10 Defensive College Players to Keep an Eye on in the 2024 NFL Draft

They say the best offense is a good defense. Having that level of defense is key to creating a successful franchise that is capable of competing for a Super Bowl.

The best and easiest way for teams to acquire is through the draft. Most every all pro, Hall of Famer, and legend on the defensive found themselves selected in the NFL draft. This year’s pool of draftable talent has some high-motor options.

These are 10 defensive college players to keep an eye on this year as we enter the 2024 NFL draft.

10. Quinyon Mitchell – University of Toledo

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MARCH 01: Quinyon Mitchell #DB27 of Toledo participates in a drill during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 01, 2024 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Mitchell is easily the best player in the Mid-American Conference. He out tested his peers at his Pro Day and the NFL combine, even those in the SEC. He’s a player that could be a star wherever he goes in the league. He’s fast. He’s strong. He has length. He’s broad and very strong — 20 reps at 225 at the combine strong. Should he find a home on an NFL roster, we’ll be asking ourselves why we didn’t see this kid’s talent sooner.

9. Barrett Carter – University of Clemson

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA – NOVEMBER 25: Barrett Carter #0 of the Clemson Tigers celebrates after defeating the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 25, 2023 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images)

Carter was the #3 ranked linebacker in his class and a five star recruit coming out of high school. His career at Clemson was an absolute stat sheet filler. He’s a true off-ball linebacker. His talent allows him to play comfortably in coverage when need be or find the football with ease when he’s not attacking downhill on an A-gap blitz or ranging toward the sideline on an outside run. His athleticism is the cherry on top, making him a homerun pick.

8. Terrion Arnold – University of Alabama

AUBURN, ALABAMA – NOVEMBER 25: Terrion Arnold #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after intercepting the final pass of the game in their 27-24 win over the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 25, 2023 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Arnold was recruited as a five-star safety, didn’t get on the field as a freshman, and then came out and was named a freshman All-American last year and a first-team All-American this year. He’s a sure fire baller. For the Tide, Arnold was the Robin to Kool-Aid McKinstry’s Batman. Arnold is a player whose best football is still ahead of him. He has a high ceiling and amazing potential.

7. Leonard Taylor – University of Miami

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA – SEPTEMBER 23: Leonard Taylor III #56 of the Miami Hurricanes pressures E.J. Warner #3 of the Temple Owls in the second half at Lincoln Financial Field on September 23, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Miami Hurricanes defeated the Temple Owls 41-7. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
The Miami Hurricane was sidelined for much of the 2022 season after a foot injury cut his season short. As a defensive tackle, Taylor has major power from the interior. With the size of a linebacker, Taylor has the ability to bully offensive lines. Taylor has a quick twitch for 6’4, 305 pounds. When it’s all said and done, we may look back at this draft and ask the question, “Why wasn’t he drafted higher?”

6. Laiatau Latu – University of California at Los Angeles

PASADENA, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 11: Laiatu Latu #15 of the UCLA Bruins at Rose Bowl Stadium on November 11, 2023 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
The UCLA Bruin could’ve entered his name into the draft last year but chose to continue to build on an impressive resume in his college career. At 6’4, 265, Latu is an edge rusher full of power that can dominate the pass rush. Along with being a unanimous All-American in 2023, Latu also won the Ted Hendricks award for his time with UCLA.

5. Chop Robinson – Penn State University

EVANSTON, ILLINOIS – SEPTEMBER 30: Chop Robinson #44 of the Penn State Nittany Lions rushes the quarterback against the Northwestern Wildcats during the second half at Ryan Field on September 30, 2023 in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
The Nittany Lion Robinson is a small, flexible outside rusher who bullies defending offensive lines. With burst, bend, and athleticism Robinson will make a great pickup for any team able to pick him up during the draft. Robinson shows flashes of former Pitt edge Calijah Kancey, who had a great rookie year in 2023. If he can follow in his footsteps, he’ll be on solid ground in the league.

4. Dallas Turner – University of Alabama

TUSCALOOSA, ALABAMA – SEPTEMBER 23: Dallas Turner #15 of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after tackling Jordan Watkins #11 of the Mississippi Rebels during the fourth quarter at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 23, 2023 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Turner was a first-team All-American and had 22 sacks over the last three seasons. He ranked second in the SEC in QB pressures last year. He’s a great defender and a dynamic athlete. At 6’4, 247 pounds, Turner ran a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash. Turner is a super freak athlete who worked with Will Anderson IV in college. He’s a beast — plain and simple.

3. Cooper DeJean – University of Iowa

IOWA CITY, IOWA- OCTOBER 7: Defensive back Cooper DeJean #3 of the Iowa Hawkeyes is tackled during the first half by defensive back Anthony Brown #24 of the Purdue Boilermakers at Kinnick Stadium on October 7, 2023 in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
Cooper proved that white boys belong in the secondary. As a projected first-round pick, DeJean would be the first white cornerback in the league since 2004. He rarely misses a tackle, snags interceptions and makes plays flying across the field. At 200 pounds, DeJean has the size to fill in at the outside corner. Time will tell whether or not he can elevate his play to the next level.

2. Kool-Aid McKinstry – University of Alabama

ATLANTA, GEORGIA – DECEMBER 02: Kool-Aid McKinstry #1 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates after defeating the Georgia Bulldogs 27-24 in the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 02, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
McKinstry was the glue that held Alabama’s secondary together. As a former #1 recruit at his position, McKinstry proved he could be an elite player at every level through his time with the Tide. Whichever team picks him up in the draft is sure to land the next best thing since Sauce Gardner for their secondary. At 6’1, 188 pounds, McKinstry has the size to take on anyone in the league.

1. Jared Verse – Florida State University

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – DECEMBER 2: Jared Verse #5 of the Florida State Seminoles hypes the crowd late in the fourth quarter against the Louisville Cardinals during the ACC Championship at Bank of America Stadium on December 2, 2023 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Isaiah Vazquez/Getty Images)
Verse likely would’ve been a late first- or early second-round pick in last year’s NFL draft had he declared. Verse transferred to Florida State before the 2022 season and exploded onto the scene for the Seminoles. As a relentless rusher with major power on the edge, Verse was downright unblockable for most of his time in Tallahassee. Look for his name to be called early on in this year’s draft.

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