Indiana football 2024 roster rankings: Which defensive position group is the best? (2024)

BLOOMINGTON —Indiana football’s offensive struggles overshadowed how poorly the defense played over the final two seasons of Tom Allen’s tenure.

Allen could have even salvaged the 2023 season with a couple of clutch defensive stops. The Hoosiers had late-game leads over Illinois, Michigan State and Purdue, but closed out the stretch 0-3 with the defense giving up points down the stretch in each loss.

The defense needed an overhaul and it got one — Indiana could have fewer returning starters on defense than the offense. Here’s how IU’s new look position groups rank going into fall camp taking into account experience, past production and depth:

Indiana football 2024 roster rankings:Which offensive position group is the best?

Indiana football 2024 roster rankings: Which defensive position group is the best? (2)

1. Linebackers

Indiana’s new staff brought in JMU’s starting tandem of Aiden Fisher and Jailin Walker to take over the middle of the defense. They played more than 500 snaps together last season for a Dukes team that ranked 30th in total defense (333.8 yards allowed per game).

The coaches had enough confidence in the duo that they moved sixth-year linebacker Jacob Mangum-Farrar to defensive end.

In 2022, Walker was the fifth highest-rated linebacker in the country, according to Pro Football Focus. One reason for that was his standout coverage skills — he had four pass breakups with three interceptions and opposing quarterbacks had a 32.1 passer rating when targeting him.

Walker wasn’t quite as effective last season, but he suffered an upper body injury in a Week 2 win over Virginia that sidelined him for much of September.

Fisher and Walker will cover a lot of ground and their experience in Bryant Haines’ defense will provide some much needed continuity for an IU defense full of new parts.

Indiana landed some key depth at the position during the spring portal window by signing UMass linebacker Nahji Logan. He took the spot of former Troy linebacker Jayden McDonald, who spent just three months on the roster.

Logan led UMass with 60 tackles last season playing a hybrid linebacker and safety position his coaches called viper. He could provide depth behind Walker and also get reps at IU’s rover spot that will also utilize defenders capable of playing in the box and dropping back in coverage.

Indiana returning linebacker Isaiah Jones could get some reps playing behind Fisher.

Jones was a standout in the spring game playing alongside the second-team defense. The 6-foot-2, 227-pounder only played in four games during his first two seasons with the program as a former three-star signee.

More:Ranking Indiana football’s 2024 schedule from easiest opponents to toughest: Part 1

Indiana football 2024 roster rankings: Which defensive position group is the best? (3)

2. Defensive tackle

The defensive tackles would have ranked last by a wide margin at the end of camp thanks to the low number of scholarship players IU had on the roster, but the addition of CJ West (Kent State) and Tyrique Tucker (JMU) helped fill out the two-deep.

West was one of the top players remaining in the transfer portal at his position.

He has the size of an old school type of nose tackle at 6-foot-2, 315 pounds, but isn’t just a one dimensional run stuffer. He’s a proven pass-rusher with the overall skill set to elevate IU’s entire defense.

He will likely get paired up with former JMU defensive tackle James Carpenter in the starting lineup while Tucker and returning tackle Marcus Burris make for a solid second-team pairing.

Carpenter could anchor both groups having been an iron man for JMU’s defense the last two seasons. He led the defense in snaps (625) in 2022 and was third on the team in 2023 (803). He played the most snaps out of any interior defensive lineman in the country.

More:Ranking Indiana football’s 2024 schedule from easiest opponents to toughest: Part 2

Indiana football 2024 roster rankings: Which defensive position group is the best? (4)

3. Cornerback

Indiana’s cornerback room has an eclectic mix of talent from an FCS All-American (Cedarius Doss) to a one-time Notre Dame signee (JoJo Johnson) to a former Texas Longhorn Jamier Johnson).

The room has potential, but could face some growing pains.

It’s not very experienced group overall — Jamier Johnson is a redshirt junior, but has played less than 300 defensive career snaps —and will enter fall camp having played even few snaps together.

That’s a sharp change from when the staff took over with Indiana’s top three corners (Kobee Minor, Nic Toomer and Jamari Sharpe) all coming back, but Toomer moved to safety and Minor entered the portal after spring camp.

Minor’s departure made the addition of James Madison corner D’Angelo Ponds a necessary one. Cignetti credited the freshman All-American for turning JMU’s beleaguered secondary around when he entered the starting lineup in Week 4.

Ponds had elite numbers last year with 10 pass breakups and two interceptions in just nine starts. He only allowed 259 yards (30 for 65) and 59.7 quarterback rating. According to Pro Football Focus, his 88.6 overall coverage grade ranked 12th among all FBS corners.

He raises the group’s ceiling, but Indiana needs Sharpe and the others around Ponds to stay healthy and show steady improvement.

Sharpe learned on the job as a redshirt freshman last season. He allowed the most touchdowns on the team in coverage and a series of big plays including an 85-yard score against Louisville, but bounced back from the miscues and matured as the season went on.

More:Projected 2024 Indiana football offensive depth chart after spring practice

Indiana football 2024 roster rankings: Which defensive position group is the best? (5)

4. Defensive end

Indiana’s new staff didn’t do a ton at defensive end as it overhauled the roster.

The biggest move they made was signing Mikail Kamara out of the transfer portal. He would have been JMU’s top returning pass rusher after putting up 7.5 sacks and 41 quarterback pressures in 2023.

Kamara immediately became the most accomplished pass rusher on IU’s roster and will likely start alongside Lanell Carr.

There will be legitimate questions about whether he can put up the same kind of production against power four competition, but he told reporters during spring camp that he’s the healthiest he’s ever been in his college career and is eager to prove he wasn’t a one-hit wonder.

The other key personnel move IU made was shifting Mangum-Farrar over from linebacker to defensive end.

Mangum-Farrar hadn’t been used much as a pass rusher at Stanford, but showed a real knack for getting to the quarterback with 21 total pressures on 94 pass rushing snaps as a transfer last season.

It will take the sixth-year defender some time to acclimate to the position, but his natural size and athleticism — he’s listed at 6-foot-5 and 252 pounds — could make him an imposing presence coming off the edge.

While Mangum-Farrar has plenty of upside, the lack of experience behind Kamara and Carr is significant.

The other defensive ends likely to be in the rotation are Venson Sneed Jr. and Ta'Derius Collins. They are promising youngsters, but Sneed has only played 127 career defensive snaps and Collins didn’t play at all while redshirting last season.

More:Projected 2024 Indiana football defensive depth chart after spring practice

Indiana football 2024 roster rankings: Which defensive position group is the best? (6)

5. Safety

Indiana has three safety spots to sort out with Haines relying on a scheme that prominently features a rover position. There could be some crossover between the spots since IU doesn’t have a ton of depth numbers-wise.

The team’s holdovers Josh Sanguinetti, Bryson Bonds and Amare Ferrell all had prominent roles in the spring game alongside transfer signees Shawn Asbury II (Old Dominion) and Terry Jones Jr. (Old Dominion) plus corner turned safety Nic Toomer.

Indiana added some insurance by signing Arizona safety DJ Warnell Jr. in the spring portal window. Warnell like Sanguinetti and Bonds are veterans in years, but never won consistent playing time.

Asbury, Toomer and Ferrell could be the pairing with the most upside.

Michael Niziolek is the Indiana beat reporter for The Bloomington Herald-Times. You can follow him on X @michaelniziolek and read all his coverage by clicking here.

Indiana football 2024 roster rankings: Which defensive position group is the best? (2024)

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