2024 MAC EDGE Rankings: Justin Jefferson, CJ Nunnally IV Pressure Brian Ugwu

    Western Michigan's Marshawn Kneeland brought NFL eyes to the conference, but the 2024 MAC EDGE Rankings are brimming with pass rushers.

    The conference’s top three sack leaders from last season are gone, and that’s not even including Marshawn Kneeland, who’s taking his talents to the NFL. Even with the mass exodus at the top of the 2024 MAC EDGE Rankings, the top 20 is filled with players worthy of your attention prior to the season.

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    MAC 2024 EDGE Rankings

    10) Deshawn Holt, Toledo Rockets

    The fourth man in Toledo’s EDGE rotation last season, Deshawn Holt flashed glimpses of greatness on the field.

    With Terrance Taylor and Adrian Woliver no longer on the roster, those flashes should extrapolate to a whole season across from D’Andre Ragin (more on him later). His six tackles for loss and four sacks highlight his playmaking ability and knack for flying around the football.

    9) Michael Heldman, Central Michigan Chippewas

    Michael Heldman was the best among Central Michigan’s trio of edge rushers in 2023, and with Maurice White and Quindario Lee out the door, all the attention will be on him in 2024.

    At 6’4″ and 260 pounds, Heldman’s a big-bodied EDGE with long arms that secure tackles and set the edge in run defense. Line him up wide and let him build up steam to bulldoze his way to the QB.

    8) Raishein Thomas, Northern Illinois Huskies

    A collegiate stat-sheet crammer, Raishein has recorded 185 total tackles, 20.5 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, eight pass deflections, one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries across 44 games and four seasons.

    MORE: Could More Teams Join UMass in the MAC?

    He struggles to flip his hips and bend around the arc to finish pass-rush reps with a sack, but it’s not for lack of penetration. Thomas, like Heldman, utilizes wide alignments to his advantage, turning speed into power and collapsing pockets.

    7) Stephen Daley, Kent State Golden Flashes

    Stephen Daley has a tweener build at 6’2″ and just under 260 pounds. He has the height/length of a DT but the weight of an EDGE, forcing Kent State to get creative. But he’s entering his true junior season and still growing into his frame.

    Regardless, Daley generated multiple pressures in all but two games last season and stood his ground against the run, leaving fans excited for his future.

    6) D’Andre Ragin, Toledo Rockets

    After coming off the bench for three seasons, D’Andre Ragin had his chance to start in 2023 and never looked back. He rewarded the Rockets with eight TFLs and five sacks, finishing the season strong against Miami (OH) in the conference championship and Wyoming in the Arizona Bowl.

    Ragin’s natural leverage at 6’2″ is a nightmare for taller offensive tackles, allowing him to get under their pads and bend around the outside track toward the backfield.

    5) Corey Walker, Western Michigan Broncos

    Kneeland received most — if not all — the attention on Western Michigan’s D-line, but Corey Walker will make his name known in 2024. A menacing 6’5″ and 270 pounds, he has no issue setting the edge in run defense and bull-rushing tackles on passing downs.

    Don’t believe me? Watch what he did to Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan last year — when Walker is at his best, he can overwhelm any OT across from him.

    4) Bradley Weaver, Ohio Bobcats

    Bradley Weaver is the last man standing among Ohio’s three leading EDGEs from last year. Luckily for the Bobcats, he may just be the best. Standing 6’4″ and nearly 270 pounds, Weaver lines up anywhere from 3 to 7-tech, serving as a chess piece for the defense.

    Despite seeing fewer snaps than Vonnie Watkins and Shane Bonner, Weaver led the team with 13 TFLs and six sacks — more playing time likely equals even more production.

    3) Justin Jefferson, Eastern Michigan Eagles

    It’s not every day you see a 5’11” and 228-pound EDGE who terrorizes offensive tackles. Justin Jefferson (of no relation to the Minnesota Vikings’ star WR) explodes off the edge, using his diminutive size to knife through gaps, slip past reaching arms, and bring down RBs and QBs alike.

    Jefferson’s motor is always redlining, forcing O-linemen to remain engaged throughout a rep lest they forfeit a second or even third-effort pressure.

    2) CJ Nunnally IV, Akron Zips

    Prior to Akron, CJ Nunnally IV spent 2021 at Jackson State and 2022 at Independence Community College of “Last Chance U” fame. However, he found his home with the Zips, bursting onto the scene with 65 total tackles, 15.5 TFLs, and seven sacks. On top of being a gifted athlete, Nunnally varies his pass-rush plan and never gives up on a play.

    1) Brian Ugwu, Miami RedHawks

    Brian Ugwu played just three games at Rutgers and struggled at times as a starter in 2022. But he clearly studied the film and was in the lab working on his pass-rush moves and building his frame because his 2023 tape looked like a different player.

    KEEP READING: 2024 MAC QB Rankings

    His numbers (11 TFLs and five sacks to 12 TFLs and eight sacks) don’t look much different year over year, but Ugwu pressured QBs at a far higher rate and simply flew all over the field. His first step catches opponents off guard and allows him to quickly turn speed into power, which is a scary sight at 6’3″ and 250 pounds.

    2024 MAC EDGE Rankings | 11-20

    11) Bennett Adler, Akron  
    12) Jeremiah Peters, Toledo
    13) Joseph Zelinsky, Eastern Michigan
    14) Justin Thomas, Ball State
    15) C.J. Bazile, Buffalo
    16) Ali Saad, Bowling Green
    17) Roy Williams, Northern Illinois
    18) LaJoshua Jackson, Akron
    19) Jordan Porter, Bowling Green
    20) Mattheus Carroll, Kent State

    Miss any action from the top college QB Rankings during the 2023 football season? Want to track all the movement with the college football transfer portal? College Football Network has you covered with that and more!

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