We’ve already looked at what Maryland football’s offensive depth chart might look like now that spring practice is over, so now it’s time to take a peek at how the defensive depth chart could shake out. We’re over four months away from the opening kickoff of the 2018 season, so this can and will change between now and then, but this is what we’ve got after watching spring practice.
Much like our offensive projections, this is based on our observations and evaluations from spring ball, 2017 results and general gut feeling, in that order. Freshmen who have yet to arrive are not included, but we do have some injured guys in here.
1. Jesse Aniebonam
2. Melvin Keihn
T3. Bryce Brand
T3. Ayinde Eley
T3. Durell Nchami
Coming soon: Tyler Baylor
In his last healthy season, Aniebonam led the team with nine sacks and 14 tackles for loss and led all 3-4 outside linebackers with 30 quarterback pressures in 2016. In the roughly three quarters he played in 2017 before suffering a season-ending injury, he looked well on his way to putting up similar numbers. Should he recover from his offseason surgeries in time to get in playing shape before the season starts, we should all expect to see him return to form. The distance between Keihn, Brand, Eley and Nchami is slim. Keihn gets the nod because of his veteran status, but in the long run, either Eley or Nchami looks like the future at the position.
1. Adam McLean
2. Breyon Gaddy
3. Cam Spence
Coming soon: Austin Fontaine
McLean started to come on at the end of last year and was beginning to look like the defensive lineman he was expected to be coming out of high school. After a few years of development, the starting nose tackle spot is his to lose entering the summer. He’s big, athletic and quick in small spaces. He showed why he’s leading the pack during the spring game with a couple solo tackles on Anthony McFarland, which he had told reporters two days earlier was not easy to do.
After redshirting and recovering from a leg injury, Spence enters the 2018 season in a similar position to the one McLean was in last season: a former four-star recruit coming off an injury looking to prove he was worth his high-school rating. Breyon Gaddy is also a former four-star recruit, and weighs 360 pounds ... so, yeah he’s a good fit to anchor the middle of the defensive line.
1. Mbi Tanyi
2. Oluwaseun Oluwatimi
3. Oseh Saine
Other options: Keiron Howard
Tanyi has been running with the first-team defense for most of the reps we’ve been able to observe in open practices during the spring. McLean touted him as a great pass rusher from the interior last Thursday, and he’s got plenty of playing experience from last year. Oluwatimi earned significant playing time last year as a walk-on, so there’s no reason to expect much of a dip after another offseason of strength and conditioning and honing his craft. Saine hasn’t made much of an impact yet in his first three years in College Park, which included a redshirt in Year 1. He’ll probably be a solid depth guy and special teamer barring injury.
Strong-side defensive end
1. Byron Cowart
2. Brandon Gaddy
3. Jalen Alexander
Other options: Lawtez Rogers, Brett Kulka, B’Ahmad Miller
Oh baby, it’s Byron Cowart time. After the former No. 3 overall recruit in the country lost his way at Auburn, he’s got a chance at redemption in a Terps uniform. In spring practice and in the spring game, he showed flashes of what made college coaches salivate over him just a few years ago. If he can even be 75 percent of what he was once expected to be, Maryland’s pass rush will be much better than last year, bookended by Aniebonam and Cowart.
The lighter of the two Gaddy twins, Brandon, seems to be a perfect fit to turn into a stout run defender at this spot. At 311 pounds, he’s a little bigger than a typical SDE, but his athleticism should more than make up for it. Alexander is an early enrollee who could wind up redshirting, but has been rotating in with the twos in the spring, so he could provide some depth here too.
1. Tre Watson
2. Nick Underwood
Coming soon: Nihym Anderson
With former blue-chip recruits Cowart and Marcus Lewis, behemoth offensive tackle TJ Bradley and Ray Lewis’ son Rayshad transferring into the program in the offseason, it’s easy to overlook Watson. We shouldn’t do that. The graduate transfer from Illinois is already starting alongside Isaiah Davis and should rack up plenty of tackles this season.
After transferring from junior college before last season, Underwood saw limited action in 2017. With several linebackers graduating, he should take on a bigger role this year, spelling Watson when necessary.
1. Isaiah Davis
Coming soon: Chance Campbell
If Maryland runs the same base defense as last year, Davis and Watson will both essentially be playing middle linebacker, so we really could combine these two positions. But since Davis seems to be exclusively an interior linebacker, he gets his own spot. He stepped into Shane Cockerille’s spot last season, and will carry his mean streak and aggressive tackling style with him into 2018.
1. Brett Shepherd
2. Jordan Mosley
Coming soon: Fa’Najae Gotay
When he was signed in 2016, Shepherd may have been one of the most underrated talents in the class. The Georgia linebacker is big, fast and frequently tackles going downhill. The Terps haven’t gone with three true linebackers on the field at once that often, but if they do, Shepherd should man the weak side. Mosley, who enrolled early this year, has impressed throughout the spring and is already big enough to play. It’ll likely just be on special teams this year, but he’s got the skill to see the field.
1. Antoine Brooks
2. Rayshad Lewis*
Brooks was a terror for opposing offenses last season. He’s a safety, a linebacker and a cornerback all at once. As such, he gives the defense a lot of flexibility with its scheme. Should Maryland stick with a base nickel defense this year, it’ll be hard to keep Brooks off the field for too long.
Lewis may end up sticking with receiver, but switched his number for the spring game and has been working out with the defense for the last two weeks or so of spring practice. At 5’10, 165 pounds, he’s the perfect size to play slot corner on smaller, shiftier receivers.
1. Marcus Lewis
2. Tino Ellis
1. RaVon Davis
2. Kenny Bennett
Other options: Vincent Flythe
Coming soon: Ken Montgomery
Lewis and Ellis have been starting all spring and don’t look likely to relinquish their spots anytime soon. Lewis had a pick-six in the spring game, while Ellis looked shaky at times. Even still, these are the Terps’ two best cornerbacks at the moment.
RaVon Davis has steadily improved during his tenure in College Park and earned significant playing time last season. That’ll surely continue this year, especially with a thinner cornerback room. Bennett is a big, physical cornerback, who may only see significant snaps in a pinch, but is surely able to step in if needed.
1. Darnell Savage
2. Antwaine Richardson
3. Qwuantrezz Knight
4. Deon Jones
Coming soon: Raymond Boone
Other options: Fofie Bazzie
Savage and Richardson are the incumbent starters, and haven’t shown anything that would indicate they won’t start again heading into 2018. Savage was one of Maryland’s best defensive players last year and could be in for a monster senior season if he continues his natural progression.
Knight has been in a non-contact jersey throughout the spring, but has already garnered a reputation as a hard-hitting, downhill-playing safety. Jones was a blue-chip recruit coming out of high school and spent last year rehabbing a knee injury. He’s looked plenty fast now that he’s back to full health and should be ready to make an impact on the field in his redshirt freshman season.
Again, this is sure to change before the season starts, and we’ll likely do another round of these closer to September, but this is what we’ve got for now.