Who's the best Rutgers defender?

Rutgers has the best defense in the Big East, and it arguably doesn't have a glaring weakness. There are some matchup issues (as a speed defense, they're vulnerable to power and bulk), but this eleven was certainly good enough to win a Big East title. Individual player awards should not necessarily be tied to team play, but Rutgers surely deserves its fair share of postseason recognition for its defense. It wouldn't be a shock to see seven or eight players receive some share of recognition when the all-conference rosters come out soon.

Along these lines, Greg Schiano is behind Khaseem Greene's candidacy for Big East defensive player of the year.

"I think so but I don't get to vote for my own guys," Schiano said when asked if he thought Greene should win the award. "I think he's the best defensive player in the league.''

Greene has certainly had a very good season. When putting the 2011 season in perspective though, if you're trying to single out one franchise player on defense, isn't defensive tackle Justin Francis the first guy who comes to mind though? When it comes to linebackers or the secondary, to be effective at all, the front four need to be doing their jobs. Francis is the latest on a long line of productive pass rushing tackles under Greg Schiano at Rutgers. Watching Francis on every play, he made lives absolutely hell on opposing quarterbacks this year. Of course, plenty of the credit also has to go to nose tackle Scott Vallone, who willingly surrendered a chance to pile up statistics to play a harder position and face frequent double teams.

Greene may well be the best defender, but he shouldn't get the award merely in virtue of having gaudy tackle totals. What about Justin Francis having more tackles for loss? Steve Beauharnais is worthy of all conference consideration too. He may not have been as consistent as Greene, but no one generated more big plays for the Rutgers defense this year, and the numbers actually do bare that out. Heck, how about Logan Ryan getting consideration for doing his best Devin McCourty impression as a true lockdown corner?

Francis and Greene play what are traditionally "marquee" positions in the Rutgers defense that have a lot of opportunities to make plays. There have been good strong side linebackers (i.e., Manny Abreu in 2010), but for the most part, that's a position that's relegated to a secondary role and has to battle with a tight end. Nose tackles usually have to get past a center and a guard. Generally speaking, for Rutgers defenders it's easier to play on the weak side as a linebacker, or the "under"/3-technique as a defensive tackle. Usually the strong safety will rack up tackles too along with the MLB and WLB. Historically, that's not only true for Rutgers, and also holds for many other 4-3 defenses on the college and pro levels.

If people watch the games and think Greene is the guy, fine. That's a more than valid opinion. He is, without question one of the best players in the Big East. Rutgers is very lucky to have him. The problem is though, for non-skill position players (and even for them, you have to adjust for context - which is why Mohamed Sanu is the best receiver in the Big East), statistics don't always tell the full story. In theory, the better a defender is, the less he will be tested. This post isn't really intended to bury Greene, who is a lock for all-Big East, and has a shot at the NFL with a solid 2012. (He is badly hurt by the decline of the Tampa-2 defense, but that helps Rutgers in limiting his motivation to declare early.) Rather, it's a plea to, you know, watch the games. The voters who snubbed Scott Vallone, Alex Silvestro, and Manny Abreu last year didn't have the faintest clue what they were doing. Let's not make that mistake again.

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