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NCAA Football American Athletic Conference

Top 5 AAC Defensive Linemen in 2013

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AAC Football: Top 5 Defensive Linemen

AAC Football
Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Pass rushing has turned into a true art form on the football field. To slow down these record-breaking offenses at the college and even pro level, programs are looking for premiere pass rushers off the edge to bring down quarterbacks before plays have a chance to develop.

Elite pass rushers are at the top of every NFL franchise's wishlist, and they are paying the big bucks to put these guys on the field and create chaos in the backfield. Everything starts at the line, and who wins the battle up front more than likely has the edge to win the game. Today's college football landscape is filled with teams that have big, physical defensive linemen that have the athleticism of wide receivers.

In its inaugural year in 2013, the AAC will have plenty of its own pass rushers that opposing quarterbacks will be looking over their shoulders for. Each week leading up to the 2013 season, we have taken a look at the top five players at each position, starting weeks ago with the quarterbacks and moving forward to the running backs, wide receivers and offensive linemen.

This week, we take a look at the top five defensive linemen heading into the AAC's first season. The players are ranked in ascending order based on past performance and their potential and expectations for 2013. This is not a list saying who will have the best year, but who should have the best season according to each player's physical abilities and contributions on the field.

Bryan Heater is an AAC football and basketball columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter, Friend him on Facebook or add him to your Google network.

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5. Jordan Stepp

Stepp
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Coming in at No. 5 is Cincinnati Bearcats defensive tackle Jordan Stepp. Stepp is not the biggest linemen at 6-foot-1, 268 pounds, and is not freakishly athletic. He is your prototypical inner lineman who clogs up the running lanes and makes it hard for running backs to get going. Many DTs do not get a lot of sacks, and Stepp is no different, recording 36 stops, 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

Though you would like to see Stepp improve his sacks total, he is always a factor when opposing teams opt to run inside on the Bearcats. Stepp should have his best season yet for his senior year in 2013.

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4. Brandon Dunn

Dunn
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Much like Stepp, Louisville Cardinals DT Brandon Dunn does not have the eye-popping sacks and tfl numbers like many defensive ends do. At 6-foot-3, 285 pounds, Dunn uses his massive frame to erase inside running lanes. In 2012, he finished with 25 tackles and two sacks.

Dunn will need to improve his work ethic, as he seemed to disappear at times last season and could have posted much bigger numbers than he did. As a senior, expect his numbers to jump and continue to expect running backs to dread taking the middle path.

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3. Martin Ifedi

Ifedi
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis Tigers defensive end Martin Ifedi was a huge part of a defense that had one of the most impressive turnarounds from 2011 to 2012. Ifedi made his name known to defensive coordinators and quarterbacks last season, racking up 46 stops, 11.0 tfl and 7.5 sacks as a sophomore. Ifedi has good size at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds, and has speed as well.

He is only a junior, which means he should only get better as time passes. He will be part of a very good defensive line for Memphis, so a 10-sack year could be in store.

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2. Aaron Lynch

Lynch
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive end Aaron Lynch will get back on the field this year for the South Florida Bulls after having to sit out for 2012 for transferring from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Lynch has all the physical tools and skills you look for in an elite pass rusher, standing at a towering 6-foot-6. He was a first team Freshman All-American pick for the Fighting Irish in 2011 after recording 33 tackles, seven tfl and team-highs in sacks (5.5) and quarterback hurries (14).

Lynch has the ability to be No. 1 on this list and could very well be the best defensive linemen in the AAC by the end of 2013. But he has only played one year, so he comes in at No.2. Lynch could stand to add some weight, as he currently is listed at 244 pounds. Regardless, he is primed for a big 2013.

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1. Jamil Merrell

Merrell
Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Rutgers Scarlet Knights will have a formidable defensive line in 2013, and it all starts with 6-foot-4, 255-pound senior Jamil Merrell. Merrell had 40 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 10.5 tfl in 2012 for a Rutgers defensive line that had many playmakers. Merrell has the ability to play the run or bull rush offensive linemen and get to the quarterback.

A big reason why he did not have as many sacks is because the Scarlet Knights had Big East Defensive Player of the Year Kasheem Greene (6.0 sacks, 10 QB hurries) roaming the field. With Greene gone, Merrell becomes the primary threat to get in the backfield, so 2013 should be one to remember.