Clemson’s Defensive Line: In a league of its own…kind of

Clemson football is one of the best shows in all of college football right now. Kelly Bryant is a dynamic replacement for Deshaun Watson at quarterback; the program seems to recruit and produce a never-ending supply of skill position stars, too.

However, the conversation with Clemson should start and stop with its defensive line. The Tigers field likely multiple future first round picks along the line. It’s ridiculous how good they are in this department.

But are the Clemson Tigers the ACC’s best defensive line? Read more to fine out — some of the results may surprise you, because the ACC is home to some of the best defensive fronts in all of college football.


Sack Attack

When it comes to sacking the quarterback, the Clemson Tigers reign supreme in this region. Clemson has 22 sacks (3.7 per game) on the season — tops in the ACC, No. 3 nationally. Defensive end Austin Bryant has paved the way with five sacks; this is a collective effort, however. Three other members of Clemson’s defensive line — including all-world tackle Dexter Lawrence — have recorded at least 1.5 sacks this season.

TeamSacksSack YardsSD Sack RateNatl Rank
Clemson2212912.8%No. 1
Duke191279.2%No. 12
NC State171096.2%No. 40
Miami15836.0%No. 43
Wake Forest12912.5%No. 104

In the table above, we detail the number of sacks each team has collected; Miami actually leads the league with 3.75 sacks per game. Also include in the chart: each team’s sack rate on Standard Downs, per Football Study Hall.

Standard Downs — as defined by Football Study Hall — are first downs, second-and-7 or fewer, third-and-4 or fewer, and fourth-and-4 or fewer. According to Football Study Hall, offenses tend to run the ball 60 percent of the time on Standard Down situations. That being the case, it’s not easy for a defense to dive-bomb on a quarterback.

It’s tremendous if and when a team can generate pressure from its base defense — without having to send extra rushers. So far this season, no team has done this better than Clemson. Duke has been incredible here, too.

This is, of course, a team effort. Coverage in the secondary must be tight; linebackers have to hold down the middle of the field, but I’m crediting the lines here, especially.


None shall pass…or run

Another area of the game where a defensive line can destroy an offense’s will to perform: the run game. This is where Clemson, Duke and NC State distances themselves from Miami and Wake Forest, too.

The Blue Devils (88 yards per game) and Wolfpack (90.7 yards per game) actually rank inside the top 10 nationally in rush yards allowed per game. Clemson isn’t far behind, though; the Tigers rank 13th — 98.8 yards per game. There are only 13 FBS programs holding opponents under 100 rush yards per game, by the way.

It’s worth noting, though: Not one of these teams are easy to run the ball against — regardless of competition.

TeamOpponent Opp RateNatl RankStuff RateNalt RankTFL
Clemson30.3%No. 1020.7%No. 5747
Duke30.5%No. 1130.7%No. 450
NC State31.8%No. 1925.5%No. 1939
Miami40.1%No. 9226.6%No. 1336
Wake Forest33.5%No. 2729.2%No. 655

Opportunity Rate is another Football Study Hall metric, which measures the percentage of carries when the offensive line “does its job” — creates at least five yards of running room. So in this instance, we are examining how often these defensive lines allow opponents to gain at least five yards running the ball.

The national average is 38.9 percent, per Football Study Hall. Four ACC teams — Clemson, Wake Forest, Duke and NC State — all rank inside the top 30.

Stuff Rate, on the other hand, is the rate of run plays where the runner is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. Duke and Wake Forest both rank inside the top 10 nationally in this metric; therefore, it’s no surprise to see both squads have at least 50 tackles for loss.


Who creates the most Havoc?

Football Study Hall keeps track of an excellent statistic called Havoc Rate. This measures the percent of plays that a defense records a tackle for loss, forces a fumble, or defends a pass. It can also be isolated for certain position groups. In this case, that would be each team’s defensive line.

TeamGamesDL Havoc RateNatl RankOverall Havoc Rate
Miami49.7%No. 319.8%
NC State68.9%No. 717.1%
Wake Forest68.2%No. 1021.1%
Clemson68.1%No. 1120.4%
Duke68.0%No. 1325.6%

First off, it’s incredible that five of the top 13 defensive lines in terms of Havoc Rate all hail from the ACC — nearly 40 percent. The defensive lines for all five of these teams record a tackle for loss, force a fumble, or defends a pass on at least eight percent of the team’s possessions.

Basically, don’t be surprised when several ACC tackles and rush edgers get selected in the next few NFL Drafts. That includes Wake Forest’s Duke Ejiofor.

Miami hasn’t played as many games, or as strenuous of a schedule as the other teams, but the Canes have an edge here. Most impressive, though, is Clemson; the Tigers have, of course, knocked off three top-15 teams, including two on the road.

According to Team Rankings, Clemson has played the third toughest schedule in FBS Football so far this season.


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