In an award seemingly reserved for edge defenders, Northwestern’s own Brandon Joseph poses a unique threat as a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Bursting onto the scene in 2020 as a redshirt freshman that ended up with All-American honors, the Wildcats’ safety put himself in a perfect position for a 2021 DPOY run.
To win the award, however, Joseph will have to beat out numerous impressive opponents all across the Midwest and the East Coast (yes you, Rutgers). Let’s look at five of the top players up for the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award and how Brandon Joseph stacks up to the competition:
Micah McFadden, LB, Indiana
Micah McFadden can largely be credited with helping the Indiana defense become one of the strongest in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers’ leading tackler led the conference with six sacks in 2020 and enters his junior season atop countless DPOY lists.
Though they play different positions, McFadden stands more likely to gain from having an excellent surrounding defense. Because linebackers traditionally lead their teams in key stats like tackles, Joseph will need every interception he can get to beat out guys like McFadden who will likely top the stat sheet of an impressive Hoosiers defense.
Olakunie Fatukasi, DT, Rutgers
The senior defensive tackle Olakunie Fatukasi represents Rutgers among the Big Ten’s best defenders. Holding down the Scarlet Knights defensive line while averaging over ten tackles a game in 2020, Fatukasi hopes to bulldoze his way to a Big Ten DPOY award.
As a massive defensive tackle, Fatukasi might pop off the screen a bit more than Joseph does upon first watch. However, Joseph’s key interceptions give him limitless opportunities and chances to usurp Fatukasi in DPOY voting and to cement himself as the best defensive player in the conference.
Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
Though he only played three games in his COVID-riddled 2020 season, Aidan Hutchinson prepares to enter a Junior season filled with promise. Making Pro Football Focus’ top 50 college football players list as Michigan’s only contribution, Hutchinson will need to fill a large void in a lacking Wolverine defense to be considered the best defender in the Big Ten.
Like Fatukasi, Hutchinson benefits from being a big man who often occupies the screen with his O-line-evading moves. That being said, Joseph’s cunning mind that lead him to countless turnover opportunities in 2020 should help him jump past Hutchinson in the DPOY rankings.
Zach Harrison, DE, Ohio State
Junior defensive end Zach Harrison is Ohio State’s best chance to bring the Big Ten DPOY back to Columbus following Chase Young’s win in 2019. Though he ended up with just two sacks in 2020, Harrison ranked within the top ten for Pro Football Focus edge rushing grade in his sophomore season.
This one is tough. Alongside a stacked Ohio State, Harrison looks to add a very high sack total next to an even higher regular season win total. Joseph will have to do everything he can to pass a defensive end who will constantly be afforded the luxury of a top notch defensive front to help his pass rushing efforts.
George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
Another junior defensive end, George Karlaftis enters the 2021 season ready to turn some heads. Hoping to rebound from a 2020 campaign in which he only played three games, Karlaftis looks to solidify NFL hopes and make a name for himself in more than just West Lafayette.
Just like Northwestern handled Purdue in 2020, Joseph should handle Karlaftis in 2021. BJo will have an easier time making a name for himself among a weaker Big Ten DB group versus the obviously stacked group of players in the front sevens across the conference. Joseph will have the perfect stage to push his way up the DPOY ranks and steal Karlaftis’ thunder when the two meet head to head at Wrigley Field.
Though the road will be tough, Brandon Joseph has a phenomenal chance to be Northwestern’s first Big Ten DPOY winner since coach Pat Fitzgerald won back to back in 1995 and 1996. The journey all starts on September 3rd as the Wildcats look to get revenge against a Michigan State team that ruined their perfect 2020 season.