Following impressive years in 2016, Michigan’s Rashan Gary and Ohio State’s Nick Bosa are quickly gaining attention as two of the top defensive ends in the B1G. Both are only sophomores.

Not too often do second-year D-linemen earn the kind of attention that Gary and Bosa have garnered. And not only are the two rising stars competing in the same conference, they’re suiting up for rival programs.

As former five-star recruits, both players made an impact in their freshman campaign, seeing an adequate amount of playing time and catching some national attention as young guns. Now, Gary and Bosa encounter a year in which they’re productivity is expected to increase. But who’s primed for a better season in 2017? Is there even a favorite?

Here’s the case for both Gary and Bosa as they enter their sophomore seasons.

The case for Rashan Gary

Everyone has already projected Gary to have a tremendous year. Sports Illustrated has tabbed the Wolverine as a preseason All-American and he’s ranked as one of the top 10 players in college football, according to

Gary showed glimpses of his potential in his freshman campaign, but as a rotational player on a stacked defensive unit, his numbers didn’t necessarily reflect his impact. He finished the year with 27 stops, five tackles for loss and just one sack in 13 games.

What those numbers fail to represent is the sheer size and athleticism Gary possesses, which is a lethal weapon for the 6-foot-5, 290-pound sophomore. He’s got excellent speed – clocking a 4.57 time in the 40-yard-dash – and uses his monstrous power to shed blockers easily.

On a number of occasions, Gary made offensive linemen throughout the B1G look like middle school blockers. He showed off some impressive skills in Michigan’s game against Illinois last season:

Gary made quick work of the lineman and was still within two short steps of the ball-carrier. What looked like a slight opening at the line of scrimmage was quickly closed because of Gary’s pursuit.

Earlier in the year, the defensive end showed the ability to blow by potential blockers with pure speed and good use of his hands. UCF’s offensive line was hopeless in trying to slow down Gary on this bull rush:

His sack against UCF was the only one of the year, but he did account for six QB hurries.

Though he didn’t look it, Gary was a bit of a raw talent and was still able to do some impressive things. Add a full college football season, spring ball and fall camp to his experience level. Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown is already seeing the results.

“Best I’ve ever seen,” said Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown to the Detroit News. “Best I’ve ever seen combining speed, strength, change of direction, and the mental curve. He’s unbelievable. The sky is the limit. The good thing is I think he understands that there’s a lot on his shoulders.”

Gary does have more responsibility in 2017. And now that coaches are going to start game-planning for Michigan’s athletic freak at defensive end, he’s going to start seeing new looks and plenty of double-teams. But slowing him down will continue to be a challenge for opponents.

With so many of Michigan’s starters headed to the NFL, Gary is going to be an every-down type of guy. He probably could’ve been that kind of player on most FBS teams last fall. He’s had the talent, now he’ll get the repetitions on the field.

As the Wolverines’ undisputed leader on defense with a full year under his belt, Gary has all the tools for an All-American type season in Ann Arbor.

The case for Nick Bosa

There’s only one reason you can’t say Bosa had a breakout year during his freshman season in Columbus: he’s entirely capable of doing so much more.

Bosa’s freshman season ended with a 29 tackles, seven stops for loss and five sacks while playing 332 snaps. He was named a Freshman All-American by ESPN for his contributions to a team that reached the College Football Playoff.

Watching some of Bosa’s film, it’s hard to believe he’ll only be a sophomore in 2017. What he lacks in power – which isn’t much – he makes up for with quick hands, excellent footwork and crafty maneuvers. He’s quick off the line and can scoot past a blocker without much of a fight.

Wisconsin couldn’t find an answer for him in Ohio State’s clash against the Badgers in Madison:

That wasn’t the only example.

Michigan’s offensive line had the same issue in the season finale in Columbus. After taking a few quick steps, Bosa was able to shed the blocker and create a path to the quarterback.

Those were against two of the B1G’s top teams last fall. If you want more evidence that Bosa is a top-level talent, plenty of other highlight videos exist. According to Pro Football Focus, Bosa was the B1G’s top defensive end in pass-rush productivity last year, too.

Rather than beat you with power, Bosa is a quick and crafty defensive end who can use the combination of footwork and hand placement to create clear paths to the quarterback or ball-carrier. He’s also got a high football IQ and is excellent at anticipating what’s coming at him.

But Bosa isn’t the only guy on Ohio State’s defensive line that stands out. As Greg Schiano has said, the Buckeyes’ defensive line is the best he’s ever coached, including NFL teams. That can be a good thing for Bosa’s potential production.

When opponents are dealing with so many talented players on the defensive line, it’s hard to single in on one guy. Basically, teams are going to have to pick their poison when it comes to blocking assignments and play-calling. Bosa could thrive if he’s not the primary concern of a coaching staff. He likely won’t be overused, either, as there will be a pretty consistent rotation at defensive end.

Joey Bosa made a huge improvement from his freshman year to his sophomore season. The younger Bosa has all the potential to make the same kind of leap.

Final verdict

Gary and Bosa are primed for big years this season. There’s no question that, even as sophomores, they are two of the best defensive ends in the country, each with a unique skill-set that’s going to be valuable to his respective team.

When you check the highlights, it’s hard to argue against Bosa. Getting into the backfield looks so effortless for the Buckeye and he’s been able to blow by some of the top offensive lines in the B1G. But as good as the Ohio State sophomore is, Gary is one step ahead.

There isn’t a skill that Gary doesn’t possess. His incredible strength and speed for his size goes unmatched. There isn’t anyone in the conference that will be able to overpower him. Tossing around offensive linemen looks like a hobby, not many can stand toe-to-toe with him. Gary is also going to be on the field a lot more, which should lead to a huge spike in his numbers.

Both sides of this case could be argued and several good points would be made. The margin is razor thin but give Gary the edge.

He’d just take it from you, anyway.