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Stan Becton | | December 18, 2021

FCS football awards: Breaking down the 2021 Buck Buchanan Award finalists

North Dakota State's football dynasty

The 2021 FCS Award finalists have been named, with 25 players making the final cut for the Buck Buchanan Award. The Buck Buchanan Award is given each year to the most outstanding defensive player in FCS football. The award is in its 27th season and the winner will be announced ahead of the FCS Championship game on January 7 in Frisco, Texas.

Before the announcement of the winner of the 2021 Buck Buchanan Award, take a look at 10 notable finalists and their case for hoisting the trophy.

MORE: Walter Payton Award watchlist Jerry Rice Award watchlist

2021 Buck Buchanan Award Finalists

Update: On Dec. 8, Isaiah Land, Troy Andersen and Patrick O'Connell were invited to the Jan. 7 announcement of the Buck Buchanan Award as the top three vote-getters.

Troy Andersen | LB | Montana State

Troy Andersen has played running back, quarterback, outside linebacker and middle linebacker since arriving at Montana State, having great success at every position. After earning the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year award as a middle linebacker this year, Andersen has a chance to add more hardware to his collection as a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award. With 111 tackles for one of the best defenses in the FCS, Andersen has a strong case for this year's award.

Statistics: 111 tackles (57 solo), 9.5 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 7 PBU, 1 FR, 1 QBH, 1 TD
Best Game: 20-13 win over Idaho | 17 tackles (11 solo)

AWARD HISTORY: Complete history of the Buck Buchanan Award

Isaiah Land | LB | Florida A&M

The Florida A&M linebacker leads the FCS in tackles for loss and sacks; the last player to do that was last spring's Buck Buchanan Award winner Jordan Lewis. If history repeats itself, Land will walk away as the 2021 winner of the award, giving the SWAC back-to-back winners. It would be an award well deserved for Land, whose dominance helped Florida A&M become the first SWAC team to make the FCS playoffs since 1997.

Statistics: 43 tackles (32 solo), 25.5 TFL, 19 sacks, 2 PBU, 3 FF, 1 FR
Best Game: 30-7 win over South Carolina State | 8 tackles (5 solo), 4.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 QBH

Patrick O'Connell | LB | Montana

Patrick O'Connell is a do-it-all linebacker for the second-best scoring defense in the country. O'Connell can stop the run and get after the quarterback, sitting third in total sacks in the FCS. With seven or more tackles in all but one game, he's a reliable force on the Montana defense. When the Buck Buchanan winner is announced, O'Connell will try to become the third Grizzly winner since 2015.

Statistics: 91 tackles (40 solo), 19.5 TFL, 13 sacks, 5 QBH, 3 FF, 1 FR, 1 TD 
Best Game: 13-7 win over Washington | 10 tackles (8 solo), 3 TFL, 2 sacks 

Vaughn Taylor Jr. | DE | Morehead State 

Vaughn Taylor Jr. has the second-most tackles for loss in the FCS and set Morehead State's career record in the category this season. Taylor was often found behind the line of scrimmage, finishing with at least one tackle for loss in all 11 games. Moreover, Taylor's individual success translated into team success, with Morehead State winning its most games since 2015. Now, Taylor could add another individual accolade with the Buck Buchanan trophy.

Statistics: 71 tackles (30 solo), 23.5 TFL, 10.5 sacks, 15 QBH, 1 FF, 1 BK
Best Game: 62-9 win over Point (Ga.) | 8 tackles (2 solo), 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 QBH

Jahari Kay | DE | Sam Houston

A finalist for last season's Buck Buchanan Award, Sam Houston defensive end Jahari Kay again finds his name on the list of finalists. This season, Kay has been a consistent force for the reigning champions, despite increased attention from opposing offenses. While Kay's number may not be as eye-popping as some of the other finalists on the list, his presence is often felt on the field.

Statistics: 30 tackles (18 solo), 11 TFL, 5 sacks, 10 QBH, 3 PBU, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 TD
Best Game: 21-20 win over Stephen F. Austin | 8 tackles (6 solo), 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF, 2 QBH, 1 PBU

REPEAT: 5 reasons why Sam Houston can go back-to-back

James Houston | LB | Jackson State

James Houston transferred to Jackson State and he's been impactful since day one. In his first season as a Tiger, Houston is second in the FCS in sacks and fourth in tackles for loss. He's been a game-changer off the edge and has Jackson State's defense allowing just 13.8 points per game. Houston is one of many new players making an impact at Jackson State as the Tigers finished the regular season undefeated in SWAC play.

Statistics: 59 tackles (44 solo), 20.5 TFL, 14.5 sacks, 8 QBH, 7 FF, 2 FR, 1 TD
Best Game: 38-16 win over Tennessee State | 10 tackles (7 solo), 5 TFL, 4.5 sacks

HBCU: Keep up with scores and updates from the HBCU football season

Decobie Durant | CB | South Carolina State

Decobie Durant is one of the best cornerbacks at the FCS level, locking down opposing receivers all season long. Durant's stats reflect those of a cornerback who is highly respected and rarely tested by quarterbacks. However, a two-interception performance against FBS opponent Clemson featuring a former 5-star quarterback stands out as Durant put on a show.

Statistics: 37 tackles (29 solo), 1 TFL (1 yard), 3 INTs, 11 PBU, 2 QBH
Best Game: 49-3 loss to Clemson | 3 tackles, 2 INTs, 2 PBU

Justin Ford | CB | Montana 

Montana cornerback Justin Ford's eight interceptions lead the FCS and would also rank first at the FBS and Division II levels. Ford is a ballhawk, having a streak of eight interceptions in eight games at one point this season. Even when the streak ended in Week 12, Ford found another way to have an impact, scooping up a fumble and returning it 56 yards for a touchdown. After a season full of big plays, Ford was named the Big Sky Newcomer of the Year.

Statistics: 33 tackles (22 solo), 2 TFL, 1 sack, 8 INTs, 8 PBU, 2 FR, 1 FF, 1 QBH, 2 TDs
Best Game: 20-19 win over Southern Utah | 3 tackles (2 solo), 1 INT, 1 TD

PREDICTIONS: Predictions, picks for every FCS playoff game and round

Markquese Bell | S | Florida A&M

Markquese Bell entered the season as one of the best players in the FCS and a potential NFL draft prospect and did not disappoint. Bell has patrolled the Florida A&M secondary, making plays all season long no matter the competition. Even against FBS opponent South Florida, Bell put on a show, earning the Reese's Senior Bowl Defensive Player of the Week for his performance.

Statistics: 79 tackles (55 solo), 6.5 TFL (41 yards), 2 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 4 FF
Best Game: 38-17 loss to South Florida | 15 tackles (10 solo), 1 sack, 1 FF

Darius Joiner | S | Western Illinois

The nation's leading tackler is a safety. Yes, a defensive back has the most tackles in the nation. The amazing feat comes after a phenomenal season from Darius Joiner at Western Illinois. Joiner almost always is found near the football, flying around on defense in his first season as a Leatherneck. He has registered double-figures in tackles in all but one game this season, making 12 or more tackles in seven games.

Statistics: 142 tackles (79 solo), 7 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FF, 3 QBH
Best Game: 38-35 win over Youngstown State | 23 tackles (14 solo), 1 PBU

Here are the other players to make the Buck Buchanan Award finalist list:

  • Isaiah Chambers | DE | McNeese
  • Nate Lynn | DE | William & Mary
  • Stone Snyder | LB | VMI
  • Devonnsha Maxwell | DE | Chattanooga
  • Shaundre Mims | DL | Charleston Southern
  • Brevin Allen | DE | Campbell
  • Kelechi Anyalebechi | LB | UIW
  • Adam Bock | LB | South Dakota State
  • Jacob Dobbs | LB | Holy Cross
  • Matthew Jackson | LB | Eastern Kentucky
  • Titus Leo | LB | Wagner
  • Jalen Mackie | LB | Dartmouth
  • Jeremiah Tyler | LB | Princeton
  • Koby Perry | S | Austin Peay
  • Forrest Rhyne | LB | Villanova

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