At the heart and soul of any great college football team, is a strong and consistent defensive unit. Though today's game is mainly predicated on the offensive side of the ball, defense still remains as the common denominator for championship teams.
As our previous top performers lists have mainly featured offensive players, we focus solely this week on defensive players who shined the brightest in their respective games.
1. Micah McFadden - Linebacker - Indiana
Stats vs. Michigan State: 12 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 pass defended
There is no secret why Micah McFadden was named to the Butkus Award Watch List prior to the beginning of the 2021 college football season. He is a special talent that is the very definition of a football player; tough, durable, and productive. Despite losing to an undefeated Michigan State team, McFadden never stopped working. He could also take solace in helping relegate running back Kenneth Walker III to his third-lowest rushing total of the season and negative receiving yards. No matter how the Hoosiers fare this season, McFadden will go down as arguably the greatest linebacker in their program's history.
2. Will Anderson Jr. - Linebacker - Alabama
Stats vs. Mississippi State: 6 tackles, 4 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 1 pass defended
At this point, it is not far-fetched to say that sophomore linebacker Will Anderson Jr. is his team's most valuable player, which is saying a lot considering the amount of talent on this year's Crimson Tide team. All in all, Mississippi State did not offer any real competition to Alabama, yet Anderson Jr. was making his usual impact on his defensive side of the ball. In the race for this year's Butkus Award, Anderson Jr. is very much at the front of the pack. For Alabama, their chances of making this year's College Football Playoffs will run through Anderson Jr.'s productivity.
3. Noah Sewell - Linebacker - Oregon
Stats vs. California: 12 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass defended
With each game he plays, Noah Sewell further separates himself from all the linebackers in the Pac-12 conference. In their closely-contested win over California, the Ducks needed every bit of Sewell as they could get, as he was ubiquitous on the field in this game. His performance earned him praise from his head coach Mario Cristobal, who noted Sewell was "the best I’ve been around in that position". Considering he is averaging nine tackles per game and his ability to affect a game at multiple spots, he may very well be the best at his position.
4. Colby Wooden - Defensive End - Auburn
Stats vs. Arkansas: 4 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss
Sophomore defensive lineman Colby Wooden, is one of those players whose talent is just as visible as his worth ethic. Last season, he finished with nine sacks and 41 total tackles. So far this season, he is on pace to match or even surpass his numbers from 2020. In their win over Arkansas, Wooden was as productive as any defensive player on the field. When he was not recording sacks, he was getting multiple pressures on Razorback quarterback KJ Jefferson. As an interior pass rusher, Wooden led the nation in quarterback pressure rate (16.2%) coming into this contest. One should not be surprised if that number increases.
5. Zakoby McClain - Linebacker - Auburn
Stats vs. Arkansas: 15 tackles, .5 sacks, 2 passes defended
With fellow linebacker Owen Pappoe out due to injury, Zakoby McClain took the opportunity to rise to the occasion in his absence. His tackle production should come as no surprise, as he led the nation in tackles with 113 last season. In this game, he was a playmaking tackle machine. His defining moment came on Marcus Harris' defensive touchdown, where he revealed that he gave the glory to Harris. Between McClain and Pappoe, the Tigers have one of the best linebacker units in college football.
Jayden Jernigan, Defensive Line - Oklahoma State
Deshawn Pace, Linebacker - Cincinnati
Damone Clark, Linebacker - LSU
Nick Jackson, Linebacker - Virginia
Patrick McMorris, Safety - San Diego State
Jalen Pitre, Safety - Baylor
Ochaun Mathis, Defensive Line - TCU