2021 Sophomore Standouts: Defense Edition

There’s few things more exciting in college football than watching that gem recruit take the field for your team. Freshman may sink under the pressure of the moment, but sometimes they do rise to the occasion. The key is to continue that success into their sophomore season and beyond.

Let’s look at some 2021-2022 sophomores who had stellar freshman campaigns that will stay on a hot streak.

Brandon Joseph – Safety, Northwestern

When finishing the Sophomore Standouts on Offense, we just kept the bus parked in Evanston for a little bit to talk about this player. Joseph was one of the biggest risers of the 2020 season who went from being a three star prospect to a consensus All-American over night. His center fielder play style meshed perfectly with the Wildcats’ zone defense.

He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time as he collected six interceptions in only nine games played. None more memorable than the miraculous one-handed pick he had matched up against Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson in the Big Ten Championship Game. Joseph is more than capable in the run game, racking up 53 tackles and even boasting a 10 tackle performance against Michigan State.

After the success he had last season, teams will have to start game planning against him, which may cause a dip in the stat line. That shouldn’t take away anything from him as even the best corners and safeties in the league have low stat lines, because nobody wants to throw the ball at them.

Season Prediction: 67 Tackles, 5 INTs

Emmanuel Forbes – CB, Mississippi State

Forbes is heading into 2021 with possibly one of the best closing acts to a freshman season. The final game of the regular season saw him intercept two passes against Missouri, taking one of them back for a pick-six. In the Armed Forces Bowl against Tulsa he picked off another pass and carried it 90 yards the other way for another TD.

As a young player with little college experience, it was amazing to watch Forbes play like a veteran to bait quarterbacks into making forgettable throws. The Bulldogs always put players from the defensive side of the ball into the league, especially in the last three drafts with a total of eight players on defense selected. Forbes should add his name to that lineage in a few years and follow up the 44 tackle and five interception freshman season with a few more solid campaigns.

Season Prediction: 56 Tackles, 4 INTs

Lathan Ransom – DB, Ohio State

The Buckeyes secondary play last year was atrocious compared to years past, but it did have the occasional bright spot. One of those bright spots was how well Ransom came on at the end of the year. It’s hard to ignore that he was not an early enrollee and had hardly any offseason, and still played a ton of meaningful snaps in the Big Ten Championship Game and both College Football Playoff games.

The reason Ransom is slated as a DB with no defined position is because he can line up anywhere in the secondary. As a safety he comes down hill fast and hits people with a ton of force for his size. As a corner he can press receivers and has plenty of speed to trail in man coverage. Regardless of where he lines up, the coaching staff has already made it clear that he’s too talented to not be on the field.

Season Prediction: 45 Tackles, 2 INTs

Noah Sewell – LB, Oregon

*This portion could really be about both of the Ducks’ star linebackers of Sewell and his counterpart Justin Flowe. Since the latter of the two had a torn meniscus last season, he’s still technically a freshman.*

Due to every starter in the secondary for the Ducks being drafted this year, it is up to Sewell to keep the defense organized. He’s a hard-nosed tackle machine who can really fly around to the ball and deliver the boom when he gets there. Another important piece about him is he transformed his body when arriving in Eugene, turning the thicker 260 into a mean 250.

This transformation stems from the defensive unit establishing methods to fly quickly to the football with the hiring of Mario Cristobal in 2018. Instead of trying to play shootout football like years past, Cristobal has built a solid defense in the weight room and on the recruiting trail by hauling multiple five stars recruits/ Sewell is one of those studs and will look to build off the 44 tackle and two sack shortened season, and find his way to the All-American team.

Season Prediction: 105 Tackles, 6 Sacks

Will Anderson – LB, Alabama

This is another copy and paste edge disruptor to come through Tuscaloosa. The season didn’t exactly get off to the best of starts for Anderson in terms of sacks, but he was doing his job in run support. Once he got the first sack of the season against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, he rolled into three straight games with two sacks.

He can either put his hand in the ground like a defensive end or stand up on the edge, having little bearing on the constant outcome of him blowing past on the outside. It’s like he’s shot out of a cannon at times, making it impossible to slow him down. His seven sack freshman season is just scratching the surface of what should be an electrifying two more years at Alabama before an early draft exit and early round pick.

Season Prediction: 65 Tackles, 10.5 Sacks

Bryan Bresee – DT, Clemson

This selection should come as no surprise since he was the top high school prospect in the class of 2020 per 247’s rankings. What is surprising though is how Bresee was able to get the job done as a true freshman. Watching him overpower players constantly in high school is something that translated well to the next level as he constantly was pushing opposing linemen into the backfield.

Clemson had five players selected in the 2021 NFL Draft with none of those selections coming from the defensive side of the ball. This indicates they have a ton of experience returning. If Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables can get all the guys to buy into their part, then another College Football Playoff berth is the expectation.

Bresee’s stats weren’t necessarily eye popping but his ability to close running and passing lanes doesn’t go unnoticed. Venables will likely allow him to start picking where he wants to line up on the line, much like Aaron Donald and Myles Garrett do in the NFL. This should create more opportunities him to boost the stat sheet.

Season Prediction: 44 Tackles, 8 TFL, 7.5 Sacks

Akheem Mesidor – DL, West Virginia

This is a young player who impressed the coaching staff so much that he became a starter in only his third game. From the time he committed to play for the Mountaineers to the time he saw the field, it looked like a different person. Mesidor added roughly 25 pounds to his frame which allowed him to compete in the trenches as the defensive tackle on the 3-3-5 defensive front.

He has a strong burst off the ball and seems to be slippery as he slides past blocks. If engaged he turns speed into power and tries to overpower the opposing lineman into the pocket. A good offseason will help him evolve into a more polished product, and help the Mountaineers push to remain the number one defense in the Big 12.

Season Prediction: 45 Tackles, 7 Sacks

Derek Worley

Sports Analyst

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