As HBCU Sports continues to highlight some of the top returning players at each position that fans should watch out for in the upcoming year, we now shift the series to the defense, where we showcase some of the top returning defensive linemen in HBCU football.
Defensive linemen are often the most important players on the football field, as they are tasked with disrupting the flow of the offense, invading the backfield with quickness and intensity.
Here are the five defensive linemen to watch during the 2023 season.
Tim Alderman, Fort Valley State
Fort Valley State’s impressive 2022 season, in which the team finished with an 8-2 overall record, was overshadowed by the Wildcats’ division rival Benedict’s historic championship year.
One of the most underrated aspects of the Wildcats team was defensive end Tim Alderman, who played a big role on a squad that led the SIAC in rushing defense.
Alderman finished second in the conference in sacks (7.5) and third in tackles for loss (14.0), being named to the All-SIAC First Team.
Fort Valley’s defense is loaded with talent and has what it takes to power this team to become a top contender in the SIAC.
Malachi Bailey, Alcorn State
The hierarchy of the SWAC’s top pass rushers will be much different from last season, with eight of the conference’s ten sack leaders either having entered the transfer portal or pursuing a pro career this offseason.
The best of the two remaining defensive linemen in the SWAC is Alcorn State’s all-conference selection, Malachi Bailey.
Bailey tied for the second-most sacks in the SWAC (9.5) and ranked just outside the top 10 in tackles for loss (11.5), being named to the All-SWAC Second Team.
He made his biggest impact against Prairie View A&M, recording 3.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks. This includes a sack in overtime that helped secure a win and kept the Braves alive in the division championship race.
Jalen Bell, Tennessee State
Mississippi Valley State transfer Jalen Bell will look to make a big first impression during the 2023 HBCU football season by taking his talents over to the Ohio Valley Conference to play for the Tennessee State Tigers.
Saddled on a defensive line led by All-SWAC selection Ronnie Thomas, Bell put up solid numbers as the second option.
He recorded 43 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
As Bell embarks on his change of scenery, he will likely look forward to the challenge of being the leader of the Tennessee State defensive line.
Elijah Williams, Morgan State
Coming off their first season under head coach Damon Wilson, the Morgan State Bears showed their bright future, doubling their win total from the previous year.
Morgan State’s defense will be key to the team’s success, with some rising stars looking to take the next step to become a contender, namely Elijah Williams.
Williams anchored the Morgan State defensive line leading the MEAC in tackles for loss (19.0) and sacks (9.0) in addition to 60 total tackles.
He recorded 4.0 tackles for loss in two games during the 2022 season, the first Morgan State player to do so in a single year since Chris Robinson in 2014.
Look for Williams to be the preseason favorite to win the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year award.
Loobert Denelus, Benedict
Loobert Denelus made a name for himself in the 2022 season, putting forth a dominant performance in what was a historic season for the Benedict Tigers.
Denelus finished with 51 tackles, 21.0 tackles for loss, 14.0 sacks, four fumble recoveries, and three forced fumbles. He was named the SIAC Defensive Player of the Year helping lead the Tigers to their first undefeated season and SIAC championship in school history.
In the SIAC championship game, the Tigers defender arguably had his best output of the season, recording five tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, and 3.0 sacks.
Benedict will need a repeat performance from Denelus and the Tigers’ defense if they want any chance of repeating as conference champions.
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