Defense wins championships.

Sure, you better be able to score too, as Alabama, LSU and Clemson have shown the world over the past few seasons.

But if you want to compete for championships or win many football games, you better be able to get stops.

This season in the SEC continued to prove that.

Georgia fielded perhaps the best defense the sport has seen in two decades. Alabama featured a player on the edge who led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss and who should have been a Heisman finalist. Texas A&M overcame an erratic offense to win 8 games on the back of a splendid defense. LSU battled back to bowl eligibility thanks to a defense that lost two All-Americans on the boundary and multiple defensive linemen and somehow got better by the end of the season anyway. Get the idea?

Just as every SEC program had an offensive MVP in 2021, each program had a defensive star too.

Here are the SDS choices for defensive MVP of every SEC team.

Alabama: Will Anderson, Edge

Anderson was our choice for Best Player in the SEC during the regular season, and his numbers are plain absurd. Anderson led the nation in tackles for loss (31.5!), ranked second in sacks (15.5!), and led the country in defensive havoc plays, with 8 quarterback hurries and 44 — yes 44 — pressures, per Stats Solutions. He’s not just a big-play pass rush guy, either. Anderson is dominant in run support, a true 3-down player.

If Alabama repeats as national champions, they’ll do it behind Anderson just as much as they will do it behind Heisman winner Bryce Young.

Arkansas: Bumper Pool, LB 

Montaric Brown and Grant Morgan merit mention here, but Pool, a second-team All-SEC choice who finished No. 2 in the SEC with 120 tackles, is the correct option here. Arkansas was one of the best defenses in college football on 3rd down (17th in the country). That’s when Pool did most of his work, registering 40% of his tackles on 3rd down. Pool was a deserving Butkus Award list guy who, over the past 2 seasons, collected more tackles than anyone in the SEC.

Auburn: Roger McCreary, DB

McCreary graded out as the nation’s finest corner in the 2021 regular season, per Pro Football Focus. His Iron Bowl performance, which saw him collect 7 tackles (2nd on the team) and break up 4 passes, was one for the ages. His season performance, which saw him deliver one of the 5 highest season grades in coverage in a single season in the SEC in the past 10 years, makes him a maestro. Named an AP First Team All-American this past week, McCreary should be drafted in the top 20 in the NFL Draft next spring.

Florida: Zachary Carter, DL 

Carter, who opted out of the Gasparilla Bowl, finished an outstanding senior season with 32 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 8 sacks. His tackles for loss numbers ranked in the top 10 in the SEC. More vital than his efforts defensively, Carter was the captain of a team that could have quit after losses to Georgia and South Carolina sent the Gators to 5-5. Florida’s head coach was fired a week later, but the Gators stuck together, beat rival FSU for the 3rd consecutive time and qualified for a bowl game. Interim head coach Greg Knox credited Carter’s leadership with holding the team together through a turbulent final month, proving Carter’s value on and off the field was immense.

Georgia: Nakobe Dean, LB

The Butkus Award winner was the nation’s finest linebacker and ultimately graded out as the best player in college football at any position in 2021, per Pro Football Focus. Dean gathered 61 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 5 passes defended and 2 interceptions, and proved himself to be elite on all 3 downs, with a tremendous burst as a pass rusher and otherworldly instincts.

Dean separated himself in pass coverage, making plays like this one, that broke open the Florida game.

Jordan Davis was a scheme-changer, but Nakobe Dean was Georgia’s biggest game-changer on defense.

Kentucky: Josh Paschal, DL

One of the best stories in college football in 2021, Paschal, a cancer survivor, tallied 52 tackles and 5 sacks on his way to Second Team All-SEC and Second-Team All American honors. He also blocked a field goal to help Kentucky beat Florida, a game that proved to be the beginning of the end for Mullen in Gainesville and the second win for Kentucky over the Gators in the past 4 seasons.

Paschal also made the best player commercial of the Name, Image, and Likeness era.

LSU: Damone Clark, LB

The senior led LSU and the SEC in tackles, with 136. But it’s the way he played down the stretch that sealed his status as LSU’s MVP. Clark claimed all 5.5 of his sacks coming after Ed Orgeron was fired in mid-October. Clark also added a forced fumble and 23 quarterback pressures in that span. Clark told the media last week he wants to play 1 last game in an LSU uniform, so he’ll be suited up for the Texas Bowl against Kansas State. His Senior Bowl performance should garner plenty of NFL eyeballs as well. He isn’t the fastest or the biggest, but he sure does make plays.

Mississippi State: Emmanuel Forbes, DB

Forbes, a 2020 Freshman All-American, was even better in 2021, garnering Second-Team All-SEC honors. Forbes collected 52 tackles, including 7 for loss, along with 3 interceptions, which led the Bulldogs for the second season in a row. He also forced a key fumble in State’s win over Texas A&M. More important than numbers, Forbes proved to be less “make or break” in coverage than he was as a freshman.

Opponents caught 15% less of targets against him and averaged 2 full yards fewer per reception against, per Stats Solutions.

Missouri: Blaze Alldredge, LB

Alldredge led the Tigers in sacks (5) and tackles for loss (12), and was second in tackles (75) in 2021. He also collected 4 quarterback hurries, 28 pressures and forced and recovered a fumble. Alldredge will close his career by playing in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Ole Miss: Sam Williams, DL 

The First Team All-SEC selection and Walter Camp All American edges out teammate Chase Campbell for this spot, thanks to a résumé that included 12.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles (most in the SEC), and a team-high 39 pressures.

Williams’ 2-sack Egg Bowl will be remembered for ages, but he was a monster across SEC play, as only Will Anderson of Alabama registered more sacks and pressures in league play than Williams.

South Carolina: Jaylan Foster, DB

Foster was a no-brainer First-Team All-SEC choice as the leader of Shane Beamer’s terrific pass defense, which ranked 28th in the country.

Foster led the SEC in interceptions with 5, becoming South Carolina’s first Walter Camp All American since 2014 in the process.

Foster also led the Gamecocks in tackles, forced fumbles and passes defended, and added 2 forced fumbles. Not bad for a kid who started his career on the scout team.

Tennessee: Jeremy Banks, LB

One reason Josh Heupel was one of the best hires of the 2020 offseason? The play of linebacker Jeremy Banks, who anchored a Tennessee defense that wasn’t spectacular but improved dramatically as the season progressed. Banks led the Vols with 108 tackles and added 4.5 sacks and 2 interceptions to that haul. He was at his best down the stretch, registering double-digit stops in 5 of the Vols last 6 contests, including a massive 14-tackle performance in Tennessee’s excellent win over a Top 25 Kentucky team.

Texas A&M: DeMarvin Leal, DL

Antonio Johnson, who graded out as one of the country’s top 5 corners, per Pro Football Focus, warranted consideration. The Aggies’ pass defense was special, after all. Johnson’s omission from the All-SEC first and second teams is a travesty.

That said, Leal is the MVP of this defense. A first-team AP-All American, Leal’s 8.5 sacks and 58 tackles are numbers comparable to Florida’s Zachary Carter. It’s Leal’s impact on opposing schemes, however, that separates him: Leal spent nearly half of his snaps facing double teams, per Stats Solutions, meaning on more than half of his downs on the field, his mere presence created numerical schematic advantages for his teammates.

That’s how you impact winning when every coordinator is aware of you good you are.

Vanderbilt: Anfernee Orji, Linebacker

It was a tough year for the Commodores, but Clark Lea found an anchor to build his defense around in junior linebacker Anfernee Orji. Lea moved him around in a number of different looks, and Orji delivered, collecting a team-high 93 tackles. Orji also led Vanderbilt with 13 tackles for loss and 22 quarterback pressures. He was voted the team’s most valuable player by his teammates at the end of the season.