Last year, Ohio State's Chase Young emerged as college football's most dominant edge rusher. Arguably, Young was the most dominant player at any position not named quarterback (hello, Joe Burrow). His 16.5 sacks led the nation, and even though he didn't record one in his final three games, he still affected every play. Five of his seven quarterback hurries came in that late-season stretch, including the College Football Playoff, and he commanded plenty of double-teams (triple teams?) from opposing offensive lines.
So who will be this year's Chase Young? Our college football staff made their picks for the player who will jump to the top of the stat sheet in sacks by the end of the season. While none of these players were required to be completely unknown, we did tend to look a littler more under the radar to find our gems.
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Tom Fornelli: George Karlaftis, Purdue
George Karlaftis is a name of which not enough people are aware. This is mostly due to the fact he plays at Purdue, which doesn't grab much national attention. While many people are aware of the recruiting coups Jeff Brohm pulled off by landing players like Rondale Moore and David Bell on the offensive side of the ball, Karlaftis was a higher-rated recruit than either. Karlaftis had offers from all the traditional powers but chose Purdue after moving to West Lafayette from Greece in the eighth grade.
So far, he's lived up to the billing. While he only had 8.5 sacks last season, sacks can be a misleading statistic. The stat that gives you a better idea of how well a pass rusher will perform on an annual basis than sacks is pressures. Karlaftis had 60 pressures last season, one fewer than Ohio State's Chase Young and tied for sixth nationally, according to Sports Info Solutions. He did all of this as a freshman, and as he enters his sophomore season, there's a good chance he's going to improve. I think the 2020 season is going to see Karlaftis rise to the tier of elite college pass rushers.
Barrett Sallee: Big Kat Bryant, Auburn
Marlon Davidson and Derrick Brown are gone, which means it's time for Auburn defensive end Big Kat Bryant to shine. The senior passed on the NFL and returns to the Plains as the Tigers most experienced pass rusher. The stats don't show it, though. The 6-foot-5, 247-pounder only notched two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks last year, in addition to eight tackles for loss through three seasons. That changes this season. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele relied on the beef in the middle to be the foundation of the defense in 2019, but he will move Bryant around in a variety of ways to ensure that he is in the right position to disrupt plays. Bryant and linebacker K.J. Britt are the two chess pieces that Steele will most often use in 2020.
Chip Patterson: Zach Harrison, Ohio State
Who is the next great pass rusher, a.k.a. the next Chase Young? How about the budding superstar ready to join the royal line of pass rushers out of Ohio State. From the same program that brought you Young and two Bosas, get ready for sophomore Zach Harrison. A former five-star prospect, Harrison not only flashed in spot-action as a freshman -- like Young -- but got some significant work with Young's two-game NCAA suspension and Jonathon Cooper's early-season injury. His numbers don't leap off the page with 3.5 sacks and five tackles for loss, but that production ranks him No. 1 among returning Ohio State defensive linemen in both categories. Young ran second to Nick Bosa as a freshman, then took a major leap during his sophomore season. I expect Harrison will do the same.
Ben Kercheval: Carlos Basham Jr., Wake Forest
Oregon's Kayvon Thibodeaux was my first choice after the sophomore recorded a team-best nine sacks as a freshman. To be sure, Thibodeaux is going to be a monster for the Ducks. Instead, I'm going to go with a name that has been every bit as productive, if not more so, but maybe a little lesser known nationally. Basham was second in the ACC with 11 sacks a year ago (9 solo), but just as important, he recorded 61 pressures. That ranked fourth nationally, tied with -- you guessed it -- Chase Young. Basham is Wake Forest's best player going into the 2020 season, a possible first-round draft pick, and the feeling is not too many people outside ACC country know his name. That changes this year.
David Cobb: JaQuan Bailey, Iowa State
JaQuan Bailey's production steadily ramped up for the first three seasons of his career until he missed nearly all of the 2019 campaign with a leg injury. Now, after redshirting last season, he is back to claim the school's all-time sacks record as a fifth-year senior.
One reason Bailey will continue building on his 18.5 career sacks is the caliber of the players around him. Eyioma Uwazurike is a skilled veteran who can play multiple positions on the line, and the Cyclones also return a good cast of linebackers. Collectively, the group should give defensive coordinator Jon Heacock a multitude of options for pressuring opposing quarterbacks, which will prevent blocking schemes from honing in on Bailey. Expect him to average a sack per game in 2020 and provide Iowa State with some of the clutch defense that it was missing during close losses last season.
You won't see Bailey's name in the first round of any 2021 NFL mock drafts since he is coming off an injury and doesn't have the eye-catching physical tools of some other elite college defensive ends. But what Bailey lacks in flare, he makes up for with a track record of consistent production that figures to be on display again this season.