he would finish with 143 tackles last season (second in the Big Ten and fifth all-time at Iowa) along with two interceptions, six quarterback hurries, six pass deflections and a forced fumble? Campbell is all about production and getting the job done – a true Iowa standout.
Second Team: Nolan Smith (Georgia), Andre Carter (Army), Trenton Simpson (Clemson)
First Team: Kelee Ringo (Georgia), Eli Ricks (Alabama), Jordan Battle (Alabama), Antonio Johnson (Texas A&M)
I will never forget seeing Ringo and Ricks race at the Rivals Five-Star Challenge. Even though Ringo edged the other five-star corner, during drills, one-on-ones and 7on7 play, Ricks proved to be the better player that day. They ended up Nos. 1 and 2 at cornerback in the 2020 class, and I don’t regret that order at all since Ricks could absolutely shine in Alabama’s defense and not be bothered with what was going on at LSU during his time there. Ringo should be elite at Georgia as well.
Battle had 85 tackles and three interceptions and he’s the leader of the secondary for the Crimson Tide, which says a lot. The Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas prospect was right on the cusp of a five-star ranking in the 2019 class, but he just missed out, finishing second in the safety rankings that year behind only Michigan’s Daxton Hill, who was picked in the first round by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Johnson is another one who just missed out on a five-star ranking in the 2020 class and finished second in the safety rankings that year to Miami’s Avantae Williams. Flipping those two, even though Williams is very good, looks prudent now. With his length, his versatility and physical nature, Johnson could have a huge year as the Aggies try to make a run to the College Football Playoff.
Second Team: Riley Moss (Iowa), Cam Smith (South Carolina), Brandon Joseph (Notre Dame), Jalen Catalon (Arkansas)