West Virginia finished the 2020 season ranked at the top of the nation in total defense among Power 5 schools — but a after graduation, the 2021 NFL Draft, and a handful of transfers, can the Mountaineer defense keep their No. 1 status in 2021?
Of course, time will tell, but if you go by just the numbers, the answer is yes.
Here are the top tacklers from a season ago: Tony Fields (88), Alonzo Addae (66), Josh Chandler-Semedo (64), Tykee Smith (61) and Sean Mahone (54).
Of that group, there are just two departures. Fields was selected in the fifth round of the draft by the Cleveland Browns, while Smith transferred to Georgia at the start of the spring season. On the other hand, Chandler-Semedo will fill Fields’ spot at mike linebacker, while safeties Addae and Mahone both decided to use their eligibility relief granted by the NCAA.
Nine players snagged a total of 11 interceptions last season — and WVU loses six of those picks. Four players that tallied at least one pick last year are still with the program — Addae tied for the team-high with two interceptions while Chandler-Semedo, Mahone, and cornerback Nicktroy Fortune all tallied one each.
As far as sacks and tackles for loss, the Mountaineers still have plenty of production on the roster as the guys who combined for 38 of the 65 total TFLs are still with the program. They also return 14.5 of the 22 total sacks.
First, here’s a look at the main numbers lost in the two areas – Smith (8 TFL), Darius Stills (7.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks), Fields (4 TFL) and Jeffery Pooler (6 TFL, 3 sacks). Pooler entered the transfer portal last week.
Here’s another bright spot: WVU returns its leader in both categories. Dante Stills paved the way with 10.5 TFL while it was Akheem Mesidor with 5 sacks.
Bandits Jared Bartlett (5.5 TFL, 3 sacks) and VanDarius Cowan (4.5 TFL, 2 sacks) flank the defensive line duo as key playmakers returning in those categories. In addition, Chandler-Semedo tallied four tackles for loss while Fortune, Mahone and Exree Loe combined for five.