2012 CFN All-Freshman Defensive Team
TCU DE Devonte Fields
TCU DE Devonte Fields
Posted Dec 10, 2012

Who were the best new defensive players in college football this season? Check out the 2012 CollegeFootballNews.com All-Freshman Defensive Team.

2012 All-Freshman Team

Defense & Special Teams

CFN All-Freshman Teams
- 2011 CFN All-Freshman Team | 2010 CFN All-Freshman Team 
- 2009 CFN All-Freshman Team | 2008 CFN All-Freshman Team
- 2007 CFN All-Freshman Team | 2006 CFN All-Freshman Team
- 2005 CFN All-Freshman Team | 2004 CFN All-Freshman Team 

Write-ups By Richard Cirminiello

- 2012 CFN Freshman All-America Offense 
Defensive Freshman of the Year: DE Devonte Fields, TCU

DE Deion Barnes, Penn State
In his second year on campus, Barnes became just the second Nittany Lion to ever be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. The 6-4, 246-pound Philadelphia native, who briefly considered a transfer to Temple, made the most of his decision to stick around Happy Valley in 2012. He's a natural pass rusher, with the long arms and the active hands to navigate most opposing tackles. Barnes kicked off his Penn State career with a team-high 10 tackles for loss and six sacks to go along with three forced fumbles.

DT Issac Gross, Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze's new Rebels staff likes its defensive players to be undersized and quick to the ball. The 6-3, 270-pound Gross fits the job description rather well, elevating into a starting role in his first year out of South Panola (Miss.) High School. Hitting the gaps in an instant and with non-stop energy, he did a solid job of making plays against a tough SEC schedule. Gross has chipped in with 38 tackles, nine stops for loss and 2.5 sacks, laying a solid foundation for the next three seasons on the Grove.

DT Leonard Williams, USC
No rookie interior lineman has had a better debut in 2012 than Williams has had for the Trojans. The cross-country import from Daytona Beach, Fla. felt right at home in Los Angeles, earning Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. For a 6-5, 270-pounder, he plays with excellent athleticism, balance and get-off. As he gets a little bigger, he'll be capable of handling strongside end or remaining on the interior. With a bowl game still left, Williams has 50 tackles, 13 stops behind the line and 7.5 sacks.

DE Devonte Fields, TCU
The Horned Frogs staff was absolutely ecstatic about winning a tough battle to land Fields in February, and now everyone knows why. The rookie out of Arlington, Tex. took advantage of an early injury to veteran Ross Forrest, and never looked back. Explosive out of his stance and very quick around the edge, he leads the Big 12 with 17.5 tackles for loss, while setting the standard among freshmen with nine sacks. The Hendricks Award finalist will only get better with more reps and added muscle, challenging to become the next elite pass rusher for Gary Patterson in Fort Worth.

LB Isaiah Bruce, West Virginia
While there was not a ton to cheer about on defense in Morgantown this year, Bruce is among the young Mountaineers providing hope for a brighter future. The starter in the middle has taken on a leadership role in just his second year out of Jacksonville, Fla. Bruce is undersized at 6-1 and 225 pounds, but his speed and tenacity mesh well with the scheme at West Virginia. He's second on the team with 86 tackles, chipping in another 6.5 stops for loss, three pass breakups and two fumble recoveries.

LB Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
It's uncommon for a rookie to start at middle linebacker, especially in the SEC. There's not a lot that's common about McKinney. At 6-5 and 235 pounds, he's a tremendous physical specimen, with the wingspan and the length to be a disruptive force on defense. However, he also has a great feel for the game, drawing parallels to former Bulldogs—and current Seattle Seahawks—LB K.J. Wright. McKinney is second on State with 97 stops, adding 4.5 tackles for loss and four pass breakups.

LB Denzel Nkemdiche, Ole Miss
Nkemdiche is exactly what new head coach Hugh Freeze was looking for in his first ‘Stinger', a freelancing hybrid between a linebacker and a safety. He's fast, energetic and versatile enough to wreak havoc all over the field. The 5-10, 197-pound All-SEC performer has been a terror from start to finish, collecting a Rebels-high 78 tackles, 12 stops for loss, three sacks, three picks and four forced fumbles. Nkemdiche is the kind of playmaker on which the Ole Miss D will be built over the next three years.

CB Jalen Mills, LSU
Mills wasn't supposed to be so busy as a starter in his debut season. But then again, Heisman finalist Tyrann Mathieu wasn't supposed to get booted from the program either. Sure, he had some ups and downs during a baptism by fire, but he also gave enough glimpses to be considered a future lockdown corner in the SEC. Mills has steadily improved throughout his first year, making 52 stops, a pair of picks and five pass breakups for a defense that ranks No. 9 nationally in pass efficiency D.

S Karl Joseph, West Virginia
Enrolling in school early and participating in spring drills apparently gave Joseph the head start he needed to contribute right away. The recruit from Orlando, Fla. showed the coaching staff that he was physically and mentally prepared to compete the moment he stepped foot on campus, never shying away from a confrontation. After winning the job at free safety, he helped bring some much-needed swagger to a vulnerable D, while collecting a team-high 95 tackles, seven stops for loss, a couple of picks and three forced fumbles.

S Shaq Thompson, Washington
The Huskies were so close to never signing the blue-chipper, who originally gave a verbal to Cal. U-Dub is ecstatic to have him in Seattle for at least the next two seasons. Thompson is the prototype at safety, though he mostly played at the nickel in his debut. He's big, a sturdy 6-2, 215-pounder. He's fast. And he likes to throw his weight around. Thompson is the kind of budding defensive back who has typically wound up at USC over the past decade. Even a somewhat reduced role couldn't prevent Thompson from racking up 66 tackles, 8.5 stops for loss, two sacks, three interceptions and six passes defended.

CB KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame
Thrust into an extremely difficult situation when projected starter Lo Wood suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in training camp, Russell has answered the challenge. Sure, he's gotten plenty of help from a veteran defense, but he has also improved with each game and with each mistake that he makes. Originally recruited out Everett, Wash. to play running back, Russell has the right mix of maturity and swagger to thrive in man coverage. He has 50 tackles and two picks for a defense that's yielded just seven touchdown passes all year.

Special Teams

PK Ross Martin, Duke
One of the unsung heroes of the Blue Devils' long-overdue postseason return, Martin has provided stability to a kicking game that's been rife with inconsistency for many years. In his debut out of Walsh Jesuit (OH) High School, he's connected on 18-of-20 field goal attempts, including 6-of-6 from beyond 40 yards. Widely recruited a year ago by the likes of Cal and Texas, he earned honorable mention All-ACC, which could become an annual thing around Durham over the next three seasons.

P Tyler Williams , Marshall
This fall has been quite the whirlwind for Williams, who just last year was punting for the Atlanta Sports Academy. Once he beat out Austin Dumas for the right to replace Kase Whitehead, the rookie went on to average 45.2 yards, which would have placed second in Conference USA had he punted enough to qualify. So good was Williams with his distance and hang time that he was one of 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award, given annually to the nation's best punter.

Second Team

DE Dante Fowler, Florida
DT Jaxon Hood, Arizona State
DT Davion Pierson, TCU
DE Lenny Jones, Nevada

LB Travis Feeney, Washington
LB Cory James, Colorado State
LB Mason Monheim, Illinois

CB Ronald Darby, Florida State
S Deon Bush, Miami
S Chris Hackett , TCU
CB Lafayette Pitts, Pittsburgh

Special Teams

PK Austin Lopez, San Jose State
P Landon Foster, Kentucky

Honorable Mention

DE: Arik Armstead (Oregon), Eli Harold (Virginia)

DT: Christian Covington (Rice), Josh Tupou (Colorado)

LB: Kyler Fackrell (Utah State), Jabari Hunt-Days (Georgia Tech), Sir Thomas Jackson (Arizona), Jordan Jenkins (Georgia), Tyler Matakevich (Temple), Darryl Monroe (Washington State)

CB: Kenneth Crawley (Colorado), De'Vante Harris (Texas A&M), Darion Monroe (Tulane), Jimmy Pruitt (San Jose State), Trevon Stewart (Houston), Nick VanHoose (Northwestern), Zac Whitfield (North Texas)

S: Kevin Byard (Middle Tennessee), Michael Cole (Virginia Tech), D.J. Hunter (Marshall)

PK: Jaden Oberkrom (TCU), John Wallace (Louisville)

P: Tim Gleeson (Wyoming), Anthony Melchiori (Kent State), Will Monday (Duke), Ethan Perry (TCU)

- 2012 CFN Freshman All-America Offense