2023 William & Mary vs Campbell

Three Best Defenses In 2023 CAA Football And Why

Three Best Defenses In 2023 CAA Football And Why

Featuring returning All-Americans and potential Buck Buchanan Award winners, CAA football hosts some of the best defenses in FCS in the 2023 season.

Aug 2, 2023 by Kyle Kensing
Three Best Defenses In 2023 CAA Football And Why

Stingy defense defines Coastal Athletic Association football most every season. 

In 2022, the CAA boasted three top 20-ranked scoring defenses and four defenses ranked No. 31 or better, despite the league six scoring offenses of No. 42 or better. 

The 2023 CAA football season promises more of the same from its standout defensive units. 

Some of the league's strongest defenses of 2022 replace key difference-makers: Delaware, which led the CAA in points allowed, undergoes significant turnover in the starting 11, most notably, All-America defensive back turned Tampa Bay Buccaneer Kedric Whitehead Jr. and linebacker/tackling-machine Johnny Buchanan. 

Elon, 19th nationally in scoring defense last season, welcomes back a ton of production but replaces the most all-around productive Phoenix in Spur Marcus Hillman. 

The Blue Hens and Phoenix still have defenses to watch once competition starts and once again could finish in the conference's top 3 by season's end. 

Likewise, other potential breakout defenses loom, like Villanova, which featured a number of youngsters in high-profile spots with the departures of NFL sensation Christian Benford and All-American Forrest Rhyne after the 2021 season. 

Heading into the season, however, these three units feature the proven experience to look to as the likely pace-setters for the CAA in 2023. 

William & Mary 

College football may not have a more fearsome pass-rush tandem than defensive end Nate Lynn and linebacker John Pius. Either of the two could emerge as Buck Buchanan Award winners — and Pius was among the finalists invited to Frisco for last year's presentation of the award. 

The tandem lays the foundation for what could be the CAA's most talented defense. 

Expectations for the Tribe suggest as much, with Lynn and the preseason Defensive Player of the Year Pius among William & Mary's league-leading five nominees to the preseason All-CAA first team.

Joining them are linebacker Isaiah Jones, who racked up 62 tackles, a pair of sacks and forced a fumble in 2022. 

Cornerback Jalen Jones also earned first-team recognition, having made waves early last season with a three-interception performance against CAA newcomer Campbell — an opportunity he earned stepping into the starting lineup with Ryan Poole sidelined. 


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Poole's back and also garnered preseason first-team All-CAA recognition. The veteran cornerback broke up 10 passes in 2022, good enough to rank 29th among all FCS players. 

William & Mary's defense also returns safety Marcus Barnes and linebackers Kevin Jarrell and Quinn Osborne to round out one of the most experienced starting 11s in the nation. 

New Hampshire

Double-team 2021 CAA Defensive Freshman of the Year and All-American defensive end Josiah Silver at your own peril. Dylan Ruiz will be more than capable of exploiting a one-on-one matchup up front. 

Silver and Ruiz were responsible for a combined 20.5 sacks in 2022, and don't be surprised if that number climbs in 2023. 


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The Wildcats bring back tackle Nathan Kapongo, whose presence in the middle of the same line with Ruiz and Silver adds another playmaker for opposing blockers to address. 

UNH also has linebacker Ryan Toscano, the leading overall tackler of a year ago with 72, just ahead of Ruiz's 60 and Silver's 55. 

New Hampshire's loaded front seven gets support in the form of a secondary with safety Max Oxendine and cornerbacks Randall Harris and Noah Stansbury. Harris and Stansbury combined for 11 pass breakups, and Harris picked off three passes. 

UNH's defensive backs should see ample opportunities for takeaways with the Wildcats defensive-end tandem applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks. 


From Maurice Jackson to Kobie Turner, and now Marlem Louis, Richmond's recent run of top-flight defensive linemen continues into 2023. 

Louis emerged as a surprise breakout performer for the Spiders en route to the 2022 FCS Playoffs, racking up 8.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss — both team-highs. Louis also registered six quarterback hurries and forced a pair of fumbles. 

Defensive end is such a loaded position in the CAA that one could get lost in the shuffled, but make no mistake: Louis is every bit the Buck Buchanan Award contender William & Mary's Lynn or the UNH tandem of Ruiz and Silver will be this year. 

Louis might have competition for individual accolades within his own front seven, however, with linebacker Tristan Wheeler captaining the Richmond D. 

Wheeler's 111 tackles ranked in the top 15 of all FCS players a season ago, and he produced a remarkable seven quarterback hurries. 

The versatile Wheeler can rush the quarterback, chase down a ball-carrier or drop back into pass coverage with equal effectiveness, offering Spiders defensive coordinator Justin Wood flexibility in play-calling and personnel groupings. 


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Filling out the front seven are a variety of potential breakthrough stars. 

Jeremiah Grant grew into an impressive complement to Louis up front, while Zander Barnett delivered some of his best performances in pivotal contests. 

Aaron Banks and Bryson Parke combined for 12 pass breakups and six interceptions in the secondary, and Angelo Rankin Jr. deflected a pair of pass attempts in Richmond's playoff games.