Here’s our defensive and special teams players of the year. I’ll stick to weekly, on Mondays, until the FCS season starts up in earnest in February.
Cade Hall, San Jose State, Junior
Hall recorded 10 sacks and 12 tackles for loss for the Spartans. He took care of some weak competition, sure, racking up three sacks and four TFLs against UNLV, but he also wreaked havoc down the stretch against Boise State, with two sacks, and Nevada, with two and a half.
Tarron Jackson, Coastal Carolina, Senior
Jackson had an absolutely monster game against South Alabama, with 10 tackles, two and a half sacks and a forced fumble. For the year, he racked up 8.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 54 total tackles as a key piece of a defensive front that allowed Coastal to dominate the clock with its offense. A good defense starts up front, and the Chanticleers had that. Jackson was named first-team All-America by a slew of groups, including CBS, AP and ESPN.
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Patrick Johnson, Tulane, Senior
Johnson, named second-team All-America by the Sporting News and FWAA, had 10 sacks and forced two fumbles for the Green Wave. The guy can bring pressure, and he hits big. No, not just in football.
C.J. Brewer, Coastal Carolina, Senior
The big man in the middle for one of the best defensive lines in the country, this guy was an essential part of one of 2020’s great stories. Sure, 6.5 sacks, 11 TFLs, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, those are all good. Against App State, he recorded 14 tackles, three for loss, and 1.5 sacks. That’s all good. But the big man also caught a touchdown pass against Kansas. I do not know what more you want.
Honorable Mention: Durrell Johnson, Liberty
Zaven Collins, Tulsa, Junior
The junior from Hominy, Oklahoma, played with grit this year. He played with everything. How about a walk-off pick six? You like those?
He won the Bednarik Award for best defensive player in all of college football, which is pretty good. Also the Nagurski Trophy. That’s also pretty good. How about first-team All-American from Sporting News, FWAA, CBS, AP, ESPN. All of that’s fairly decent.
Tulsa was always in the game, and that was largely thanks to a very good defense that could not only keep you from scoring, they could put up points of their own. Collins did that pretty well. He scored two touchdowns on defense, with four interceptions, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, four sacks and 54 tackles.
Carlton Martial, Troy, Junior
Here’s a stat I wouldn’t believe if I weren’t looking at it: Carlton Martial had 113 total tackles this year. Troy played a lot of football, and I don’t just mean that they played damn near a complete season’s worth of games. They ran a lot of plays, and that gave Martial plenty of opportunities to make tackles. And he did. Ten of those tackles were for loss, and he also had a sack and an interception, both against Coastal Carolina, a game in which he had 21 tackles. That’s production.
Darius Muasau, Hawaii, Sophomore
You want to talk about productivity? Muasau had 104 tackles, 9.5 for loss, 4.5 sacks and an interception this season in just nine games. He put up numbers against UNLV -- 18 tackles, 2.5 for loss, a sack -- but that’s UNLV. How about a sack and 14 tackles against Nevada. That impress you?
Honorable Mention: Tavante Beckett, Marshall; Jordan Strachan, Georgia State, Dorian Williams, Tulane; Leighton McCarthy, FAU.
Shemar Jean-Charles, App State, Senior
The senior cornerback had only one interception, but he broke up 16 passes on the year, including four in the season opener against Charlotte and three against ULM. The dream for a cornerback is to have no stats because nobody throws toward you. Jean-Charles was a second-team All-American by Sporting News.
Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati, Junior
Sauce Gardner smothered opposing wide receivers this year. Cincinnati’s success was tied to its defense, shutting down powerful offenses like UCF, Memphis and SMU. Gardner was a huge part of that, taking on the opposing team’s best receiver and turning them into non-factors. The corner had three sacks and defended nine passes on the year, also recording half a sack. By the way -- first-team All-American from FWAA and second-team from AP.
James Wiggins, Cincinnati, Senior
Wiggins played a huge part in that Bearcats defense, with 32 tackles, including one for a 12-yard loss against Memphis, and a forced fumble on the year. We also need a safety on this team because my list is too full of cornerbacks. One of them will have to play in the middle.
Jarron Morris, Texas State, Junior
He had four picks on the year. Including this one that went the distance, and I mean the whole distance.
Honorable Mention: Derrick Canteen, Georgia Southern; Djordan Strong, Coastal Carolina.
Jake Oldroyd, BYU, Sophomore
Oh, just 13 for 13 on field goals, 60 for 62 on extra points and with 47 touchbacks on 86 kickoffs. Alright. Kicked a 54-yarder against Troy, a 49-yarder against Western Kentucky, a 47-yarder against Boise State. That’ll do.
Lucas Dean, UTSA, Sophomore
The Aussie had 21 of his 57 punts go more than 50 yards, and 27 of them land inside the 20. He had just four touchbacks.
Avery Williams, Boise State, Senior
When I started this list I only had a few names I knew would be on there. Avery Williams was one of them. Who needs an offense when you have this guy? He ran back two kickoffs and two punts for touchdowns. That’ll keep you in the game. I was going to make him the only returner because, like, who else do you need? But I guess you need to put two back, so I’ll give you a couple to choose from:
Chris Smith, Louisiana, Sophomore
Chris Smith started the year off right, answering an Iowa State touchdown with a 95-yard return on a kickoff. That would be followed later in the game by a dagger of a punt return by Eric Garror. Special teams won that game for the Cajuns, never forget it.
Jeremiah Haydel, Texas State, Senior
He did this late in that crazy UTSA game to tie it.