Alabama Football: Who will produce from the interior defensive line?

Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports /

Since Coach Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, dominant interior defensive linemen have been a staple of the Alabama football program. Marcell Dareus, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, and Quinnen Williams are just the first round picks Saban has produced at the position.

In 2020, Christian Barmore burst onto the scene, helping to lead Alabama to a national title. Barmore posted 37 tackles, 8.0 sacks, and forced three fumbles en route to being chosen in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

In 2021, Phidarian Mathis put together a monster senior season. Three prior years of solid production culminated in a senior campaign that saw Mathis amass 53 tackles and 9.0 sacks. While he lacked their notoriety and starpower, Mathis’ numbers were comparable to those of each of the aforementioned first round draft picks. He is expected to be taken as a second rounder in the 2022 draft later this month.

Alabama Football: Will the 2022 defensive line feature a star?

For Alabama football to return to championship form, many believe that someone will have to step up and assume this role in the coming season. As always, the Tide have depth on the line and much of its production will come from a committee approach. However, vintage Nick Saban defenses typically feature a standout along the defensive front.

Senior defensive end Byron Young is the safest pick. He has contributed and produced his entire career, following a trajectory similar to that of Mathis. He had his best season to date last year as a junior, recording 33 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks. While his upside may be somewhat limited, Young is a very good college player with a lot of experience and could be primed for a huge year.

Fellow senior defensive end Justin Eboigbe also has a lot of snaps under his belt. Eboigbe has posted 48 career tackles and shown a propensity for generating turnovers. He will likely start opposite Young.

Alabama Football: On the Nose

Senior DJ Dale has started at nose tackle since his freshman season, with 56 tackles and 3.0 sacks to show for it. While he doesn’t offer a lot of statistical production, Coach Saban clearly likes him. However, he may be pushed for his starting job this fall.

Juniors Tim Smith and Jamil Burroughs have both proven to have much higher upsides. Smith received a lot of rotational reps in his freshman and sophomore seasons. While he has yet to consistently produce, he has shown that he can be highly disruptive, and he has a distinct nose for the football.

Burroughs appears to be something of a late bloomer. He arrived in the same recruiting class as Smith and has received far less playing time thus far, but something has clicked for the Georgia native heading into his third season. All reports indicate that he has been very impressive throughout the spring, and Coach Saban called him the most improved player on the defensive line. It will be very interesting to see how the nose tackle rotation shakes out, and if one of these guys can turn themselves into a difference maker.

Alabama Football: Depth will not be a concern

Other veterans on the defensive line include redshirt junior Braylen Ingraham and redshirt sophomore Jah-Marien Latham. This group should provide depth, if not play their way into the rotation.

Alabama football also has a lot of young talent, including redshirt freshmen Damon Payne, Tim Keenan III, Monkell Goodwine, and Anquin Barnes from the class of 2021. Incoming freshmen Khurtiss Perry and Jaheim Oatis were on campus for spring ball and also hope to make a splash.

Oatis in particular has already created some buzz. He is a mountain of a man, at one point weighing in at well over 400 pounds. After arriving in Tuscaloosa in January, Oatis is allegedly now down to 370 pounds. While he could probably stand to lose a little more weight, Oatis moves extremely well for his size and will be a major problem for SEC offensive linemen one day.

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The Crimson Tide will not lack options on the defensive line. For the defense to reach its full potential, however, someone will have to find a way to take their game to an elite tier. In particular, I will be keeping an eye on Byron Young, Tim Smith, and Jamil Burroughs. No one can be counted out though; with the depth of talent in this group, a breakout season could come from anywhere.