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2023 TCU Football Position Review: Defensive Line

We take a look back and grade the performance of the TCU defensive line from this season.

NCAA Football: Baylor at Texas Christian Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In my opinion, the TCU defensive line was the biggest issue with the defense this year. The scheme plays into that a little, but at the end of the day, the defensive line has two major jobs. Against the pass, the defensive line is responsible for generating a pass rush and reducing the amount of time the quarterback has to make decisions and distribute the football.

Against the run, the defensive line is responsible for getting penetration, eating up blockers, and creating opportunities for linebackers to make plays. I believe the TCU defensive line did well in the run game, but the lack of production in the pass rush hurt the Frogs’ chances to be successful this year.

Caleb Fox led the defensive line in snap count, playing 481 downs on the season. Caleb’s overall PFF grade checks in at 64.5, ranking 470th out of 714 defensive linemen who played at least 300 snaps this season. However, Fox’s grade was propped up by his success in rush defense, where he graded 73.5.

When it comes to tackling and pass rush, Fox’s grades were dismal at 50 and 51.8 respectively. That pass rush grade ranked 699th nationally. Fox generated just seven pressures on the season with two sacks. He had 26 tackles on the year. If your snap count leader on the defensive line generates this little production you’re probably not going to be successful on defense.

Caleb Fox 2023 Grade: D

Damonic Williams was just behind Fox in snap count at 477 on the year. Williams’ overall PFF grade comes in at 69.4, and he was much more productive as a pass rusher. Williams generated 19 pressures on the year but was only able to convert those pressures into three sacks. He added 29 tackles, and it’s worth noting that he only missed 6 percent of his attempted tackles on the year.

Williams’ pass rush grade comes in at 63.7, and his tackling grade was an 80. In rush defense, Williams was graded by PFF as a 72.9, so he did pretty well there. He was the most productive member of the TCU defensive line, but he was not as productive as you would like your best lineman to be.

Damonic Williams 2023 Grade: C+

Paul Oyewale came into the season as someone many fans hoped would have a breakout year. He played 399 snaps for the Horned Frogs this season and finished the year with a PFF grade of 64.8 overall. Oyewale was the worst defensive lineman against the run this year with a PFF grade of 60.6.

However, he was the second most productive pass rusher for the Frogs this year, creating 16 pressures and two sacks. Hopefully, 2024 will be a better season for Oyewale and he’ll have the breakout year that fans are hoping for.

Paul Oyewale 2023 Grade: C-

Soni Misi is next on our list with 371 snaps played for the Frogs this season. Misi’s overall PFF grade was a 62.3. Against the run, he graded the same, but his pass rush grade came in at 58.7. Misi generated just five total pressures on the year and came away with one sack. Misi was not attributed with any missed tackles on the year, but he finished with just 15 tackles.

Soni Misi 2023 Grade: F

We finish off our series with Tymon Mitchell. Mitchell played 350 snaps for the Frogs this season and finished with a PFF grade of 66.7. His rush defense grade comes in at 67.5, and he only missed one tackle on the season. Mitchell finished with 17 tackles on the season. Like the other defensive linemen, Mitchell struggled when it came to rushing the passer, finishing with a pass-rush grade of 60.6. Mitchell generated just 8 pressures on the year and did not have any sacks.

Tymon Mitchell 2023 Grade: D+

Oh, and did I mention that the TCU defensive linemen did not force a single fumble this year?


2024 Outlook

The TCU defensive line will need to improve next season. There simply has to be more production, especially in the pass rush, if the Frogs want to have a more successful season. Show me a good pass defense and I’ll show you a great defensive line. Everything starts there. The TCU coaches agree given their activity in the transfer portal.

TCU added two defensive linemen for next year. Devean Deal comes in from Tulane where he had 43 tackles, 27 pressures, four sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception last year. The Frogs also add Nana Osafo-Mensah from Notre Dame. He finished last season with eight pressures, four sacks and 17 tackles despite only playing 252 snaps. I expect both of these guys to play significant snaps in 2024.

From the list above, Soni Misi is the only player not returning. The group will need to continue improving if they want to keep their playing time from the newcomers. By my count, there are 13 players on the TCU roster listed as defensive linemen. I also have three incoming freshmen, plus the two transfers, bringing the Frogs to 18 players competing for playing time on the defensive line.

I’d like to see Markis Deal and Avion Carter take big steps forward in the spring and see significant playing time next fall. The TCU coaching staff has a lot of work to do with this group, and the ability to win games next season depends on it.