Part of The Analyst’s FCS series called “By the Numbers,” which analyzes data to help tell the story of FCS college football.
When it comes to statistics, everybody loves offense.
But as the often-abused – yet true – adage goes, defense wins games. And championships. And coaches’ appreciation. And the hearts of fans. Do we need to continue?
Defense is the lifeblood of a football team, so it’s important to point out the players who get it done on that side of the ball when it comes to making stops and ending momentum. Some of the FCS’ leading tacklers you’ll recognize from past All-American teams. Others, you’ll notice are underclassmen and just getting underway with their careers.
Either way, each standout is leading his respective team in tackles around the midpoint of the 2023 regular season.
They form the heart of the defense and have stolen the hearts of their defensive coordinators.
Here are the current FCS leaders in total tackles (going into games played Oct 12-14):
No. 1 Jacob Dobbs, Holy Cross, LB, Sr.
2023 Numbers: 87 tackles in 6 games, along with 8 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, 10 hurries
Career Numbers: 396 tackles in 40 games, 42.5 TFLs, 20 sacks, 4 INTs
Quick Hits: Dobbs is a well-known commodity in the FCS ranks and has been a big reason for the Crusaders’ success the past few years. The program is once again highly ranked, looks FCS playoff-bound – and relies heavily on this senior star on defense. The Michigan native was a Jerry Rice Award finalist (FCS freshman player of the year) all the way back in 2019, and he’s still getting it done in 2023 as a fifth-year senior. He’s nearing the Patriot League all-time record of 425 tackles.
No. 2 Micah Davey, McNeese, LB, So.
2023 Numbers: 82 tackles in 6 games (six double-digit games)
Career Numbers: 150 tackles in 17 games, 10 TFLs
Quick Hits: This in-state talent is only a sophomore and has been an asset for the Cowboys for two years. He was a Stats Perform FCS Freshman All-American last year and was No. 2 on the team in tackles behind then-senior Kordell Williams. Davey is the son of former LSU and NFL/Arena League quarterback Rohan Davey, but he loves to hit and prefers defense over offense.
No. 3 Dylan Kelly, Albany, LB, Sr.
2023 Numbers: 79 tackles in 6 games, along with 4 TFLs, 2 sacks
Career Numbers: 180 tackles, 8.5 TFLs
Quick Hits: Kelly erupted in 2022, turning heads with an 11-tackle game against Power Five opponent Baylor last September. This in-state product is well ahead of his 2022 pace and also has been disruptive with negative-yardage plays and forcing turnovers. The Great Danes are having their best season this decade, and the Week 6 FedEx Ground FCS Defensive Player of the Week is a key reason for it.
No. 4 Winston Reid, Weber State, LB, Sr.
2023 Numbers: 70 tackles in 6 games, along with 7.5 TFLs, INT for TD
Career Numbers: 233 tackles, 24 TFLs, 7 forced fumbles
Quick Hits: Reid has been a contributor for the Wildcats dating back to his true freshman year in 2019. The in-state talent really took off as a junior last year when he was elected team captain and helped lead his team to a 10-win season and an FCS playoff berth. He led Weber State with 113 tackles last year (the next-best was 72), adding 12.5 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles. He’s a cornerstone for this team.
No. 5 Ian Conerly-Goodly, Southeastern Louisiana, LB, So.
2023 Numbers: 69 tackles in 6 games, along with 4.5 TFLs
Career Numbers: 109 tackles in 18 games
Quick Hits: This sophomore started the final four games of his true freshman season last year, including both FCS playoff games for the Lions , and was an immediate impact player. That has continued in 2023 as he is leading the Lions in tackles and been a bright spot all season. This in-state product isn’t even done with half of his career yet, he’s just getting started.
The Rest of the Best
No. 6 Rico Dozier, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, LB, Jr.
2023 Numbers: 66 tackles (5 games)
No. 7 Monroe Beard III, Tennessee State, LB, Jr.
2023 Numbers: 63 tackles (5 games)
No. 8 (tie) B.J. Turner, North Carolina A&T, LB, Sr.
2023 Numbers: 62 tackles (5 games)
No. 8 (tie) Tristan Wheeler, Richmond, LB, Sr.
2023 Numbers: 62 tackles (6 games)
No. 10 (tie) Edward White Schultz, North Alabama, DB, So.
2023 Numbers: 61 tackles (6 games)
No. 10 (tie) Nicholas Lerew, Stetson, LB, Sr.
2023 Numbers: 61 tackles (6 games)