CollegeFootballNews.com 20th Anniversary All-America Defenses
Who were the biggest defensive stars since 1998? Welcome to the CFN 20th Anniversary All-America Defenses.
Who were the top defensive players since 1998?
It’s the 20th anniversary of CollegeFootballNews.com, and we’ve broken down our First, Second, and Third-Team All-America offenses spanning the last two decades.
What makes an All-American on this large a scale over this long a time? 1) Awards and national honors, 2) impact on college football, 3) longevity for some stars, and 4) brilliance in one year for others.
And talent matters a little bit, too. But it’s mostly about accomplishments and the college football resume.
Disagree? Did we whiff on your guy? You’re probably right, and you won’t get much of a beef from us … let us know @ColFootballNews.
CFN 20th Anniversary First Team All-America Defense
DE – Julius Peppers, North Carolina (1998-2001)
With 167 tackles and 30.5 sacks, he was too big, too quick, too effective, too athletic. He was a key part of the basketball team, and an unstoppable pass rusher for the football side earning the 2001 Nagurski, Lombardi and Bednarik. He was a two-time All-American and All-ACC force.
DT – Tommie Harris, Oklahoma (2001-2003)
Adrian Peterson turned into the superstar of the early Oklahoma teams, but Harris was the unstoppable pass rushing playmaker on the defensive interior. While he wasn’t massive, he was quick at a whole other level, finishing his career as a two-time All-American and All-Big 12 performer, earning the 2003 Lombardi.
DT – Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-2009)
He makes the list on his performance against Texas in the 2009 Big 12 title game along. One of the all-time most productive college football defensive tackles, he closed out his career with 215 tackles with almost 50 tackles for loss, 24 sacks and three interceptions for touchdowns. The All-American and Heisman finalist won the 2009 Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik.
DE – David Pollack, Georgia (2001-2004)
A three-time All-American and All-SEC pass rushing superstar, he was the only two-time Hendricks winner as the nation’s top defensive lineman, and was a two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year. And why? He finished with 283 tackles, 36 sacks, 58.5 tackles for loss, and a ridiculous 108 pressures. And this …
LB – Luke Kuechly, Boston College (2009-2011)
He won one Butkus Award, but he should’ve won it all three of his seasons. One of the all-time great tackling machines, he hit everything that moved as a freshman, coming up with 158 stops with 13 tackles for loss. And then he got really good. He finished with 532 tackles with 35.5 tackles for loss and seven picks, taking two for scores.
LB – Jim Laurinaitis, Ohio State (2005-2008)
Ohio State had several special linebackers over the years, but Laurinaitis was the best of the lot, cranking up 366 tackles and 13 sacks over his final three years. The 2007 Butkus winner was also a three-time All-American and Big Ten performer.
LB – Manti Te’o, Notre Dame (2009-2012)
While he’ll always be known for more than his production as an all-time great football player, there was a lot of hype and a lot of attention in a narrative that turned out to be false, but that overshadowed how he produced. He made 437 career tackles, and seemed to come up with every big play as a senior, picking off seven passes as Notre Dame had an unbeaten regular season on the way to the BCS Championship appearance. The 2012 Heisman finalist also won the Maxwell, Lombardi, Maxwell and Bednarik.
CB/S – Tyrann Mathieu, LSU (2010-2011)
Up until he was kicked off the team before the 2012 season, he was one of college football’s best all-around playmakers as a defensive back and special teamer. He made 59 tackles and three sacks as a freshman, and 77 stops with two interceptions as a sophomore, but it was his ability as a punt returner and knack to come up with gamechanging defensive moments that helped make him a Heisman finalist in 2011. He didn’t win the Thorpe, but he was an All-American and All-SEC selection as the top defensive player in the conference.
S – Ed Reed, Miami (1998-2001)
While he never won the Thorpe, he did everything else as the heart-and-soul of a national championship defense. Whatever the defense needed, Reed made it happen – often at the most important times – finishing 288 tackles, seven tackles for loss, and a whopping 21 interceptions and 52 broken up passes. He was a two-time All-American and All-Big East performer.
S – Roy Williams, (1998-2001)
He was Superman. He had 168 tackles with 20 broken up passes in his first two years, and cranked it up in 2001 with 101 stops, 11 tackles for loss, a ridiculous 27 broken up passes, five interceptions, and three recovered fumbles winning the Thorpe, Nagurski, with All-America honors along with being a two-time All-Big 12 star. No, really, he was Superman …
CB – Patrick Peterson, LSU (2008-2010)
A three-year lockdown corner, Peterson only came up with seven interceptions, but when he was being avoided, he came up with good plays against the run with 135 career stops. The 2010 SEC Defensive Player of the Year and two-time All-American and two-time All-SEC star also won the Thorpe and Bednarik.
CFN 20th Anniversary Second Team All-America Defense
DE – Brian Orakpo, Texas (2005-2008)
Good for a few years, he was unstoppable as a senior with 11.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss, finishing with 103 tackles, 23 sacks and 34.5 tackles for loss. The Lomardi and Nagurski winner was the 2005 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and All-American.
DT – Glenn Dorsey, LSU (2004-2007)
The heart-and-soul tough guy of a national title defense, Dorsey won the 2007 Outland, Lombardi and Nagurski awards. He was a two-time All-American and All-SEC tackle, leading the way to the 2007 national title.
DT – Aaron Donald, Pitt (2010-2013)
One of the best interior pass rushers in college football history, the three-time all-conference performer and 2013 All-American left with 181 tackles, 29.5 sacks, 66 tackles for loss with the 2013 Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski and Outland.
DE – Terrell Suggs, Arizona State (2000-2002)
The unstoppable pass rusher destroyed everyone in his three years with 163 tackles, 44 sacks and 14 forced fumbles. By the time he was done, he was an All-American with the Lombard and Nagurski Awards – along with the all-time single-season sack record making 24 as a junior.
LB – Rocky Calmus, Oklahoma (1998-2001)
Joined Roy Williams and Torrance Marshall as part of a dominant national champion defense, finishing as a three-time All-Big 12 performer and two-time All-American, winning the 2001 Butkus. he finished with 431 career tackles.
LB – A.J. Hawk, Ohio State (2002-2005)
The 2005 Lombardi winner and three-time All-Big Ten star started his career as a national champion and kept on hitting with 394 career tackles with 14.5 sacks.
LB – Patrick Willis, Ole Miss (2005-2006)
The two-time All-American and All-SEC force hit everything that moved in two amazing years, coming up with 265 tackles with six sacks and 21 tackles for loss, earning the 2006 Butkus.
CB – Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin (1998-2000)
One of the college football’s most clutch defensive backs, he left Wisconsin as the Big Ten’s all-time leader in interceptions with 21. A two-time All-American and three-time All-Big Ten performer, he won the 2000 Thorpe.
S – Eric Berry, Tennessee (2007-2009)
The 2009 Thorpe winner was also a two-time All-American and All-SEC playmaker, coming up with 245 tackles with 14 interceptions in his three seasons.
S – Troy Polomalu, USC (2000-2002)
He was the star of the USC defense just before the team got all-timer good. He was an All-American and two-time All-Pac-10 star as a special teamer and safety, leaving with 278 tackles with six interceptions and 29 tackles for loss.
CB – Terence Newman, Kansas State (1999-2002)
The Kansas State shutdown corner and two-time All-Big 12 speedster won the 2002 Thorpe with a 54-tackle, five-pick final season. As good as he was on the football field, he was just as decorated as a college track star.
CFN 20th Anniversary Third Team All-America Defense
DE – Myles Garrett, Texas A&M (2014-2016)
Two-time All-American, three-time All-SEC, 141 tackles with 31 sacks and 47 tackles for loss in three seasons
DT – Nick Fairley, Auburn (2009-2010)
BCS champion leader on the defensive line, 2010 Lombardi winner, 88 tackles with 13 sacks and 27.5 tackles for loss in two years
DT – John Henderson, Tennessee (1998-2001)
Giant rock in the middle of the line made 165 tackles and 20.5 sacks, 2000 Outland, two-time All-American and All-SEC
DE – Corey Moore, Virginia Tech (1998-1999)
Two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year, 31 career sacks, 1999 Lombardi and Nagurski winner
LB – LaVar Arrington, Penn State (1998-1999)
1999 Butkus, Bednarik winner, two-time All-American, two-time All-Big Ten, 72 tackles with nine sacks and 20 tackles for loss in his last year
LB/DE – Von Miller, Texas A&M (2007-2010)
2010 Butkus winner made 181 tackles, 33 sacks, 50.5 tackles for loss, two-time All-American and All-Big 12
LB – C.J. Mosley, Alabama (2010-2013)
2013 Butkus, two-time All-American, All-SEC, 317 career tackles with 6.5 sacks and 23 tackles for loss
CB – Joe Haden, Florida (2007-2009)
218 career tackles, eight interceptions, 2009 All-American and All-SEC
S – Michael Huff, Texas (2002-2005)
2005 Thorpe winner, All-American, two-time All-Big 12, 318 career tackles, eight interceptions, 44 broken up passes
S – Antoine Winfield, Ohio State (1997-1998)
1998 Thorpe winner, two-time All-American, All-Big Ten, 175 tackles in last two seasons with 29 career broken up passes
CB – Carlos Rogers, Auburn (2001-2004)
2004 Thorpe winner, All-American, All-SEC, 182 career tackles, 40 broken up passes, seven interceptions
CFN 20th Anniversary lists compiled by Rich Cirminiello, Pete Fiutak, Phil Harrison & Russ Mitchell
Photo Credits: USC, Florida and Pitt Athletic Departments