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The best Alabama defender is not who you think it is; and he’s also the most impactful defender in the nation.
We are fortunate enough to be electors for several college football awards. It is both an honor and a duty that I take very seriously. Sure, it’s not life or death, but I think those who’ve excelled need to have the recognition that somewhere out there someone is paying attention. I don’t care about who’s due, career achievements, or a final valedictory. If I genuinely think you’re the best, then I will vote for you (For instance, when he was a true Freshman, and before he was “Sauce,” my ballot for the Thorpe Award went to a lanky kid at a G5 school — and Ahmad Gardner turned out to be alright the rest of his career too!).
With that said, we’ll be rolling out our ballots for our votes on the year.
Today we start with:
Chuck Bednarik Award
This is presented annually to the defensive player in college football as judged by the Maxwell Football Club to be the best in the United States. The award is named for Chuck Bednarik, a former college and professional American football player. Voters for the Maxwell College Awards are NCAA head college football coaches, members of the Maxwell Football Club, and sportswriters and sportscasters from across the country.
And the winner is…
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Entering the 2022 season, Will Anderson was thought to be the best defender in the country, perhaps player in the country. And, he still might be. But as far as who has earned the “defensive Heisman” this season, I went with the most impactful one in all of college football — a DB instead; the player teams are actually trying to scheme around every week, without fail: Ga’Quincy Kool-Aid McKinstry.
Kool-Aid has quite simply turned half of the field into a no-fly zone for passing attacks in an era of passing. Every week, we see teams actively having to scheme around him to put playmakers opposite other ‘Bama defenders. Kool-Aid doesn’t have eye-popping stats — just one interception. But that is because he simply is not getting much work over there either.
On the season, Kool-Aid is T-17th in passed defended (13), he is 8th in passes broken up (12), and makes a play on 1.18 passes per game. But he has hands down been isolated the fewest times too on Alabama’s defense. He is seeing about five passes his way per game. He is batting them down or defending one of them. Two of them are harmless incompletions. And he is allowing just under 3 completions per game (39% completion percentage-against, tops in the country). He has surrendered just two touchdowns in man coverage this season, and on 3rd down, teams are completing even fewer attempts — 31%. In 11 games, he has allowed just 27 completions.
In short, teams teams almost double their chances at a completion throwing anywhere other than his direction.
Kool-Aid has saved his best for the best, as well: 10 of those PBU have come in conference play, with 9 against teams with winning records; and 9 of those PDs are in SEC play with 7 against teams with winning records. And some teams almost didn’t even bother throwing his direction. He notched zero stats against UT for instance, because the Vols didn’t even think about throwing at him. The Aggies targeted him just once. The Ole Miss Rebels did so a mere three times. The pass-happy MSU Bulldogs challenged him six times times. Four were batted down; one was stopped for a gain of 6 yards; one was a harmless incompletion.
His entire stat line looks like that too. The impact Kool-Aid is having is similar to that of PS2, but it has arrived a full year early. Surtain held opponents to a 29% completion rate. But where PS2 did it with elite position — and saw about 4 targets a game — Kool Aid is doing it with elite length, range, and on-ball skills. And he’s still only allowing a 31% completion rate against the nation’s 5th toughest schedule.
The physical, fiery, sure-tackling sophomore will also lay the lumber in run support and help with backside pursuit: he has 31 tackles on the season, 25 of them solo.
The efforts of Kool Aid this season are a big reason why the Tide is 6th in Pass Efficiency Defense; 2nd in preventing explosive drives; 4th in preventing explosive plays; and is the best team in the country in opponent-adjusted, per-play defense.
When you have taken half the field away, there’s not a lot for offenses to work with.
Will Anderson may scare teams more on Saturday, and he may make the highlight reels more often, but on Monday-through-Thursday, the coaches are scheming around Kool-Aid.
He’s not the most talented defender in the nation, nor does he have the best overall stats, but he has been the best and is worthy of the Chuck Bednarik Award.
No. 2 — Will Anderson, Edge — Alabama: Along with Kool-Aid, this guy is the other defender teams across the country must try to negate. We’ve seen several offenses literally gut their playbook just to keep Will Anderson out of the backfield. Zero- and 1-step drops are the name of the game against Big No. 31. As a result, his raw production has fallen from last year, but he has still notched 43 solo stops and 8 sacks to go with his 2 PD, 1 PBU, 17 TFL, and 10 QB hurries. The Tide has not seen much of a decline either, because he has allowed others to fill the gap. Alabama is T-10th in sacks on the year, and they average 6.73 TFL on the season. In addition to being 6th in pass efficiency defense, Alabama is 4th in rush efficiency defense. Will Anderson is a big reason why up front.
No. 3 — Drew Sanders, ILB — Arkansas: The Hogs defense stinks, but it’s not Sanders fault. He is a one-man wrecking crew on an absolutely terrible defense. He has 96 tackles (60 solo), 6 QB hurries, 3 forced fumbles, 3 passes defended, 4 passes broken up, and an interception. We knew he had talent, but he was simply a depth chart casualty for a Tide team that had other roster options. Good luck, Drew.