Building the Perfect College Football Defense in 2021
Elite offense has become the primary path to winning a national title, but a standout defense only bolsters a contender.
Six months from the beginning of the 2021 season, it's a good time to daydream. Using all returning players, how would you organize a defense that would best frustrate those elite offenses?
Building the perfect unit isn't solely about picking the most talented players. That's a factor! But our defense brings a balance of elite pass and run defense, not simply one or the other.
To run this star-packed defense, we're calling on former Cincinnati and current Notre Dame coordinator Marcus Freeman. The lineup features 13 players to account for multiple personnel groupings, as well as obvious passing situations.
DE: DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
There is nothing sneaky about DeMarvin Leal's power and athleticism, but it's a special blend for a 6'4", 290-pounder. His combination of intelligence, awareness and ability to shed blocks is stellar. Leal has 75 tackles with 12.5 for loss in two seasons.
DT: Haskell Garrett, Ohio State
After holding a smaller role in previous seasons, Haskell Garrett put together a breakout 2020. He regularly disrupted on passing downs and finished with 20 tackles. Garrett's pass-rushing ability would be a nightmare next to this imposing counterpart.
DT: Jordan Davis, Georgia
Checking in at 6'6" and 330 pounds, Jordan Davis is a rare college lineman. While he's not a dynamic pass-rusher, Davis is an ideal complement for this run defense. He can demand double-teams and free a reliable group of linebackers to fill the lanes.
DE: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
Power on one edge, quickness on the other. Kayvon Thibodeaux had a tremendous end to his freshman year in 2019, notching 10.5 tackles for loss in Oregon's last six games. Then in 2020, he gathered 9.5 tackles for loss and three sacks for the Pac-12 champs. Thibodeaux is an explosive pass-rusher and a stout run defender.
3DS: Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
If you prefer Oklahoma's Nik Bonitto or Georgia's Adam Anderson, we have no argument. Both are sensational edge-rushers, and Alabama also has a star there. Will Anderson Jr. collected 52 tackles with 10.5 for loss and seven sacks as a freshman, giving the Tide a constant presence in the backfield.
LB: Mike Rose, Iowa State
Mike Rose isn't an overwhelming athlete, but he's reliable. The three-year starter at Iowa State has amassed 248 tackles with 29 for loss, adding six interceptions and a fumble recovery. Rose, who's listed at 6'4" and 245 pounds, provides some versatility with experience at inside and strong-side linebacker. He landed second-team AP All-America recognition last season.
LB: Micah McFadden, Indiana
What kind of player do you prefer in the middle? Steady presence, big hitter, great in coverage? In our aggressive defense with lockdown defenders in the secondary, we want an attacker. Micah McFadden is one of the best in that category, racking up 20.5 tackles for loss in the last two seasons.
LB: Devin Lloyd, Utah
In only five appearances last season, Devin Lloyd collected 48 tackles with 10 tackles for loss and earned his second All-Pac-12 honor. That followed a 2019 campaign with 91 tackles, 11 stops in the backfield and 6.5 sacks. Lloyd, a converted safety, is decent in coverage and could fit a hybrid role too.
CB: Derek Stingley Jr., LSU
After an All-American year as a freshman, Derek Stingley Jr. had a quietly strong 2020. Quarterbacks rarely threw at the sophomore, who headlined a terrific duo with Elias Ricks. In 22 games at LSU, Stingley has six interceptions and 20 pass breakups.
CB: Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
Good luck targeting these cornerbacks. Stingley and Ahmad Gardner are sensational in man coverage, and both are 6'1" or taller. Gardner has snagged six interceptions and broken up 14 passes while developing into a sound tackler. He's notched 59 stops in two years with the Bearcats.
NB: Malachi Moore, Alabama
Unfortunately for Malachi Moore, he struggled against Florida in the SEC Championship Game and missed both College Football Playoff games. Before then, however, he established himself as one of the nation's top nickelbacks as a true freshman. He tallied 44 tackles, six pass breakups and four takeaways.
S: Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
Kyle Hamilton is the rock of Notre Dame's secondary. He can cover, play downhill and seldom whiffs on a tackle. Hamilton, who offers terrific size at 6'4" and 219 pounds, has 104 tackles, five interceptions and 12 pass breakups in two years.
S: Brandon Joseph, Northwestern
Perhaps best remembered for a one-handed interception in the Big Ten Championship Game, Brandon Joseph is a rising star. During his redshirt freshman year, he quickly built a reputation as a ball hawk. He snatched six picks, along with 52 tackles.