The start of a new season comes with the return of many All-America and all-conference players – some also NFL prospects – and it reflects across FCS college football.

Heading into the 2023 campaign, the FCS boasts countless defensive players who are set to wreak havoc. (But the top returning offensive players will try to outperform them)

Four top-10 finishers in last year’s Buck Buchanan Award voting help lead the way in a ranking of the top returning defensive players in FCS college football by position group and overall.


Defensive Lineman Rankings

1. David Walker, Central Arkansas, DE, Jr., 6-3, 265

The ASUN defensive player of the year had 22 tackles for loss totaling minus-107 yards as a sophomore, representing the high among returning FCS defensive players. Included were 12 sacks and 66 total stops as he finished third in the Buck Buchanan Award voting.

(Central Arkansas is an FCS under-the-radar contender in 2023)

2. Jay Person, Chattanooga, DE, Sr., 6-3, 224

In moving up from linebacker, the Southern Conference defensive player of the year (10th in Buchanan voting) flew around for 17.5 TFLs and eight sacks, with nine quarterback hurries.

3. Ty French, Gardner-Webb, DE, Sr., 6-3, 230

Three seasons, three All-Big South first-team honors, plus the 2022 defensive player of the year award and sixth place in the Buchanan voting. French has 36.5 TFLs and 23 sacks in 26 career games.

4. Josiah Silver, New Hampshire, DE, Jr., 6-2, 243

Silver’s combined line of 135 tackles, 37.5 TFLs, 21 sacks and eight forced fumbles over the last two seasons is jaw-dropping.

5. Nate Lynn, William & Mary, DE, Sr., 6-3, 255

Lynn’s 10 forced fumbles over the last two seasons reflect his punishing style of play. He also has 26.5 TFLs and 20 sacks in that time.

6. Thor Griffith, Harvard, DT, Sr., 6-2, 305

Opponents know he’s coming through the middle of the line, but there’s little stopping the big man with 22.5 TFLs and 10 sacks in 20 career games.

7. Daylan Dotson, UT Martin, DE, Jr., 6-3, 280

In a breakout season, Dotson (14.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, two recoveries) helped UT Martin tie for second in the FCS with 28 turnovers gained.

Linebacker Rankings

1. John Pius, William & Mary, R-Jr., 6-2, 230

The CAA defensive player of the year and runner-up for the 2022 Buck Buchanan Award racked up 72 tackles, 19 TFLs and 11.5 sacks.

(Looking back to the 2022 FCS National Awards Show in Frisco, Texas)

2. Adam Bock, South Dakota State, Sr., 6-1, 215

The defending FCS champion Jackrabbits are fortified up the middle with Bock, who has 279 tackles and 22.5 TFLs in his career.

3. Tristan Wheeler, Richmond, R-Sr., 6-2, 228

Wheeler enters his final campaign with three 100+ tackle seasons and 366 overall stops – the high among active FCS players. Three times, he’s been a second-team choice on the Stats Perform FCS All-America Team.

4. Jacob Dobbs, Holy Cross, Sr., 6-0, 237

Limited to four games by injury last season, Dobbs was a 2021 Stats Perform FCS All-American (137 tackles, 17.5 TFLs and 9.5 sacks).

5. Bryce Norman, Southeast Missouri, Jr., 6-0, 226

Norman posted 11 or more tackles in six of his 11 games while racking up 111 overall – his second consecutive leading the Redhawks.

6. Winston Reid, Weber State, Sr., 6-1, 230

Consistency was Reid’s calling card while he posted 112 tackles, including 68 solos, in an All-Big Sky campaign.

7. Armon Bailey, Sacramento State, Sr., 6-1, 228

Bailey formed a wrecking crew with 2023 NFL Draft pick Marte Mapu and excelled in Sac State’s pivotal games, earning All-Big Sky first-team honors with a team-high 88 stops, 12.5 TFLs and six sacks.

Defensive Back Rankings

1. Lawrence Johnson, Southeast Missouri, SS, Grad, 6-0, 196

A disruptor in the secondary, Johnson totaled 86 tackles, 10 TFLs and nine passes defended. He scored on a fumble recovery against Montana in the FCS playoffs.

2. Khalil Baker, North Carolina Central, CB, Sr., 6-0, 185

The MEAC defensive player of the year added top defensive honors in the Eagles’ Celebration Bowl victory, finishing with 61 tackles (43 solo), four interceptions and five pass breakups.

3. Maxwell Anderson, Weber State, CB, Sr., 5-11, 170

Quarterbacks gladly shied away from Anderson after he had five interceptions in the Wildcats’ first five games. He also paced the Big Sky with 16 passes defended.

4. TaMuarion Wilson, Central Arkansas, SS, Jr., 6-2, 205

Wilson led the ASUN in tackles (104) and tackles per game (9.5) as a sophomore.

5. Devin Haskins, Holy Cross, CB, Sr., 6-3, 209

Always around the ball, Haskins has five interceptions and 15 pass breakups the last two seasons. He blocked a punt in four straight games a year ago.

6. Raequan Ousley, Gardner-Webb, CB, Sr., 5-11, 170

The All-Big South standout ranked among FCS leaders with 19 pass breakups and had a hand in five turnovers (two interceptions, three fumbles).

7. Kameron Brown, Chattanooga, CB, Sr., 5-9, 179

Brown tied for second in the FCS with six interceptions during a breakout season.

(Best players are in the best games? Ranking the best matchups of the 2023 FCS season)