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Michigan State 2020 Positional Breakdown: Defensive Line

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The defensive line has long been a strength for the Spartans. Today, let’s take a look at the Spartans’ 2020 defensive line and break down their players for this season.

NCAA Football: Pinstripe Bowl-Michigan State vs Wake Forest Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The defensive line has consistently been one of the strengths for the Spartan defense, especially so under former head coach Mark Dantonio’s reign. They played a big role in many championship-level defenses. The defensive line even made Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner run for his life back in 2013 in East Lansing, and finished the day with only -48 rushing yards allowed, and assisted in the defensive mauling of Tulsa in the 2019 opener, allowing -73 rushing yards in that game.

The defensive line is a core piece to the Spartan defense. This offseason, the defensive line saw lots of talent move on to the NFL, with players Kenny Willekes, Raequan Williams, and Mike Panasiuk all finding homes at the next level. In 2020, there will be plenty of opportunities for newcomers along the defensive line to step up and make an impact, and with a new staff, anybody could get their shot along the line. Let’s take a look at what the Spartans have to work with along the Defensive Line.

Returning Players

Naquan Jones (R-Sr): Naquan Jones offers a lot of experience to this defensive line in a year where its desperately needed. After redshirting in 2016, Jones went on to play in every game the last three seasons and saw his first start in 2019 against Illinois. His 2018 season was statistically his best, recording 26 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks. In the Pinstripe Bowl win, Jones recorded a nine-yard sack for the Spartans, which was his only one in 2019. With the loss of Raequan Williams, Jones should fit right into his role for the Spartans and could be poised for another strong season in 2020.

Jacub Panasiuk (Sr): Jacub Panasiuk, like Jones, returns a lot of experience to this Spartan defensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, Panasiuk actually is the highest graded returning edge rusher in the Big Ten. He also is coming off of a big 2019 season, recording career highs in tackles (34), tackles for loss (11), and sacks (five) last year. Panasiuk also blocked an extra point attempt vs. Maryland, as well as tipped a pass that led to a touchdown scored by his brother, Mike, in the Pinstripe Bowl. In 2020, Jacub Panasiuk will be a very important piece to this Spartan defense.

Zach Slade (R-So): Zach Slade missed the entire 2019 season to an injury, which was a disappointment after he showed signs of being a big-time player for the Spartans during the 2019 Spring Game. Slade recorded a fumble recovery and an interception in the Spring Game, returning the interception 45 yards and showing off his athleticism in the process. Slade could make his way into the rotation early in the season, and maybe even the starting lineup by the end of the year.

Drew Beesley (R-Sr): Drew Beesley played in all 13 games in 2019, recording 14 tackles, including 1.5 sacks. His first sack was in the Michigan game, where he led the defense with 23 of MSU’s “Production Points” that they use to evaluate a player’s performance in a given game which, according to Mark Dantonio, signifies a “very good game.” Beesley also recorded a half sack in the Pinstripe Bowl win. Look for him to sneak into the rotation in 2020.

Jacob Slade (R-So): Jacob Slade saw quite a bit of action in 2019, playing in all 13 games this past season. In total, he recorded 14 tackles and two tackles for loss in 2019, along with a sack in the Pinstripe Bowl. Like his brother, Jacob could see an increase in playing time, and make his way into the rotation for the Spartans.

Other Returning Players

Maverick Hanson (R-Fr), Jalen Hunt (R-Fr), Evan Brunning (DT, R-Fr), Jacob Lafave (DT, R-Fr), Dashaun Mallory (R-So), Jack Saylor (R-So), Deari Todd (R-Jr), Jack Camper (R-Jr), Brent Mossburg (R-Jr), and Jonathan Brys (R-Sr) all return for the Spartans as well, but are looking to find their roles along the line in 2020.

Incoming Freshmen

Tommy Guajardo: Guajardo is technically listed at TE but standing at 6’3” and 230 pounds., he could see some time at other positions, one of which could be defensive end. Guajardo has the talent to make an impact early and might get to see some playing time this season for the Spartans.

Kyle King: King was a finalist for the Indianapolis Star’s Mr. Football Indiana. He has plenty of pass rush skills, with 28.5 career sacks in high school. He also shed plenty of double teams in high school and recorded 67 total tackles as a senior. King is going to be hungry whenever the Spartans give him an opportunity and might become a young leader for the Spartans.

Other Incoming Freshmen

Simeon Barrow Jr., Avery Dunn, Chris Mayfield, Jeff Pietrowski, Jasiyah Robinson.

Final Thoughts

In a year of uncertainty, following the loss of quite a bit of talent and experience along the defensive line, the Spartans will have quite a lot of talent to work with. Just like other positions on the roster this season, younger players will get some opportunities to make an impact and establish themselves with the new coaching staff, while veterans will anchor down the line. The defensive line will continue to be a focal point of the Spartan defense and is capable of success in the 2020 season.