2024 Bryant vs Delaware

Meet The Top Defensive Players In The CAA For The 2024 Season

Meet The Top Defensive Players In The CAA For The 2024 Season

Some of the best defenses in the FCS call the CAA home, and the Coastal is home to plenty of All-America talent in the 2024 season.

Jul 8, 2024 by Kyle Kensing

Buck Buchanan Award contenders and future All-Americans define the defenses of the Coastal Athletic Association in the 2024 season . 

The CAA featured six defenses that ranked in the top 40 in points allowed a season ago. Some of those stingy defenses return key playmakers in 2024, including Elon with 2023 All-American Caleb Curtain. 

Curtain is one of the returning defensive standouts who will headline the CAA in 2024. 

William & Mary Safety Marcus Barnes  

Despite losing the outstanding pass-rush tandem of Nate Lynn and John Pius, the William & Mary defense reloads in 2024 building around an excellent secondary. 

Veteran safety Marcus Barnes played a huge role in the Tribe's 2022 CAA championship and run to the FCS quarterfinals, picking off a pair of passes for his second multiple-interception season in as many years, racking up 66 tackles and forcing a fumble. 

Barnes returned last season to register 54 tackles in 10 games with a pick and another forced fumble. His ability to create takeaways can be a major difference-maker for the Tribe defense again in his final go-around at William & Mary. 

Villanova Linebackers Brendan Bell and Shane Hartzell

Villanova has consistently produced some of the best linebackers in the FCS. With Brendan Bell and Shane Hartzell back in 2024, there may not be any more dynamic linebacker tandem anywhere in college football than on the Main Line. 

Bell's 89-tackle 2023, which included 11.5 tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries, and two forced fumbles, figured prominently into Villanova claiming a share of the CAA championship. 

One of his two forced fumbles came in the Wildcats' FCS quarterfinal loss to national champion South Dakota State. With Bell back to help lead the defense, Villanova will aim to make a national title push of its own after taking the two-time defending championship-winning Jackrabbits to the wire last December. 

Hartzell, meanwhile, made a team-high 91 tackles for a Wildcats defense that held opponents to 18.9 points and just 121.7 rushing yards per game. His four sacks and eight quarterback hurries second only to graduated Jake Reichwein.

Towson Defensive End Dion Crews-Harris 

Previously a fullback, Dion Crews-Harris took to his new role at defensive end nicely in 2023. 

Complementing veteran Jesus Gibbs up front, Crews-Harris racked up 7.5 sacks and five sacks — both second among all Tigers to Gibbs, and registered in just nine games. His production also climbed as the season progressed, closing out with a pair of sacks and 4.5 tackles on Nov. 11 against Villanova and five tackles with a quarterback hurry on Nov. 18 against Rhode Island. 

Elon Defensive Back Caleb Curtain 


Caleb Curtain flirted with the transfer portal after earning All-American recognition in 2023. However, his decision to return to Elon provides a pillar for the Phoenix's likely contention for a program-first CAA championship and their second FCS Playoffs appearance in three seasons. 

Curtain's monster performance against William & Mary highlighted an all-around outstanding campaign that ended with Curtain leading Elon in tackles (80), interceptions (four), and finishing second in both sacks (4.5) and pass break-ups. 

Look for this dynamic, multi-dimensional playmaker to factor into the 2024 Buck Buchanan Award chase. 

Delaware Linebacker Ty Davis 

Ty Davis earned All-CAA recognition in 2023 with a blend of physicality and versatility. Effective in run pursuit, pass rush, and dropping back into coverage, Davis finished last season with 48 tackles including 4.5 for loss, 14 quarterback hurries, and a pair of interceptions — one of which set the tone for the season when he ran back a pick-six in Week 1. 

Davis' knack for being around the ball, which includes four fumble recoveries over the last two seasons, helps key a Delaware defense that ranked in the nation's top 10 for total takeaways in 2023 (24). 

Richmond Defensive Linemen Matei Fitz and Jeremiah Grant 

Richmond's recent run of exceptional defensive line play continues with Matei Fitz and Jeremiah Grant back for the defending co-CAA champion Spiders.

Grant's three-sack effort against Rhode Island was a highlight moment of Richmond's midseason turnaround. He finished the campaign with six tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries despite missing two games and was a key figure of the tenacious Spiders rush that also included returning linebacker Wayne Galloway and linemate Fitz. 

Fitz was his most productive late in 2023, including a dominant showing in the Capital Cup win over William & Mary that sealed the Spiders' place in the FCS Playoffs. He recorded two sacks against the Tribe and was in on another in Richmond's playoff win over North Carolina Central. 

Look for Grant and Fitz to continue Richmond's overwhelming line play in 2024 despite the unit losing Marlem Louis to San Diego State. 

Rhode Island Defensive Tackle Westley Neal Jr.

Coach Jim Fleming and his staff have recruited effectively all over the country in recent years. Their biggest signee in a literal sense is a testament to Rhode Island's nationwide approach, with the 6-foot, 315-pound Westley Neal Jr. coming to URI by way of Miami. 

The South Florida product is an effective gap-stopper up front for the Rams, but suggesting his role on the Rhody defense is only to occupy blockers undersells his skill set. Neal combines strength, footwork, savvy, and speed to get into the backfield effectively, racking up six and five tackles for loss in 2021 and 2023. Also reflectively of his athleticism, Neal has blocked kicks in each of the last two seasons. 

Bryant Defensive Lineman Michael Otty 

Bryant makes it debut in the CAA with intriguing talent on both sides of the ball. Defensively, the Bulldogs feature an All-Big South/OVC honoree in Michael Otty 

Otty led the Bulldogs in tackles for loss with 12, was second in sacks with seven, forced a fumble, and blocked a kick. The 2023 season was a career-best for the Brooklyn native, and he figures to be a prominent part of Bryant's transition to the CAA. 

Elon Linebacker Marco Patierno 

A breakout freshman campaign established Marco Patierno as one of the most tenacious and fearsome linebackers in the CAA. He returns for 2024 a cog in the always-tough Elon defense. 

Patierno recorded 68 tackles in his first collegiate season and put an exclamation mark on his 1st Team Freshman All-American selection with a touchdown in Elon's season finale. 

Rhode Island Linebacker A.J. Pena 

A.J. Pena ranked near the top of the CAA and was 17th nationally in tackles for loss last season and 12th in sacks, but his ability to get into the backfield is just one facet of the linebacker's impressive repertoire. 

Pena complemented his nine sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss with 59 total tackles, a pair of forced fumbles, and an interception to build off a strong freshman campaign of 6.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and 22 tackles. 

New Hampshire Defensive Ends Dylan Ruiz and Josiah Silver 


A defense with an All-America-caliber defensive end is in a good place. A defense with two has the potential to be the most fearsome in the sport. 

New Hampshire returns 2021 Jerry Rice Award finalist and 2021/2022 All-American Josiah Silver for what could be a special senior season. Silver heads into 2024 with 26 career sacks, 47.5 tackles for loss, three blocked kicks, and eight forced fumbles. 

His individual numbers dipped since a monster 2021 with 20.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, and six forced fumbles in just 11 games, facing plenty of double-teams and scheming to avoid his rush. However, Dylan Ruiz stepped up in 2022 with 12 sacks, a pair of forced fumbles, and 14.5 tackles for loss. 

The duo working in concert with one another sets the tone for the Wildcats defense. 

Villanova Cornerback Isas Waxter 

After working his way into a prominent role in the same secondary with Buffalo Bills cornerback Christian Benford, Isas Waxter sustained a torn MCL in spring 2022 practices that sidelined him for the entire fall campaign. 

Waxter bounced back strong, however, emerging as a shut-down corner for the co-champion Wildcats in 2023. He intercepted three passes and broke up another eight en route to 2nd Team All-CAA honors. 

Two of his best games came late in the season, with Waxter picking off a pass in the Battle of the Blue win over Delaware that cemented Villanova in the FCS Playoffs; then intercepting another pass in the postseason win over Youngstown State. 

But the most telling accolade for Waxter is that on a defense loaded with playmakers last season, he shared Villanova's Defensive MVP with linebacker Brendan Bell. 

At his size and with his continued progression as a lockdown presence against the pass, look for Waxter to become an NFL prospect in a vein similar to his former teammate Benford. 

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