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'D-Line Heaven'

Per capita, no place in the country produces more top-end defensive linemen, football’s biggest impact position, than the Carolinas.

Greg Gilmore (LSU) is just one of several highly-touted defensive line prospects from the Carolinas. He signed with the Tigers in the 2013 class out of Fayetteville, N.C.

North Carolina and South Carolina may rank No. 10 and No. 24 in the nation in terms of population but when it comes to churning out defensive tackles and defensive ends ends it sits on the mountain top as No. 1.

The region not only produces four and five-star defensive linemen seemingly every cycle. These guys often go on to have great success at the college level, with many becoming high NFL draft picks and stars in the pro game. 

From a recruiting “prospect” standpoint, the Carolinas have been churning out high-end talent for some time. In the last 10 years alone, North Carolina has produced prospects like Kentavius Street, Greg Gilmore, Tyquan Lewis, Jonathan Bullard, Carlos Watkins, DJ Reader, Jeoffrey Pagan, Quinton Coples, Donte Moss, Curtis Porter, Travian Robertson, Tydreke Powell, Kourtnei Brown and Aleric Mullins. That’s not to mention prospects from the state that went the junior college route and ended up elsewhere like Denico Autry (all-SEC candidate at Mississippi State) or four-star 2014 Alabama signee Jarran Reed.

In that same span, South Carolina has churned out top prospects like Dexter Wideman, Poona Ford, Michael Hill, Shaq Lawson, Jadeveon Clowney, Phillip Dukes, DeShawn Williams, Kevin Dodd, Corey Miller, Brandon Willis, Phillip Merling, Kelcy Quarles, Thomas Teal, Malliciah Goodman, Sam Montgomery, Daquan Bowers, Robert Quinn, Devin Taylor, Everett Dawkins, John Abraham, Carlos Dunlap, Cliff Matthews, Jarvis Jenkins and Ricky Sapp.

The tone for this trend was set more than a decade ago. Some of the game’s best called the Carolinas home including Brown, John Abraham, Vonnie Holliday, Richard Seymour, Robert Geathers, Ryan Sims, Gaines Adams, Dorrel Scott, William Perry, Michael Dean Perry, Chester McGlockton, Julius Peppers, Greg Ellis, Leonard Little, Shaun Ellis, Albert Haynesworth, Mario Williams and Manny Lawson.

It’s a who’s who of defensive linemen, a buffet of size, speed, power, explosion and length at the position. All hailing from two states. The 2015 cycle will feature more of the same.

Four of the top six prospects in South Carolina according to 247Sports Composite rankings are five-star defensive end Shameik Blackshear, four-star defensive tackle Albert Huggins and four-star defensive end Rasool Clemons and Michael Barnett - all projections for somewhere on the defensive line. Blackshear is an early pledge to South Carolina and Barnett is a verbal commit to Virginia Tech while Huggins and Clemons are entertaining offers from the likes of Georgia, LSU, Clemson, South Carolina, Florida State and others. At this early stage, Huggins is projected to Clemson and Clemons to LSU, which just recently offered.

North Carolina is just as deep with four of the state’s top 10 prospects being defensive linemen, including the top three overall.

Five-star defensive tackle Shy Tuttle, four-star defensive end Darian Roseboro, four-star defensive end Jalen Dalton and four-star defensive tackle Sterling Johnson have double digit offers and basically can pick where they want to go.

Sterling Johnson is one of the latest Class of 2015 defensive linemen from the Carolinas to emerge.

The region is so well-respected in terms of defensive linemen that Kengera Daniel recently picked up his first offer -from Alabama. Anthony Rush and Eurndraus Bryant figure to add their own tenders soon as well.

These players have gone on to develop in college at a high rate.

Clowney is projected by many to be the No. 1 pick in this April’s NFL Draft. He will be the second defensive end from the Palmetto State picked No. 1 overall since the turn of the century if this comes to pass. The Cleveland Browns selected Courtney Brown (Penn State) No. 1 overall in the 2000 draft. He’s a native of Macedonia, S.C. North Carolina has produced a top overall pick at defensive line during the last 15 years along the defensive line as well. Mario Williams (N.C. State) was the No. 1 overall pick by the Houston Texans in 2006 draft. He played at Redlands (N.C.). 

The 2000 and 2002 drafts, respectively, featured three top 15 picks (including Brown) of Carolinas defensive line talent.

The proof is in the pudding. The track record is there.

Why wouldn’t major colleges want to pluck the hardest to find position on the recruiting trail from the Carolinas?

For it is and forever will be known as ‘d-line heaven.’

First Rounders

1998- Greg Ellis No. 8 overall, Dallas Cowboys. East Wake (N.C.)/North Carolina
1998- Vonnie Holliday No. 19 overall, Green Bay Packers. Camden (S.C.)/North Carolina
2000- Courtney Brown No. 1 overall, Cleveland Browns. Macedonia (S.C.)/Penn State

2000-Shaun Ellis No. 12 overall, New York Jets. Anderson-Westside (S.C.)/Tennessee
2000- John Abraham No. 13 overall, New York Jets. Lamar (S.C.)
2001-Richard Seymour No. 6 overall, New England Patriots. Lower Richland (S.C.)/Georgia
2002-Julius Peppers No. 2 overall, Carolina Panthers. Southern Nash (N.C.)/North Carolina
2002- Ryan Sims No. 6 overall, Kansas City Chiefs. Dorman (S.C.)/North Carolina
2002-Albert Haynesworth No. 15 overall, Tennessee Titans. Hartsville (S.C.)/Tennessee
2006-Mario Williams No. 1 overall, Houston Texans. Redlands (N.C.)/N.C. State
2006-Manny Lawson No. 22 overall, San Francisco 49ers. East Wake (N.C.)/N.C. State
2007-Gaines Adams No. 4 overall, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Cambridge Academy (S.C.)/Clemson
2009-Robert Ayers No. 18 overall, Denver Broncos. Marlboro County (S.C.)/Tennessee
2011-Robert Quinn No. 14 overall, St. Louis Rams. Fort Dorchester (S.C.)/North Carolina
2012- Quinton Coples No. 16 overall, New York Jets. Kinston (N.C.)/North Carolina

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