Alabama Football: Crimson Tide Midseason Defensive MVPs

Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports
Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports /

The defense for Alabama football has been fairly dominant except for one outlier performance. The Tennessee game has largely skewed the national perception of the Alabama defense, but the numbers show that it is one of the best units in the country.

Outside of the game in Knoxville, the defense has largely shut down every team it has played. Even in games against Arkansas (in which it allowed 26 points), and Texas A&M (20 points), offensive and special teams errors contributed directly to the majority of the opponent’s points.

Ideally, this group learned a lot from the Tennessee game. It could benefit the Alabama defense to be humbled and written off as it continues to improve.

The defensive MVPs so far this season are juniors Will Anderson Jr. and Brian Branch. Both are well on their way to numerous postseason accolades, and both could be drafted in the first round of the NFL draft next spring.

Alabama Football: Will Anderson Jr.

While he has taken some criticism due to lofty preseason expectations, Will Anderson Jr. has been one of the top defensive players in the country. He has made 36 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and six sacks despite being schemed and game planned for on every single snap. He is tied for fourth nationally in tackles for loss, and also has a pick-six to his credit.

In a relative “down year,” Anderson Jr. leads the SEC in TFLs by a wide margin, and ranks second in the conference in sacks. He has managed to be the most impactful defender in the SEC in the face of constant double teams.

Anderson Jr.’s 54 career tackles for loss outpace all other active players, and is the most for an Alabama football player since the stat began being tracked in 2005. It also ranks 19th in the NCAA (second among SEC players) over that time period, and he should easily be in the top-10 by season’s end.

Alabama Football: Brian Branch

Defensive back Brian Branch brings game-changing versatility to the Alabama defense. He is one of the best tacklers in the country, is an elite blitzer, and is adept at covering backs and tight ends.

Branch’s 45 stops rank third on the team. His six tackles for loss from his secondary position rank second only to Anderson Jr. He also ranks third on the team in sacks (2.0) and pass breakups (5). Brian Branch appears to be getting more comfortable with every passing week. He is a weapon Pete Golding can deploy in a variety of ways. Look for Branch to generate some big turnovers in the latter portion of the regular season with his disruptiveness.

An honorable mention goes to safety DeMarcco Hellams. While he was exposed against Tennessee, he is one of the best safeties in the country when he is able to play downhill. He ranks second on the team with 59 tackles, second with six pass breakups, and has notched a sack, an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

dark. Next. LSU offensive weapons

Going forward, Alabama football needs difference-making production from guys like Dallas Turner and Eli Ricks. It could also benefit from the emergence of an impact interior defensive lineman.