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Lake Forest’s Rylie Mills tops the list of the 10 best high school football defensive players in the Chicago area

Two Northwestern recruits are among the area’s top 10 defenders. A Notre Dame commit leads the list and Phillips senior Ronald Pledger is the only Public League player to crack the rankings.

Rylie Mills of Lake Forest is the area’s top-ranked defensive player.
Rylie Mills of Lake Forest is the area’s top-ranked defensive player.
Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times

The positional rankings start up with the defenders. There are two Northwestern recruits among the area’s top 10 defensive players. A Notre Dame commit leads the list and Phillips senior Ronald Pledger is the only Public League player to crack the rankings.

1. Rylie Mills, Lake Forest, Sr., defensive end (6-5, 275)

There aren’t many players with the size, quickness and disruptive ability of this Notre Dame recruit. That’s why he’s one of the top 10 in the nation at strong-side defensive end and a top-150 player in the Class of 2020 regardless of position. Last year, the four-star prospect had 22 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and three pass breakups.

2. Denver Warren, Brother Rice, Sr., defensive tackle (6-1, 318)

It’s been an eventful year for the area’s top uncommitted senior. He transferred from West Aurora after decommitting from Michigan. One thing that hasn’t changed: Some of the country’s top college programs still want him. His 19 offers include two from the SEC (Tennessee, LSU) and eight from the Big Ten, including Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan State.

3. Bryan Sanborn, Lake Zurich, Jr., linebacker (6-2, 210)

The younger brother of Wisconsin’s Jack Sanborn is an elite prospect in his own right. A three-star recruit, he’s ranked in the top 10 in Illinois and top 15 nationally at inside linebacker. The three-star prospect’s eight offers include those from Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin in the Big Ten, plus Vanderbilt from the SEC.

4. Ryan Keeler, Nazareth, Jr., defensive end (6-5, 240)

The quick and rangy Keeler’s stock skyrocketed this summer thanks to a busy and productive camp schedule. A top-15 player in Illinois’ Class of 2021, he has 20 offers. Among them are seven from the Big Ten, including Illinois and Wisconsin, and one from the SEC (Kentucky).

5. Sean McLaughlin, Lincoln-Way East, Sr., defensive end (6-7, 220)

It wasn’t a surprise the three-star prospect committed to Northwestern. His grandfather played for the Wildcats and McLaughlin will be reunited with another former Griffin defensive end, Wildcats sophomore Devin O’Rourke.

6. Xander Mueller, Wheaton North, Sr., linebacker (6-3, 210)

Like McLaughlin, Mueller had a family connection that helped him decide to commit to Northwestern: his older brother Erik is a junior linebacker for the Wildcats. The three-star recruit had 78 tackles last season.

7. Lukas Van Ness, Barrington, Sr., defensive end (6-5, 240)

The Iowa commit is a rare Power Five recruit who didn’t get into football till high school. He’s been playing hockey much longer and still does, believing the sport’s up-tempo pace has helped his quickness on the gridiron.

8. Justin Walters, Bolingbrook, Jr., safety (6-2, 170)

Walters is unusual among top prospects because he plays baseball in the summer and doesn’t do the 7-on-7 or camp circuits. Despite that, he’s ranked in the top 10 overall in the state and top 20 nationally at his position in the Class of 2021. Among his nine offers: Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin.

9. Mac Uihlein, Lake Forest, Jr,, linebacker (6-1, 215)

In Mills and Uihlein, the Scouts have the highest-ranked defensive tandem in the state. Uihlein, who had 70 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks last season, is a top-10 player overall in Illinois’ Class of 2021 and a top-15 prospect nationally at inside linebacker. Iowa, His offers include Northwestern, Iowa, Purdue and Wisconsin.

10. Ronald Pledger, Phillips, Sr., cornerback (6-2, 166)

The Public League’s top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2020 is one of the new breed of cornerbacks who combine length with speed and ball-hawking skills. The three-star recruit is committed to Western Michigan.