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The Enemy’s Best Shot: The best defenders and special teamers

Shea Patterson and company will face a motley crew of the nation’s best defenders this fall.

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Washington State vs Michigan State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Building off the first day of this series where I ran through the best offensive players the Michigan Wolverines are set to face in 2018, now the attention turns to the defense. This is based off a 4-3 alignment, so defensive ends and rush linebackers have been conflated for convenience.

DEFENSIVE ENDNick Bosa, junior, Ohio State

The scariest part about Ohio State’s defensive line the last few years is this sure-fire first-rounder perhaps wasn’t even the best play-maker up front. Sam Hubbard made more solo tackles — 27 to Bosa’s 15 — while nearly matching his tackles for losses and sacks.

With Hubbard and fellow draftee Tyquan Lewis departing, Bosa is the No. 1 killer off the edge for the Buckeyes. The returning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year — sorry, Chase Winovich — racked up 8.5 sacks and 16 TFL’s in 2017.

Moreover, he surged at the end of the year against elite lines in Wisconsin and USC, accumulating 2.5 sacks in those two games.

Reminder: Wisconsin featured dual All-Americans at their tackle spots last year.

DEFENSIVE ENDShareef Miller, senior, Penn State

If Michigan plays Iowa in Indianapolis, the pick shifts over to the Hawkeyes’ Anthony Nelson. As far as run-stuffing ends on Michigan current schedule, Miller’s instincts and strength give him the nod.

The Nittany Lion finished 2017 with 37 tackles with 11 for loss, as well as 5.5 sacks. He always remains square to the ball-carrier, locking out blockers with his arms and reacting at just the right moment. His highlights against Iowa exhibit a player with that proverbial “nose for the ball.”

He typically wears No. 48, but wore No. 19 against Iowa for an injured teammate.

Much like Bosa, Miller should headline a young line with burgeoning talent around him.

NOSE TACKLERaequan Williams, junior, Michigan State

At 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, Williams combines with the equally stout Mike Panasiuk to form a immovable Spartan phalanx in the interior.

The former spearheaded the No. 2 rushing defense in the country last season, and despite spending most of his time eating blocks to free up aggressive linebackers he manages to fill up stats sheets anyways.

He accounted for 31 tackles, 6 TFL’s and 2.5 sacks.

3-TECHJerry Tillery, senior, Notre Dame

Whereas Williams plugs up lanes for the Spartans, Tillery disrupts backfields for the Irish.

He tallied 56 tackles with nine for loss, as well as 4.5 sacks operating in the middle of former coordinator Mike Elko’s 4-2-5 scheme. For a 3-tech comparison, Mo Hurst collected 59 tackles, 13 for loss and 5.5 sacks in his senior season.

If Tillery improves accordingly in his final season, he is en route for similar success.

On the downside, he acts like a clown.

RUSH LINEBACKERJesse Aniebonam, senior, Maryland

You may not remember Aniebonam, who sat all but one game last year with a fractured ankle. If he returns healthy in 2018, whoever Michigan starts at tackle better be ready by Oct. 6.

In 2016, he harassed quarterbacks, forcing 30 hurries and leading the Terrapins with nine sacks and 14 TFL’s.

He demonstrates constant motor, as his highlights feature him running down plays the rest of the moribund Maryland defense feigned to stop.

Another plausible pick here would be Northwestern’s Nate Hall, who became the highly productive leader of last year’s 10-3 Wildcat defense.

MIDDLE LINEBACKERJoe Bachie, junior, Michigan State

Finally! No more Bulloughs (in this generation, anyways)! Oh wait, Byron Bullough is his backup? Dammit...

Bachie is your next in an endless line of hard-nosed Spartan linebackers, and proved it with 100 tackles in 2017.

With the aforementioned Williams and Panasiuk freeing him up, expect him to eclipse the century mark in tackles once more. He also features great hands, even in the rain.

The one moment of pause is his complete inability to stop J.K. Dobbins or Mike Weber in a 48-3 spanking last November. He may rely far more on instincts and discipline than athleticism, as he could hardly put a hand on the two.

WILL T.J. Edwards, senior, Wisconsin

Edwards is a model of consistency, surpassing 80 tackles the last three seasons in Madison. He flashes a ridiculous ability to slip by blockers, stymying ball-carriers in the process.

On some plays there, he is working past three blockers en route to the runner. On top of those skills, he picked off four passes to go with seven deflections.

It’s curious why he didn’t leave for the pros after that production. It’s all the more frustration for Big Ten offenses.

CORNER Julian Love, junior, Notre Dame

For the record, I originally saved this spot Western Michigan’s Sam Beal. On July 11, however, the New York Giants selected him in the supplemental draft.

With that said, Love is a fine backup pick here. He was a second-team All-American, after all. Pro Football Focus loves his potential, as well.

He locked down his side of an Irish secondary that corralled several top passing offenses last year, including USC and Sam Darnold.

CORNER — Amari Oruwariye, SR, Penn State

Outside of Lavert Hill and David Long, Oruwariye is the only other returning all-Big Ten cornerback in 2018.

He made the list off the back of four interceptions, which he earned through either excellent trail coverage, or simply outstanding concentration and body control.

1:09 for a acrobatic sideline pick against Michigan State.

SAFETIES David Dowell, junior, and Khari Wills, senior, Michigan State

Chucking it down the seam used to be the way to attack the Spartan secondary. Not anymore.

Dowell and Wills combined for seven interceptions in 2017, manning a secondary that finished the year on a tear.

After struggles against Notre Dame and Northwestern, Dowell frustrated Trace McSorley into two of his three picks in the 27-24 upset win over Penn State.

Meanwhile, Wills constantly flew towards the line of scrimmage last season, amassing 71 tackles and three sacks.

The combination might warrant a return of the “No Fly Zone.”

KICKER Rafael Gaglianone, senior, Wisconsin

This selection is purely based on his skill, right?

He hit 16-of-18 kicks, as well as every extra point. He booms long ones, too, including a 51-yarder two years ago in the 16-14 win over LSU.

There is no other reason to pick him.

There is no other.

PUNTER Drue Chrisman, sophomore, Ohio State

He’s a returning Ray Guy semifinalist. Do you need more explanation?

For in-depth punting analysis, check out this preview at Off Tackle Empire.

LONG SNAPPERTyler Gillikin, sophomore, Northwestern

There are no Northwestern players on the official list, so this goes to the Penn State kicker’s twin brother.

HOLDER Jamie Sackville, sophomore, SMU

There are no SMU players on the official list. He may be a backup, but here’s hoping that a man with the last name Sackville gets to sack a quarterback at least once.

To recap:

  • DE — Nick Bosa
  • DE — Shareef Miller
  • NT — Raequan Williams
  • 3-Tech — Jerry Tillery
  • Rush LB — Jesse Aniebonam
  • MLB — Joe Bachie
  • Will — T.J. Edwards
  • CB — Julian Love
  • CB — Amani Oruwariye
  • SS — Khari Wills
  • FS — David Dowell
  • K — Rafael Gaglianone
  • P — Drue Chrisman
  • LS — Tyler Gillikin
  • Holder — Jamie Sackville