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Maryland football’s defensive line recruiting history puts the Terps in an interesting spot

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After four seniors graduate this year, there are no obvious answers to fill in.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland’s defensive line was a mixed bag in 2016, but returns four key seniors for this season. It’s rare for a team to start all seniors at any position group, as it takes a handful of twists across several recruiting cycles. Just as we’ve done with quarterbacks, running backs and offensive linemen, here’s a look at how the Terps’ year-by-year additions have set them up for the present and future.

2013

The signees: Yannick Ngakoue (.8933), Kingsley Opara (.8416), Cavon Walker (.8375), Chandler Burkett (.8056)

Ngakoue was actually recruited as an inside linebacker from Friendship Collegiate, but turned into one of Maryland’s best defensive ends ever and was in the NFL three years later. The others are all projected to start on the line this fall as redshirt seniors. This is about as successful as a recruiting class can get, but the other side of that coin is subsequent classes look disappointing by comparison.

2014

The signees: Jesse Aniebonam (.9404), Tyler Burke (.8362), David Shaw (.7982), Brett Kulka (.7828)

Aniebonam has been everything he’s needed to be so far. He’s appeared in all 38 games across his three seasons, and while he’s only made nine starts, he’s been at least a rotation player each year. Aniebonam led the Terps with nine sacks and 14 tackles for loss in 2016, and he figures to be the regular starter at BUCK this season, giving Maryland four projected senior starters on the line.

The rest of this class, though, hasn’t worked out nearly as well. Burke and Shaw are playing in the FCS now, and while Kulka made five starts in 2016, he still enters his redshirt junior season with just 15 career tackles.

2015

The signees: Adam McLean (.9419), Kieron Howard (.8471), Mbi Tanyi (.8269), Oseh Saine (.8228)

This class looks solid on paper, and still has time to turn out well, but the group hasn’t yet seen a meaningful snap. McLean left the school and re-enrolled in spring 2016, then played just one game in his freshman season. If he’s healthy, he’s probably the favorite to be the third defensive tackle behind Opara and Walker, but McLean still isn’t a known quantity at this level.

Howard, Tanyi and Saine have a combined 19 career tackles, of which Tanyi has 13. He’ll enter 2017 as a junior, with all the others as sophomores. All of them are facing uphill battles, as they’ll have to compete with each other, McLean and three talented freshmen for just a couple spots.

Maryland also picked up Virginia Tech transfer Melvin Keihn in the 2014-15 offseason, further adding to the haul. After sitting a season, Keihn produced in 2016 and is well-positioned to be an impact player for two more years.

2016

The signee: Dion Goldbourne (.7832)

Goldbourne didn’t commit to the Terps until two days before National Signing Day, so Maryland almost came up empty on the line in this cycle. However, given the logjam coming from 12 signees in the previous three classes, it makes sense. The two-sport high school athlete is still a project, but has a chance to turn into a late-cycle steal.

2017

The signees: Cam Spence (.8913), Breyon Gaddy (.8903), Brandon Gaddy (.8583), Lawtez Rogers (.8275), B’Ahmad Miller (.8113)

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding this line is how Spence and the Gaddy twins stack up against the 2015 three-stars, as they should all compete for a couple spots in the rotation. The results of those battles will probably serve as a preview for next season, and could potentially shift the direction of the position towards the underclassmen.

This class, of course, isn’t quite the same without five-star defensive end Joshua Kaindoh, who was committed to the Terps for seven months before stepping back and ultimately enrolling at Florida State. Kaindoh would have been a factor right away, but Miller and Rogers are projects that could see big roles in a couple seasons.

2018

The commit: Austin Fontaine (.9548)

Fontaine is obviously a huge addition, and he has the size to be an impact defensive tackle in the Big Ten right away. Perhaps the bigger question is what Maryland does on the outside in this class; with Burkett and Aniebonam gone after the year, defensive end will be wide open. Four-star prospect Eyabi Anoma (.9697) would be an ideal fit, and even if he turns out to be nothing more than wishful thinking, the Terps are after three-star defensive end Joseph Boletepeli (.8388), among others, including a few junior college prospects. They’d also be happy to add four-star defensive tackle PJ Mustipher (.9494), or even three-star defensive tackle Raiqwon O’Neal (.8416), to the fold.

This leaves Maryland with a conundrum for 2018.

The Terps’ defensive line next season will have four former blue-chip defensive tackles and six players entering at least their third season. However, only McLean satisfies both conditions, and he hasn’t separated himself from anyone yet. The dynamic between veterans like Howard, Tanyi and Saine and talented youngsters like Spence, the Gaddy twins and Fontaine should be fascinating at this time next year, and because Maryland rotates on the line, we’ll get some of those answers throughout this season. But beyond this year’s senior starters is a cloud of uncertainty.