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Predicting Maryland football's 2015 depth chart: Part 2, defense

The Terps have to replace seven starters, including six in the front seven.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland loses quite a number of starters from last season's team, but there are a number of high-profile recruits starting to move up the depth chart. That's especially true on defense, with blue-chip recruits Yannick Ngakoue, Jesse Aniebonam and Adam McLean either starting to make their presence felt or looking to do so in 2015. Maryland will still likely bring in at least one more player on the defensive line, but I'll move forward with what I have to predict next season's two-deep. Here's part one, on the offense.

On defense, Maryland loses seven starters. Seniors Matt Robinson, Keith Bowers, Darius Kilgo, Andre Monroe, Cole Farrand, L.A. Goree and Jeremiah Johnson all graduate. The Terps are set to replace nearly their entire starting front seven, as well as important substitutes Alex Twine, Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil and Spencer Myers.

Away we go. Remember: this is primarily an exercise for your entertainment and amusement (and mine), because there will be unexpected additions, departures and surprise developments in camp. But these guessing games are one of the most fun parts of being a sports fan, and speaking personally, I like to have fun, so let's do this.

Defensive line

Quinton Jefferson David Shaw Roman Braglio
Kingsley Opara Adam McLean Malik Jones

See how important the Adam McLean commitment was? Maryland lost four of their six biggest contributors on the defensive line from this season, and they'll be breaking in a lot of new faces into the rotation next year. Opara could end up playing at nose tackle (and it wouldn't surprise me to see him challenge Shaw for the starting job), but Maryland has even more depth issues at end so I'm keeping him there for now. It's possible we could see Opara and McLean flip spots, as some recruiting outlets have projected the latter to be a better 3-4 defensive end at the next level, so we'll have to keep an eye on that.

Jefferson's back from his injury, and he'll be a welcome presence on a line that needs his experience. Braglio has been quite good as a reserve over the past two seasons (23 games, 4.5 sacks) and looks ready for a starting role, while Jones has apparently made big strides and could be a potential breakout player. Nose tackle's the big question, as Shaw was a lowly recruited high school player who recorded four tackles this season, but he did manage to make it onto the field as a true freshman and the coaches really seem to like him.

Another possibility to look out for is a potential move of former four-star prospect Jesse Aniebonam down to defensive end. He was projected as an end coming out of high school, moving to Maryland's aggressive WILL linebacking position as soon as he stepped on campus, but fellow blue-chipper Yannick Ngakoue has that position safely locked down. Redshirt freshman Brett Kulka, an end, could also make his way into the two-deep with a strong camp, as could true freshmen Keiron Howard (tackle) and Mbi Tanyi (end).


Cavon Walker Jermaine Carter, Jr. Abner Logan Yannick Ngakoue
Jalen Brooks Tyler Burke Brock Dean Jesse Aniebonam

Three of four starters are gone here, plus Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil and Alex Twine (each of whom played nearly starter-equivalent downs). Luckily, there appears to be a pair of straightforward answers in the middle, with Carter impressing early in his career and Logan (a former four-star recruit) working his way back onto the field after a suspension.

Maryland fans can also be thankful for that dynamite pairing at WILL. Ngakoue was one of the best end rushers in the conference this season (tied for ninth with 13.5 tackles for a loss), and Aniebonam is a special talent who showed a glimpse of that ability this season. If Aniebonam does end up making the move to defensive end, expect Chandler Burkett to take over as Ngakoue's backup.

SAM is the biggest question here, with starter Matt Robinson and backup Alex Twine both gone. Cavon Walker was supposed to be the third option at the position before suffering a preseason injury, and Jalen Brooks filled in while Robinson and Twine were hurt. We haven't seen Walker much at this level, but Maryland struggled to defend intermediate routes when their two seniors went down. This could be an example of a young player pressed into a difficult role too early, but it's something to keep an eye on as camp progresses. If nobody emerges as a strong option at the position, it might be wise for Maryland to change around their linebacking roles and turn the position into something else entirely. If they do elect to keep it (and they almost definitely will), someone else like Avery Thompson or Nnamdi Egbuaba could also be in contention for playing time.

Incoming freshmen Gus Little, Brett Zanotto and Isaiah Davis will all likely redshirt, but they could feasibly find a place on the two-deep at either SAM or one of the inside linebacker roles if they perform well enough in camp. Little is unquestionably an inside linebacker, but roles for Zanotto (SAM or inside) and Davis (any of them) are unclear as of yet.


Will Likely Sean Davis Anthony Nixon Alvin Hill
Daniel Ezeagwu A.J. Hendy Zach Dancel Jarrett Ross

The one unit mostly spared by attrition, starting cornerback Jeremiah Johnson is the only scholarship player leaving. The only other possible loss could be A.J. Hendy, who was a senior and missed 2014 due to suspension, but I'm going to keep him there until we hear otherwise. If Hendy isn't a part of the roster next season, Elvis Denah, Milan Collins and Denzel Conyers (eligible after missing 2014) would likely fight for that spot.

Looking at the unit as a whole, there is some reason to hope for improvement. Will Likely is unequivocally one of the best cornerbacks in the nation, and 2015 might be the year the rest of the secondary catches up. Sean Davis and Anthony Nixon, both seniors next season, have been playing together in the defensive backfield since they were freshmen. Despite this joint experience and a close bond off the field, they've been an inconsistent pairing at the safety positions. Entering their final year on campus, this is their chance to really make an impact -- especially with a playmaker like Likely in front of them.

At the other corner position, Alvin Hill is still a question mark after suffering an injury right before conference play. He beat out Johnson for the starting job last spring, and has to be the favorite to start opposite Likely -- especially considering the absolute lack of depth the Terps have at the position.

Finding four capable corners is going to be an interesting task for Brian Stewart and Randy Edsall, but there are a few names to keep track of. Jarrett Ross, Daniel Ezeagwu and Josh Woods are all raw players who were pressed into playing time too early thanks to a combination of injuries and a lack of bodies, and at least two of them need to step up for the Terps to have acceptable depth at the position. Other potential options at corner are Undray Clark, a converted safety who will be a senior this season and has played in five career games, and Conyers, if they decide to move him from safety.

If Conyers stays at safety, he'll likely be one of the main options off the bench, along with Zach Dancel and Hendy. Dennah and Collins are the next group up, but Maryland fans haven't been able to see them in action yet. Redshirt freshman Antwaine Carter and true freshman Jameel Cook are probably at least a year away from playing time, but a strong camp could put them in contention.