Breakdowns

College Football 2021: Top Interior Offensive and Defensive Linemen to Watch

New York Jets 2021 first-round pick Alijah Vera-Tucker and New England Patriots second-round pick Christian Barmore had tremendous careers, particularly in 2020, as interior linemen on offense and defense, respectively. Their excellent play eventually led them to become the first players selected in the 2021 draft among their respective position groups.

While Vera-Tucker played left tackle in his final season with USC, he was best known for his play on the interior of the offensive line. Now, it is time for a new crop of players to shine this upcoming college season and either continue to build upon an illustrious career or create a name for themselves. Here are the top three interior offensive linemen and interior defensive linemen for the 2021 college football season. In addition, we have also included two breakout candidates for each position.

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Interior Offensive Linemen

  1. Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa

Career: 23 games played, 21 games started

Tyler Linderbaum is mainly known for his play as the center for the Iowa Hawkeyes, but he wasn’t supposed to be an offensive lineman when he first arrived in Iowa City. In fact, Linderbaum started his career as a defensive lineman, where he saw action in two games during the 2018 season as a true freshman. Head coach Kirk Ferentz decided to move the talented Linderbaum to the offensive line and the rest is history. Now, Linderbaum is heavily regarded as one of the best offensive linemen in the nation as the anchor of Iowa’s offensive line. Linderbaum was an AP second-team All-American in a shortened 2020 campaign while also being a finalist for the prestigious Rimington Trophy. Expectations are much higher for Linderbaum this year, especially with Iowa losing two starters from its O-line last season to the NFL. He is already projected to be first-team All-American and first team all-Big Ten. If his previous work is any indication, Linderbaum will be able to live up to these expectations in 2021 due to his incredible strength and tremendous ability to make crucial blocks at the second level.

  1. Jarrett Patterson, Notre Dame

Career: 24 games played, 21 games started

Notre Dame is in quite the predicament on the offensive line this season, as the Fighting Irish lost four starters from last year’s unit that was a crucial part of Notre Dame making its second appearance in the College Football Playoff in three years. This leaves enormous expectations for guard Jarrett Patterson to anchor a more inexperienced line despite the transfer of Marshall guard Cain Madden. Patterson’s versatility has been utilized extremely well; he’s slated to play guard this year but has also been an impact player at the center position during his tenure with the Fighting Irish. Even though Patterson has only started for two seasons, he has played extremely well in those two years as he has ranked 11th and sixth, respectively, among centers in the Power Five Conferences in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Despite being known primarily as a strong run blocker, Patterson also boasts strong pass block stats, as he is only one of two returning interior offensive linemen in the Power Five conferences that has played in at least 650 pass-blocking snaps and not allowed a sack. Knowing this, his transition to guard should go smoothly and make him one of the best interior offensive linemen for this upcoming season.

  1. John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota

Career: 32 games played, 10 games started

Out of the top three players on this list, John Michael Schmitz from the University of Minnesota has the least amount of starting experience, as he has only started 10 games in his three-year career with the Golden Gophers; however, this did not stop Schmitz from having a strong 2020 campaign, despite it only being six games, that saw him rank as the sixth-best interior offensive lineman in the country according to Pro Football Focus. This was behind players like Linderbaum, Philadelphia Eagles’ 2021 second-round pick Landon Dickerson and Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 third-round pick Kendrick Green among others. Minnesota had a tough season in 2020, but the offense still showed plenty of life as Schmitz was a key contributor on a line that helped the offense average 27.3 points per game. Furthermore, Schmitz, while playing in 13 games during the 2019 campaign, contributed to an offensive line that only allowed 84 sacks in that historic season. Schmitz was a huge part of paving the way for star running back Mohamed Ibrahim to get the Gopher offense going during the shortened 2020 season. This should be an exciting campaign for Schmitz if his resume is any indication.

Breakout Candidates

  1. Andrew Raym, Oklahoma

Career: 9 games played, 0 games started

With All-American center Creed Humphrey now in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs, Oklahoma will have a new center for the first time in what feels like ages. Even though the Sooners will be turning to sophomore Andrew Raym, it appears Oklahoma will be in good hands at the center position. Raym was a four-star recruit and Under Armour All-American coming out of high school, and for good reason. Raym has good versatility, coming to Oklahoma as an offensive tackle while also having great size (he is listed at 6-3, 320 pounds currently) for being able to block some of the better interior defensive linemen that the Big 12 Conference has to offer. In Lincoln Riley’s offensive system, Raym will be put in a position to succeed, especially with the important job of making sure star QB Spencer Rattler is kept upright.

  1. O’Cyrus Torrence, Louisiana-Lafayette

Career: 25 games played, 24 games started

Even though O’Cyrus Torrence was not expected to start heading into the 2019 season, he was forced to due to injuries. That experience from 2019 helped him to become an All-Sun Belt second-team interior offensive lineman in 2020 while also helping the Ragin’ Cajuns offensive line to give up the fifth-fewest tackles for loss per game during a tremendous 2020 campaign (3.64 per game). Louisiana-Lafayette has even loftier expectations for the 2021 season, and Torrence should have a huge role in that. He has enough experience and pass-blocking prowess — Torrence finished the 2020 season with a PFF grade of 89.0—to make him one of the better offensive linemen in the Sun Belt Conference this season.

 

Interior Defensive Lineman

  1. Haskell Garrett, Ohio State

2020 Stats: 20 total tackles, 12 solo tackles, 4.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, 2 PDs, 1 INT, 1 TD

Haskell Garrett was certainly a player who could’ve gotten drafted this year due to his strong showing during the 2020 campaign; however, Garrett decided to come back for another season with unfinished business. In 2020, Garrett had a 17.9% pass-rush win rate, according to Pro Football Focus, second in the Power Five conferences behind Christian Barmore. His pass rush prowess has many people excited for what he will be able to do with a full season. Ohio State certainly lost a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but Garrett should be able to give the Buckeyes consistency in the middle of the defensive line. Outside of his tenacious pass rush abilities, Garrett also flashes tremendous instincts to be able to knock down passes at the line of scrimmage while also showing great athleticism for a player who is currently listed at 300 pounds. Garrett should be in for another huge season as Ohio State looks to avenge its tough loss in the National Championship Game this past year against Alabama.

  1. Dante Stills, West Virginia

2020 Stats: 35 total tackles, 15 solo tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, 2 PDs, 1 FR, 1 BLK

West Virginia has had one of the better defensive lines in the Big 12 the past few seasons thanks to the efforts of the Stills brothers, Darius and Dante. The former signed with the Las Vegas Raiders after going undrafted this year while the latter is slated to be one of the better interior defensive linemen not only in the Big 12 but in all of college football. Stills is known for his prowess as a run defender, and that prowess was on full display in 2020 as Stills had the second-best run-defense PFF grade behind only Detroit Lions 2021 third-round pick Alim McNeill. Furthermore, per PFF, Stills had four more tackles for loss or no gain than any other interior defensive lineman in the Power Five conferences. With the Big 12 boasting some uber-talented running backs like Breece Hall, Bijan Robinson and Deuce Vaughn among others, Stills is going to have a huge 2021 campaign to continue to build a name for himself in that aspect of his game. West Virginia has steadily gotten better under head coach Neal Brown, and that trend should continue if Stills continues to be a home-wrecker on the defensive side of the ball.

  1. Bryan Bresee, Clemson

2020 Stats: 23 total tackles, 13 solo tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 4.0 sacks, 2 PDs, 1 FF

Despite only being a freshman during the 2020 season, Bryan Bresee proved his worth in yet another College Football Playoff run for the Clemson Tigers. In fact, Bresee became only the second player in Clemson football history to win ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year. If this wasn’t enough, Bresee was also a first-team all-ACC selection for the 2020 season. These are quite the feats for only playing one year of college football. Of course, Bresee is expected to elevate that play for this upcoming season as Clemson looks to avenge its loss to Ohio State in the CFP. According to PFF, Bresee had a 14.1% pass-rush win rate in 2020, which was the sixth-best win rate in the Power Five for IDLs. If Bresee can continue to improve as a run defender and continue his strong play as a pass rusher, he is going to be a player that ACC offenses cannot afford to take lightly, especially with Clemson continually dominating recruiting in the conference.

Breakout Candidates

  1. Keenan Stewart, UTEP

2020 Stats: 34 total tackles, 20 solo tackles, 7.0 TFLs, 1 PD, 1 FF

Although Keenan Stewart had zero sacks in the 2020 season, he was a force in the middle of the UTEP Miners’ defense with 7.0 tackles for loss. Moreover, Stewart’s impact in the run game was palpable for the Miners as they only gave up 140.4 rushing yards per game, 39th in the nation. Also, Stewart had a run-defense PFF grade of 94.4 during the 2020 season. This was a tremendous feat, and it certainly makes him a player to watch out for in 2021. UTEP has had some rough seasons, but Stewart helped them to improve to a 3-5 record this past year, which should have people excited for what may happen this upcoming season. If Stewart can become more of a well-rounded player, he could certainly be one of the best players from UTEP in quite some time.

  1. Damion Daniels, Nebraska

2020 Stats: 20 total tackles, 10 solo tackles, 4.0 TFLs

Even though Damion Daniels may not have some of the gaudiest stats on this list, he is certainly a player who makes a huge difference for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. This past year was Daniels’ best season yet as he set career-best marks in total tackles (20) as well as in tackles for losses with 4. Nebraska’s defense, despite the condensed 2020 schedule, took a huge step forward this past year, and Daniels had a lot to do with that. While the Big Ten continues to get better and better each year, Daniels will have huge expectations on his shoulders to continue to man the middle and help the Cornhuskers to get better along with the conference. He is certainly a player who could be in store for a big 2021 campaign with a full offseason to prepare.

 

Sources: Team Sites, PFF, Ourlads, NCAA

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