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Of course, we're still recapping and evaluating everything that materialized in the 2024 NFL Draft. But don't be ashamed to admit you're already looking ahead to the 2025 NFL Draft and the crop of top-tier prospects it will provide. 

These are my top 10 defensive prospects in the 2025 class before the 2024 college football season.

For those interested in who made this piece last year: 10. Dallas Turner, 9. Cooper DeJean, 8. Laiatu Latu, 7. Barrett Carter, 6. Chop Robinson, 5. Johnny Newton, 4. Leonard Taylor III, 3. J.T. Tuimoloau, 2. Kool-Aid McKinstry, 1. Jared Verse

Honorable Mention: Elijah Roberts, EDGE, SMU

Last year, I had Trice in this spot after he led college football in pressures. Trice triumphantly led the country in that category for a second season in 2023 and was a third-round pick by the Falcons despite coming in smaller than expected and testing worse than expected at the NFL Scouting Combine. 

Guess who was immediately behind Trice in pressures last season? Yep, Roberts from SMU. He had a whopping 71 of them on a mere 383 pass-rushing snaps. I don't care what conference you're playing in -- if you're generating a pressure on 18.5% of your opportunities, you've got my attention. And, sure, SMU hasn't been a defensive prospect factory, but that shouldn't matter anyway. However, he does have a fascinating backstory. 

10. J.T. Tuimoloau, EDGE, Ohio State

Tuimoloau stepped foot on campus in Columbus, Ohio, to be the next epic edge rusher from the Buckeyes program. He was the No. 2 recruit, regardless of position, in the 2021 high school class behind only Quinn Ewers. After a breakout sophomore season in 2022 with 10.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and 32 pressures on 264 pass-rushing snaps, it felt like Tuimoloau's Ohio State career would crescendo in 2023 before he'd declare for the 2024 draft. 

It's not as if Tuimoloau was bad as a junior in 2023; it's just the crescendo wasn't seismic enough to essentially push him out the door and into the NFL. He only had 5.0 sacks and 7.0 tackles for loss, and his pressure-generation rate went from 12.1% to 10.9%. Elite edge-rusher prospects are typically in the 15-20% range. Despite the dip in productivity -- and for Tuimoloau hopefully just a blip, not him regressing from his ceiling in 2022 -- he's still listed at 6-foot-5 and a chiseled 269 pounds with seemingly never-ending arms and a diverse set of pass-rush moves. The Ohio State star has the God-given goods to ascend this list with a bounce-back season on what should be a loaded Buckeyes club in 2024. 

9. Harold Perkins Jr., LB/EDGE, LSU

The No. 5 overall recruit in the 2022 class, who was an instant hit at 18 years old for the Tigers in 2022, Perkins is one of the most athletically gifted, ubiquitous defenders I've watched in a long time. And it's not only a matter of the LSU coaches trusting him to play anywhere defensively; it's that he flourishes regardless of his pre-snap alignment. 

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, Perkins played more than 240 snaps as a box linebacker, on the defensive line as an edge rusher, and in the slot as a cornerback for the Tigers in 2023. Insane. He had 3 more tackles than his true freshman season (75 vs. 72 )and registered another 13 tackles for loss after that same figure in his debut campaign in the SEC. 

Used more as a pure edge rusher as a sophomore as opposed to a stand-up blitzer on the interior as a freshman, Perkins' pressure-rate went from 25% to just over 14%, but his future is not strictly on the outside in the NFL. And all you have to do is watch one defensive series from LSU to notice how incredibly explosive and flexible Perkins is. His movement skills jump off the screen, like he's playing at 1.5x everyone else. 

8. Ben Morrison, CB, Notre Dame

Morrison is one of the few members here that doesn't come with a dazzling recruiting profile, although he was a four-star in the class of 2022 at the cornerback position. Listed at 6-foot and 186 pounds with seemingly long arms, Morrison fits the exact size prototype teams want on the boundary in today's NFL

And he's been nothing but a fundamentally sound pass-disruptor since joining the Notre Dame program. In 2022, he was rightfully named freshman All-American thanks to a 6-interception debut campaign that also featured four pass breakups. There wasn't a significant regression last season, either. Morrison snagged 3 picks and knocked away 10 other passes to go along with 3.5 tackles for loss. The smooth athleticism and plus elites are obvious on film. 

7. Malaki Starks, S, Georgia

A former five-star recruit and No. 1 "athlete" recruit in the nation in 2022, this is where Starks is supposed to be. And the bright lights of the SEC haven't been overwhelming to him early in his collegiate career. From his safety spot, Starks has 5 interceptions and 14 pass breakups entering his true junior year. 

Vitally too, Starks has proven to be one of the most reliable tacklers in the country. He's missed a grand total of 8 tackles on nearly 1,600 snaps he's taken at Georgia. Most highly athletic, ultra-aggressive safeties like Starks struggle to play under control and wrap up in tight quarters. Not Starks.  

6. Nic Scourton, EDGE, Texas A&M

While Scourton wasn't a monstrous get for Purdue a few years ago, his production for the Boilermakers led to him being 247 Sports' No. 1 edge in the transfer portal

During his breakout in 2023, Scourton had 10 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, and a pressure-creation rate of nearly 16%. He was the first huge get for new Aggies head coach Mike Elko in College Station. And he's one of the finest draft prospects in the country due to his listed measurables and thickness at 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds. 

There are nasty spin moves and impressive edge-bending wins on film from Scourton. He looks like an NFL defensive end today. Another big season, this time in the SEC, and he'll be one of the first defensive prospects off the board in the 2025 draft. 

5. Travis Hunter, CB, Colorado

Hunter was the No. 1 overall recruit in the nation who famously flipped from Florida State to Jackson State to play for Deion Sanders, and, of course, has followed Coach Prime to Colorado. 

Unfortunately, an injury setback curtailed what was a spectacular start to his Colorado career in 2023 that altogether featured 3 interceptions and 5 pass breakups to go along with all the receiving production he had -- 57 catches for 721 yards and 5 TDs -- as one of college's truly two-way players. 

Hunter isn't a ridiculous technician at cornerback with immense size. It's his suddenness and pure speed that make him tantalizing as a cornerback prospect. He exudes upside, and it'll be fascinating to see how Sanders utilizes him in 2024. 

4. Mason Graham, DL, Michigan 

There were many times when Graham was the most disruptive force on a star-studded Michigan defense en route to winning the national title. Listed at 6-foot-3 and nearly 320 pounds, the stocky but energetic interior rusher registered 29 pressures on just 251 pass-rushing snaps, good for an 11.5% pressure-creation rate. Anything in double digits for a defensive tackle is spectacular. 

What's critical about Graham's game too is -- he rocks against the run. While there were some missed tackles on film in 2023, he countered with an bevy of near-or-behind-the-line tackles. Altogether he had 35 of them with 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks on not even 450 defensive snaps. He has the twitch off the line, pass-rush moves, and low center-of-gravity power to win in whatever way he likes up front. 

3. Will Johnson, CB, Michigan

Johnson was the No. 4 cornerback recruit in the country in 2022, so he's used to top billing. In two seasons as Michigan's top cornerback, Johnson has allowed 2 touchdowns in his coverage area. Pretty good. He's also intercepted 7 passes and defended 7 more on a mere 88 total targets. That's insane productivity. 

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds, Johnson has a Sauce Gardner type intimidating frame and glides next to receivers at all three levels of the field. It'll be interesting to see how Johnson performs after Michigan lost so many defenders to the NFL, but if his first two years in Ann Arbor are any indication, he's going to stick like glue to wideouts and routinely make plays on the football en route to being labeled an elite cornerback prospect in the 2025 class. 

2. Deone Walker, DL, Kentucky

As an evaluator, I don't give enormous nose tackles much value anymore, but I'm still placing Walker at No. 2 in on this pre-season list. He was that good in 2023 and is that special of and athlete at around 6-foot-6 and 340-350 pounds. 

It's easy to forget how large he is because his nimble feet, loose hips and every-down explosiveness can lull you into a thought you're watching a gigantic individual likely destined for the 0 or 1 technique spot in the NFL. He generated 51 pressures on 425 pass-rushing snaps in 2023, good for a massive 12% pressure-creation rate. That's high volume and efficiency from Walker. He epitomizes the scouting term "dancing bear," and his pass-rush wins aren't slow bull rushes. Swipe, club, even some bend as he works the edges of guards and centers, Walker has it all. And, yeah, he plays with all the power you would expect at his size. 

1. James Pearce, EDGE, Tennessee

One season of productivity in the SEC from Pearce, and that productivity was of the elite variety. On just 246 opportunities to rush the passer, Pearce pressured the quarterback 52 times, good for an astronomical 21.1% pressure-generation rate. However, he doesn't appear to be a tremendous, ultra-freaky athletic specimen. 

But he's long, powerful beyond his years, and knows how to string pass-rush moves together -- all of which made him a nightmare for SEC offensive tackles in 2023. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 242 pounds, it's scary that he's had a year to add more weight to his frame. Pearce has the refined skill set and measurables to be the first defender off the board in the 2025 draft.