PFN’s All-Independent Football Team Honors for the 2021 college football season

Honoring all of the top players, individuals, units, and teams in our All-Independent FBS Team after the 2021 college football season.

The Independent teams in college football don’t get enough love. Save for Notre Dame, it’s hard-pressed to find any of the other six teams covered nationally. We’ll save you time from finding film on some of the programs, however, with our All-Independent teams from the 2021 college football season.

Follow along with our All-Conference Awards given out this offseason: AAC | ACC | B1G | Big 12 | Conference-USA | MAC | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt

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All-Independent Football Team Honors for 2021

The Independent schools are going by the wayside sooner than later, as Notre Dame likely will continue to serve as the flagship program. BYU, the next-biggest-market program, is headed for the Big 12 in a few years, so they’ll get their moment to shine soon enough. Until then, we hit the tape and the data to honor those players on Independent schools from this past season.

It’s important to note that these are awards and honors from Pro Football Network for each individual’s prowess on the field this season. This is in no way a projection of their NFL Draft status nor a report on actual conference awards that have already been handed out. These honors are from Pro Football Network, as judged upon by our team of college football analysts.

Let’s get to the overall awards.

  • Independent Coach of the Year: Kalani Sitake, BYU
  • Independent Player of the Year: Tyler Allgeier, RB, BYU
  • Independent Newcomer of the Year: Puka Nacua, WR, BYU
  • Independent Game of the Year: Notre Dame vs. Florida State, Week 1

All-Independent Offense

There are only seven Independent programs at the FBS level, but they certainly had their moments in 2021. Taking a look closer at the data, you get to examine just how good some of those moments were.

  • Independent Offensive Player of the Year: Tyler Allgeier, RB, BYU
  • Independent Quarterback of the Year: Jaren Hall, BYU
  • Independent Running Back of the Year: Tyler Allgeier, RB, BYU
  • Independent Wide Receiver of the Year: Puka Nacua, BYU
  • Independent Offensive Lineman of the Year: Cain Madden, Notre Dame
  • Independent Offensive Line of the Year: BYU Cougars
  • Independent Offensive Rookie of the Year: Juwaun Price, RB, New Mexico State

Tyler Allgeier improved his draft stock after another dominant year. Allgeier led all independent running backs with 1,414 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns, ranking eighth nationally in yards. His 20 TDs tied for the national lead with a who’s who of running backs at the FBS stage. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry and made the play of the season for BYU. His forced fumble against Arizona State saved the game and preserved BYU’s hopes at a New Year’s Six Bowl game.

Jaren Hall also elevated himself and the Cougars when he was on the field. While Liberty’s Malik Willis was the talk of the FBS Independents, it was Hall who was the most impressive. Throwing for 2,583 yards and 20 touchdowns, Hall threw the fewest interceptions (5) of all full-time quarterbacks. His slinging fastball of a football was a thing of beauty, and he continued to grow as the season went along.

BYU’s offensive line yet again dominates

With a dominant rushing attack comes a dominant offensive line performance. And that’s just what BYU got yet again in 2021. After producing multiple NFL players over the past few years, the 2021 version of the Cougars’ line may be up there with some of the best. From left to right, LT Blake Freeland, LG Clark Barrington, C James Empey and Connor Pay, RG Joe Tukuafu, and RT Campbell Barrington were excellent this season. They dealt with injuries throughout the year but persevered through it all.

First-Team All-Independent Offense

QB: Jaren Hall, BYU
RB: Tyler Allgeier, BYU
RB: Kyren Williams, Notre Dame
WR: Puka Nacua, BYU
WR: Kevin Austin Jr., Notre Dame
WR: CJ Daniels, Liberty
TE: Michael Mayer, Notre Dame
FLEX: Gunner Romney, BYU
LT: Blake Freeland, BYU
LG: Clark Barrington, BYU
C: Jarrett Patterson, Notre Dame
RG: Cain Madden, Notre Dame
RT: Josh Lugg, Notre Dame

Second-Team All-Independent Offense

QB: Maik Willis, Liberty
RB: Ellis Merriweather, UMass
RB: Juwaun Price, New Mexico State
WR: Jared Wyatt, New Mexico State
WR: Isaiah Garcia-Castaneda, New Mexico State
WR: Demario Douglas, Liberty
TE: Thomaz Whitford, New Mexico State
FLEX: Neil Pau’u, BYU
LT: Joe Alt, Notre Dame
LG: Noah Knapp, Army
C: Thomas Sargeant, Liberty
RG: Brendan Schlittler, Liberty
RT: Campbell Barrington, BYU

All-Independent Defense

The defensive side of the ball among the FBS Independents was also just as impressive. In fact, there will be several players taken in the first few rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft and beyond.

  • Independent Defensive Player of the Year: Andre Carter II, Army
  • Independent Defensive Lineman of the Year: Andre Carter II, Army
  • Independent Linebacker of the Year: Payton Wilgar, BYU
  • Independent Defensive Back of the Year: Kaleb Hayes, BYU
  • Independent Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ben Bywater, LB, BYU
  • Independent Defensive Line of the Year: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
  • Independent Secondary of the Year: BYU Cougars

Andre Carter II was a monster off the edge for the Black Knights in 2021. While Army still has a game left, Carter likely won’t add to his sack totals against Navy. He finished the first 11 games of Army’s schedule with 13.5 sacks, ranking third in the country behind only Alabama’s Will Anderson and Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson. Carter was a man on a mission against every opponent and caused more havoc than any Army edge defender in recent memory.

Payton Wilgar didn’t get to finish the season the right way, but he still performed admirably in 2021. He recorded 57 total tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, 4 pass breakups, and a handful of other QB pressures. A terrific blitzer and even better coverage linebacker, Wilgar’s return to Provo in 2022 will pay dividends for the Cougars’ defense next fall.

Get to know the BYU secondary

In his first season as a member of the Cougars, Kaleb Hayes was dominant. He led the Independent school defensive backs with 11 pass breakups as well as a slew of other forced incompletions. Hayes may not have started the season right away, but his insertion into the lineup was crucial down the stretch.

In addition to Hayes, Malik Moore, Jakob Robinson, Hayden Livingston, and Matthew Criddle all impressed at different times. Moore and Robinson led the group with 3 interceptions, tying for first among FBS Independent schools. It was a dominant year against the pass as very few teams, if any, were able to throw on them for more than a quarter.

First-Team All-Independent Defense

EDGE: Andre Carter II, Army
EDGE: Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame
DI: Jayson Ademilola, Notre Dame
DI: Travis Jones, UConn
LB: Jackson Mitchell, UConn
LB: Ben Bywater, BYU
LB: Payton Wilgar, BYU
CB: Jakob Robinson, BYU
CB: Cam Hart, Notre Dame
CB: D.J. McCullough, New Mexico State
S: DJ Brown, Notre Dame
S: Malik Moore, BYU
FLEX: Kaleb Hayes, BYU

Second-Team All-Independent Defense

EDGE: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Notre Dame
EDGE: Tyler Batty, BYU
DI: Rylie Mills, Notre Dame
DI: Elijah Hames, Liberty
LB: Storey Jackson, Liberty
LB: JD Bertrand, Notre Dame
LB: Drew White, Notre Dame
CB: Duron Lowe, Liberty
CB: Tre Wortham, UConn
CB: Jabari Moore, Army
S: Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame
S: Caleb Mills, New Mexico State
FLEX: Marquel Broughton, Army | Cedrick Cunningham Jr., Army

Independent Special Teams

The special-teams units were full of game-winning moments on the Independent stage. With some special moments from the special teams, we give out our individual awards to the FBS Independents.

  • Independent Kicker of the Year: Jonathan Doerer, Notre Dame
  • Independent Punter of the Year: Ryan Rehkow, BYU
  • Independent Specialist of the Year: Brian Brewton, UConn

Brian Brewton returned 2 kickoffs for touchdowns, leading the Independents with 656 return yards in the process. Doerer finished off the Notre Dame vs. FSU game in Week 1 on a high note, despite a sour note prior. Doerer was impressive enough as a placekicker but also handled kickoff duties.

First-Team All-Independent Specialists

Kicker: Jonathan Doerer, Notre Dame
Kickoff Specialist: Jonathan Doerer, Notre Dame
Punter: Ryan Rehkow, BYU
Kick Returner: Brian Brewton, UConn
Punt Returner: Demario Douglas, Liberty
Special Teamer: Fabrice Voyne, Army

Second-Team All-Independent Specialists

Kicker: Ethan Albertson, New Mexico State
Kickoff Specialist: Ethan Albertson, New Mexico State
Punter: George Georgopoulos, UMass
Kick Returner: Chris Tyree, Notre Dame
Punt Returner: Hobbs Nyberg, BYU
Special Teamer: Jacob Boren, BYU

Congratulations to all those players selected. For any questions regarding these selections or the process behind them, please ask on Twitter (@CamMellor).

Cam Mellor is the Senior Director of the College Football/NFL Draft vertical for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @CamMellor.

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