The 2022 FCS football season begins on August 27, which will be here before we know it. As usual, the defensive side of the ball is loaded with players that could make big impacts on the chase for a national title. Several of these prospects have the potential to land on NFL Draft boards by the end of the year.
Here are our top 20 defensive names to know in the subdivision.
20. Adam Bock, LB - South Dakota State
Adam Bock was the face of the Jacks’ defense a year ago. He led the team in tackles with 125 (tied for ninth nationally) and grabbed two interceptions, one of which went back for a score. Bock is coming into his junior season with already 29 games under his belt, getting the privilege of playing through several deep playoff runs for SDSU. His vision for the ball is uncanny with 15 career tackles for loss as well as eight defended passes. Bock will play a critical role on the Jackrabbits defense again this year.
19. Robby Hauck, S - Montana
The hard-hitting Robby Hauck is entering his final season with the Griz and will be looking to put an emphatic exclamation point on what has been an outstanding career. Montana’s redshirt senior safety has 364 tackles in his four years, good for third all time in school history. 128 of those tackles came last season (eighth best in the FCS). Hauck didn’t get ahold of an interception in 2021, but has forced five career fumbles and batted away nine passes. With one more season to go, Hauck could go down as one of the greatest Griz defenders ever when all is said and done.
18. Ryan Greenhagen, LB - Fordham
Many were left wondering what might have been for Ryan Greenhagen’s 2021 campaign after he suffered a season-ending injury in just the sixth game. At the time of his injury, Greenhagen was leading the entire NCAA in tackles per game (20.4) thanks in large part to an otherworldly performance he had in Week 1 against Nebraska in which he made 31 stops. Now in his final go with Rams, he’s hoping to put to rest those “what if” questions from last year and deliver on what could be a monster season.
17. Michael Tutsie, S - North Dakota State
On a team that’s had name after name command the limelight, Michael Tutsie’s seems to get lost in the fray, at least a little. NDSU’s senior safety, however, has been a vital part of the Bison’s championship runs as of late. He has 10 career interceptions in his pocket as well as 15 PBUs. In 2021 he made 81 tackles while both forcing and recovering a fumble. Last fall, he landed a spot on the Missouri Valley’s All-Conference First-Team and was a HERO Sports First-Team All-American. North Dakota State is once again an early favorite to win it all and Tutsie is certainly one of the best returning players on the team.
16. Brevin Allen, DE - Campbell
The face of the Camels’ defense is decidedly Brevin Allen, last year’s Big South leader in tackles for loss (17.5). Allen led the attack for a unit that totaled 25 sacks, registering 9.5 on his own. Opposing QBs lost 63 total yards in sacks at his hand and were knocked down six more times by him. Allen also forced two fumbles and recovered another in 2021 en route to a Big South Defensive Player of the Year title. If he can build upon last season’s tremendous showing, Allen may easily again grab that accolade as well as several others.
15. Anthony Adams, CB - Portland State
Anthony Adams has more defended passes on his career than anyone in the country right now with 40. Portland State’s standout corner gets a lot of action in a pass-happy Big Sky and has made the most of it. Starting in all 35 career games, Adams has grabbed all-conference honors twice and has done so at two different positions, once as a corner and once as a safety. That versatility has served him and the Vikings well. Last year alone he made 52 tackles, had three picks, three fumble recoveries and even forced a fumble. Adams as already been named to several early 2022 NFL Draft watchlists and is now looking to have his best season yet with PSU.
14. Jordan Lewis, DE - Southern
It was bad news for offenses when they had to face Southern’s defensive line in 2021 because Jordan Lewis was a wrecking ball on the edge. He may have only got 29 tackles last season but over a third of them came behind the line of scrimmage. Lewis made 10 tackles for loss, 5.5 of which were sacks. He is currently the FCS’ active sack leader with 34 on his career. There was some worry that he may be saying goodbye to the Jaguars after testing out the transfer portal last December, but Lewis chose to stay put for new head coach Eric Dooley. That alone makes Sothern's defense one of the most formidable in the SWAC.
13. Zy Alexander, DB - Southeastern Louisiana
Coming into his sophomore campaign with the Lions, Alexander has already gotten himself a good chunk of experience. He’s played in 15 games (counting 2021’s spring season) and in that time has successfully defended 10 passes, registered 58 total tackles and forced two fumbles. Throw in the five interceptions he grabbed last fall and you’ve got one of the best defenders in the Southland. In 2021 Alexander was named a Phil Steele First-Team Freshman All-American as well as an All-Conference First-Teamer. Big things could be in store for the Lions’ young DB.
12. Tristan Wheeler, LB - Richmond
Tristan Wheeler has been a tackle machine for the Spiders over the last three seasons. As a redshirt sophomore he’s already tallied up 256 stops in 27 games played. 12 of said tackles have been for a loss and he’s also grabbed two picks and forced two fumbles. Last year Wheeler finished second in the CAA with 10.4 tackles per contest. He was recognized with several honors including a second consecutive spot on the All-CAA First-Team and a HERO Sports Third-Team All-American selection. Wheeler will for sure be a key player on the Spiders’ defense again this year and is in shape to have another career season.
11. Montrae Braswell, CB - Missouri State
Montrae Braswell is a double threat for the Bears as both a dynamic force in the secondary and a game-changer in the return game. Of course here we’re only concerned with his defensive attributes, of which he has mastered several. Last season Braswell nabbed four interceptions and made 44 tackles while serving as the most effective pass-defender in the Missouri Valley. It was a certified “no-fly zone” when opposing QBs looked Braswell’s way as he successfully broke up 17 passes. His speed was undoubtedly his greatest asset and if he can stay healthy in 2022, there’s no telling just how good he can be.
10. Kedrick Whitehead, S - Delaware
Kedrick Whitehead is as experienced as they come, now in his fifth season patrolling the back end for Delaware. With 223 career tackles and 18 passes defended under his belt, Whitehead may be the most deadly safety in the country. Last year he paced the Blue Hens secondary with 75 stops, seven defended passes and a forced fumble. Whitehead, though, isn’t just a force to be reckoned with in the passing game. In his four seasons (42 games played), he’s tallied seven tackles in the backfield as well as a sack. Opposing QBs have to have their head on a swivel when Whitehead is out there, because if they don’t, it’ll be costly.
9. Nate Lynn, DE - William & Mary
The Tribe defense sat atop the CAA last fall in yardage allowed on the ground and undoubtedly Nate Lynn is a major reason why. After a quiet start to his career, Lynn had a breakout season as a junior. He finished third in the country for sacks per game (1.2) and forced six fumbles while manning the edge. He totaled 52 tackles and two pass breakups as well. William & Mary returns nearly all of their starters on what is one of the scarier defenses in the nation but no player is more valuable to that group than Lynn.
8. Josiah Silver, DE - New Hampshire
Josaih Silver may have only been a freshman last year but his impact was that of a seasoned veteran. 2021’s CAA Defensive Rookie of the Year made an immediate splash by putting up sensational first campaign for the Wildcats notching 12.5 sacks, 20.5 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles. Silver led his team with 80 total tackles and even nabbed a fumble recovery as well. In a single game against Rhode Island, he was a man possessed with four sacks, 11 total stops and two forced fumbles. Silver, as stated earlier, is just in the dawning days of a promising career. If he keeps up the pace he set last season, there’s no telling just how dominant he can be in years to come.
7. Titus Leo, LB - Wagner
Titus Leo is the reigning NEC Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season and it should come to little surprise. Wagner’s stud linebacker authored 18.5 tackles for loss last fall, blowing his prior career-best total of 2.5 out of the water. He comes into 2022 with 160 total tackles to his name as well as 10 sacks and four forced fumbles. He led the Seahawks in nearly every major defensive stat category last year and comes in primed for his best season yet. Wagner itself may be in the midst of a record rough patch, but Leo is easily one of the nation’s best defenders.
6. Devonnsha Maxwell, DL - Chattanooga
The Mocs boasted the SoCon’s best defense in 2021 and the best player on that defense was Devonmsha Maxwell. Owner of 29.5 career sacks and 42 tackles for loss, Chattanooga’s 6’3”, 296-pound lineman has been an absolute nightmare in the trenches. He’s quick off the snap and tenacious in his pursuit to the ball carrier. Maxwell had a hand in 42 tackles last year but even more impressive was the fact that 27.5 of those came in the backfield either via sack or otherwise. That’s an outstanding percentage of 65.5% of stops behind the line. He was justly rewarded with the SoCon’s Defensive Player of the Year and All-Conference First Team honors but 2022 shapes up to be the biggest year yet for #90.
5. Justin Ford, CB - Montana
No player in the country had more interceptions last season than Justin Ford who grabbed nine. He had an incredible streak of eight straight games with a pick but even more, Ford is a threat to score whenever he has the ball. He had three touchdowns last season, two pick sixes and a blocked field goal return. Speed, awareness and a lightning-quick reaction time make Ford the most lethal DB the subdivision has to offer. If he doesn’t put up the same video game numbers this season, be assured that it won’t be because of a drop off on his part; odds are teams just got smart and stopped looking his way.
4. Stone Snyder, LB - VMI
VMI fans hope their Keydets were ushered into a new era after the team won its first SoCon title since 1977 last spring. One major reason the squad saw the success it did then was linebacker Stone Snyder. Snyder not only helped VMI wrap up its first playoff berth in program history during that placeholder season for 2020 but he also served as a bright spot for the team during its 6-5 run last fall. He registered 120 total tackles in 2021 along with 11 tackles for loss and four sacks. Snyder’s 10.9 stops per game ranked sixth in the entire FCS, enough to earn him SoCon Defensive Player of the Year honors.
3. Jacob Dobbs, LB - Holy Cross
Perhaps no linebacker in the nation has been more consistently dominant over the past three years than Jacob Dobbs. An All-American selection in each of his first three seasons, Dobbs is the anchor of Holy Cross’ defense. On a unit that sacked opposing QBs 44 times last fall, he alone was responsible for nearly a quarter of them with 9.5. Dobbs has eight total takeaways on his career as well (four interceptions and four fumble recoveries). Last year he got in on 137 tackles, fourth best in the country. The three players ahead of him in that category are all since graduated. With Dobbs leading the charge, the Crusaders won the program’s first playoff game in 2021. Now, he’s primed for what could be his best season yet and the expectations are even higher now.
2. Patrick O’Connell, LB - Montana
Montana’s defense may be the scariest in the country right now because they didn’t lose a lot this summer. The biggest piece they kept was their home-grown stud linebacker Patrick O’Connell. The redshirt senior is a triple threat who can get to the quarterback, set the edge and force turnovers. In his career, O’Connell has racked up 20.5 sacks, 31.5 tackles for loss and has forced four fumbles (all of which came in 2021). He finished 3rd behind just Isaiah Land and current-NFLer Troy Andersen in voting for the Buck Buchanan Award last year, but now it seems as though it could be his for the taking this time around.
1. Isaiah Land, LB - Florida A&M
Isaiah Land is the defending Buck Buchanan Award winner and it’s easy to see why when you look at his numbers. His 19 sacks and 25.5 tackles for loss led the nation in 2021 and his Rattlers defense was one of the stingiest in the SWAC largely because of his play. He averaged 2.1 tackles for loss per contest, second best among all FCS defenders. He may be listed as a linebacker but Land is versatile enough to play on the edge as well. He’s quick enough to puncture the backfield while still savvy enough to patrol the middle. All-around, there may not be a better defender in the subdivision.