Top Returning Pac-12 Defensive Tackles For 2017

Who are the top returning defensive tackles in the Pac-12 for 2017? A pair of Washington Huskies make the list.

You want to establish a ground game in 2017, Pac-12 members? Won’t be so easy, depending on the opponent. The conference is home to one of the better collections of defensive tackles in the country, proven run-stuffers who can also ignite the pass rush up the gut. The Pac-12 will be a pipeline to the NFL for interior linemen in the coming years, with a particular abundance of talent coming out of Seattle. In Vita Vea and Greg Gaines, U-Dub will boast one of the best tackle tandems in college football this year.

Top Returning Pac-12 Defensive Tackles

5. Harrison Phillips, Stanford

The Cardinal learned last fall just how much they missed Phillips, when he was lost for the year in the 2015 opener. He bounced back to become one of the team’s defensive leaders, providing boundless energy and intensity from the middle of the front three. Phillips gives Stanford a physical, borderline nasty presence, while also being a playmaker. In what could be a second half of the career catapult, he notched 46 tackles, 9.5 stops for loss and 6.5 sacks to earn honorable mention All-Pac-12, though his ceiling is set much higher in 2017.

4. Lowell Lotulelei, Utah

That Lotulelei isn’t preparing for the NFL Draft these days is a bit of a surprise, since he was a trendy pick to be chosen in the opening round this April. But he’s coming off a down year, hamstrung by nagging injuries, so there’s a desire to put it all together as a senior. At his peak, Lotulelei is a former First Team All-Pac-12 performer whose strength and aggressiveness make him an asset versus the run. While there’s not a ton of nuance to his game, he can ruin an opponent’s gameplan when he’s eating up blocks and busting through the O-line.

3. James Looney, Cal

While Looney lacks name recognition, a plight of playing on the lowly Cal D, he’s well known by Pac-12 offensive coordinators game-planning to avoid him. At 6-3 and 280 pounds, the one-time Wake Forest transfer moves with all of the suddenness and explosion of a strongside end. He gets out of his blocks in a flash and won’t slow his pursuit until the play is dead. An honorable mention All-Pac-12 pick in 2016, Looney showcased his range with 54 stops, eight tackles in the backfield and 3.5 sacks.

2. Greg Gaines, Washington

Just because Gaines doesn’t garner the attention of teammate Vita Vea does not reflect on his importance to the Husky defense. In fact, he might be one of the most underrated members of the unit for his ability to control the line of scrimmage and impact the effectiveness of opposing ground games. Gaines is an immovable 6-2, 318-pounder in the center of the line, using his strength to win man-to-man battles. In a Pac-12 honorable mention sophomore year, he made 35 stops, eight tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

1. Vita Vea, Washington

At 6-4 and 346 pounds, Vea does unimaginable things for such a big and physical interior lineman. Yes, he can dominate against the run, using his width and power to create logjams between the tackles. However, Vea is one of the premier defensive tackles in the country entering 2017 because of the way he moves, both laterally and like a vending machines on wheels toward the backfield. The Second Team All-Pac-12 selection had five sacks in 2016, an indication of his uncommon athleticism.

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