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Rivals Rankings Week: Storylines to follow with top 2026 defensive linemen

Jahkeem Stewart
Jahkeem Stewart (Rivals.com)

The new position rankings for the 2026 class are being released and so it’s time to look at storylines at each spot. Today we continue with the defensive line.

NEW POSITION RANKINGS: Strongside Defensive End | Weakside Defensive End | Defensive Tackle | Offensive Tackle | Offensive Guard | Offensive Center | Wide Receiver | Tight End | Running Back | All-Purpose Back | Pro-Style QB | Dual-Threat QB

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RIVALS RANKINGS WEEK

Sunday: Who should be No. 1?

Monday: Five-Star Countdown | Meet the new five-star

Tuesday: New Rivals250 unveiled | Position-by-position | Biggest risers

Wednesday: New offensive position rankings | QB rankings breakdown | RB rankings breakdown | WR/TE rankings breakdown | OL rankings breakdown

Thursday: New defensive position rankings | DL rankings breakdown | LB rankings breakdown | DB rankings breakdown | ATH rankings breakdown

Friday: New state rankings | Who is No. 1 in each state

Saturday: Rivals Rankings Roundtable

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JAHKEEM STEWART'S LEAD AT NO. 1 IN THE RIVALS250

Jahkeem Stewart will likely be No. 1 in the Rivals250 until proven otherwise but it seems like chances of that happening seem to be slightly increasing. The physical dominance and competitiveness Stewart brings to the field are unmatched in the 2026 class but he isn’t the only player developing physically, improving his skillset and gaining competitive confidence.

Jackson Cantwell, No. 2 in the Rivals250, hasn’t participated in any offseason events thus far so not much is known about how he’s improved. Quarterback Ryder Lyons is steadily rising up the rankings and Brady Smigiel remains highly regarded. New five-star and No. 8 in the Rivals250 Immanuel Iheanacho has the tools to challenge at the top of the rankings but he hasn’t shown off his abilities against elite competition just yet.

There is still a lot to learn about Maxwell Riley, Jordan Carter and Jared Curtis before the end of the rankings cycle, too. Prospects at premium positions like these are the most likely to challenge Stewart, who needs to continue to improve to keep a hold on that top spot.

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WHO IS THE NEXT FIVE-STAR?

Jordan Carter
Jordan Carter (Rivals.com)

There’s only one five-star defensive lineman in the 2026 class right now and that will surely change but which standout defensive lineman will get their fifth star next is the big question.

Jordan Carter and Lamar Brown are the two highest-ranked four-star defensive linemen so, naturally, they’d be the two most likely candidates. Carter, a strongside defensive end from Georgia, is a powerful and technically advanced defensive end who can just overwhelm offensive linemen. Brown could be a five-star but the biggest question for him is whether he’ll play defensive tackle or flip to the offensive line at the next level.

After those two, the conversation gets a little cluttered. Anthony Jones, JaReylan McCoy, James Carrington, and Deuce Geralds are all ranked inside the top 35 of the Rivals250 already. There are pass rushers Xavier Griffin, Tristan Givens and Zion Elee who have the tools to make big leaps up the rankings as well.

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QUALITY ACROSS THE DEFENSIVE FRONT

The 2026 class rankings are far from finalized but the crop of defensive linemen near the top of the rankings is looking pretty good. There is a lot of talent up front for the defense and it shows in the Rivals250 and in the top 100. There are already 19 defensive linemen in the top 100 and a total of 43 in the Rivals250.

To put that in perspective, the 2025 class only features 12 top 100 defensive linemen and 41 in the Rivals250. The 19 defensive linemen in the 2026 top 100 is more than in the top 100 of the 2024 class but short of the 27 in the top 100 of the 2023 class.

It looks like a particularly good year at defensive tackle. The 2026 class has seven defensive tackles in the top 100. Compare that to the 2025 class’ four, the 2024 class’ five and the 2022 class’ six. The 2023 class finished with eight defensive tackles in the top 100, which is well within the realm of possibility for the 2026 class.

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PASS RUSHERS RISE UP THE RANKINGS

Zion Elee
Zion Elee (Nick Lucero/Rivals.com)

The newest Rivals250 is littered with pass rushers climbing up the rankings. Zion Elee, McHale Blade and Rodney Dunham all jumped up more than 40 spots in the Rivals250 and are firmly planted among the nation’s elite prospects. Tristian Givens, a weakside defensive end from Georgia, and Aiden Harris, a strongside defensive end from North Carolina, debuted in the top 100 of the Rivals250. Givens is just scratching the surface of his potential while Harris is an impressive physical specimen with a rock solid build.

Weakside defensive ends Zakir Abdul-Salaam and Zavion Griffin-Haynes possess unique speed and length for edge rushers. Both of them made the Rivals250 for the first time. Florida strongside defensive end Jake Kruel and Anthony Jones out of California jumped into the Rivals250 as well.

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