Sporting News’ 2021 All-American team selection features nine first-team selections who will be playing in the College Football Playoff.
Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Bryce Young leads No. 1 Alabama’s four first-team selections. Receiver Jameson Williams, tackle Evan Neal and linebacker Will Anderson, Jr. also made the first team.
Georgia had three first-team selections, all on defense. Defensive tackle Jordan Davis, linebacker Nakobe Dean and safety Lewis Cine all made the first team.
Cincinnati (Ahmad Gardner) and Michigan (Aidan Hutchinson) were also honored on the first team.
The SEC led all conferences with 15 selections, followed by the Big Ten with nine. SN is one of five outlets used to determine consensus All-American status. With that in mind, our 2021 All-American Team.
QB: Bryce Young, Alabama
Young follows Tua Tagovailoa (2018) and Mac Jones (2020) as Alabama quarterbacks to win SN first-team All-American honors, and it’s well-deserved. The sophomore quarterback finished with 4,322 yards, 43 TDs and four interceptions and led the Crimson Tide back to the College Football Playoff. The 99-yard drive against Auburn and SEC championship game performance against Georgia sealed this honor.
MORE: Young wins Heisman in a landslide
RB: Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State
Walker was the breakout star for the Spartans from his first carry in the opener, which was a 75-yard touchdown against Northwestern. The Doak Walker Award winner led Michigan State with 1,636 yards and 18 TDs. Walker’s 197-yard, five-TD performance against Michigan was the most-memorable moment of a highlight-reel season.
RB: Breece Hall, Iowa State
Hall is a two-time, SN first-team All-American. The junior nearly replicated his sophomore season with 1,472 rushing yards and 20 rushing TDs, and he became more of a threat out of the backfield with 36 catches for 302 yards and three TDs. Consistent production has been Hall’s calling card for two seasons, and he scored at least one TD in every game this season.
WR: Jordan Addison, Pitt
The Biletnikoff Award winner teamed with quarterback Kenny Pickett to lead the Panthers to the ACC championship. Addison had 93 catches for 1,479 yards and 19 TDs. The 6-foot sophomore had at least five receptions in every game. Addison’s 202-yard, four-TD performance against Virginia was the best piece of a complete season.
WR: Jameson Williams, Alabama
Williams, an Ohio State transfer, became an instant-impact player in Alabama’s offense. He had 68 catches for 1,445 yards and 15 TDs, an average of 21.3 yards per catch. He also averaged 37.4 yards per punt return with a pair of TDs. Williams scored nine TDs in Alabama’s last five games, too. When the Crimson Tide needed a big play, Williams delivered.
TE: Trey McBride, Colorado State
McBride led all tight ends with 86 catches for 1,017 yards, which earned him the Mackey Award. That included five games with 100 yards or more. He caught 74.6% of his targets in the Rams’ offense in a fantastic senior season.
T: Evan Neal, Alabama
Neal was a SN Preseason All-American, and he made the move from right to left tackle with a smooth transition. He led the Crimson Tide with 30 knockdown blocks, and he played 857 snaps. Neal was consistent from start to finish and will be a key piece in Alabama’s College Football Playoff run.
G: Ikem Ekwonu, N.C. State
Ekwonu is another example of a versatile lineman who can dominate at either tackle or guard. He had a 91.6 rating on Pro Football Focus. The 6-4, 320-pound sophomore missed some time with a leg injury, but there is no question he belongs on this team.
C: Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa
Linderbaum won the Rimington Trophy, which is given to the best center in the FBS. There wasn’t much debate. Linderbaum’s grind-it-out-blocks went viral during several weeks of the season, and he’s a fundamental force in the interior for the Big Ten West champions.
G: Kenyon Green, Texas A&M
Green, a junior, is a two-time SN All-American. That’s an honor he earned by maintaining consistency for the Aggies. Green played four different positions on the offensive line this year, though he remains the best fit at guard. Green was the lead blocker for a rushing attack that averaged 5.3 yards per carry.
T: Charles Cross, Mississippi State
The 6-foot-5, 310-pound tackle is generating next-level buzz. Cross had the second-best pass-blocking ranking in the SEC at 86.2, and he’s improved in run blocking as a redshirt sophomore. Cross delivered on high expectations in Mississippi State’s pass-happy offense.
ATH: Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State
Vaughn averaged 144.1 yards from scrimmage per game for the Wildcats. He ranked second among all running backs with 47 receptions for 471 yards and three TDs. The 5-foot-6 sophomore averaged 6.6 yards per touch, and he closed the season with five straight games with 100 yards rushing or more.
DL: Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan
Hutchinson became the first Michigan player to win the Lombardi Award since LaMarr Woodley (2006). Hutchinson also was a Heisman Trophy finalist after a banner season in which he recorded a school-record 14 sacks. He was the game-wrecking force for a defense that allowed just 16.1 points per game and won the Big Ten championship. He also had a 94.7 rating according to Pro Football Focus.
DL: Jordan Davis, Georgia
Davis, the Bednarik Award and Outland Trophy winner, is the first of three Georgia players on our first-team defense. The 340-pound defensive tackle was the heart of a defense that allowed just 9.5 points per game this season. Davis had 28 tackles and two sacks, but his impact goes far beyond statistics. The ability to break through double teams and stuff the run made the Bulldogs’ defensive scheme go. Davis also scored a 1-yard TD run against Charleston Southern.
DL: DeMarvin Leal, Texas A&M
Leal played as advertised on the interior for the Aggies. He increased production across the board with 58 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Leal had two pass breakups on top of that. Leal played well in big games, too. He had a season-high seven tackles in the upset against No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 9.
EDGE: Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon
Thibodeaux had been a SN Preseason All-American the last two seasons, and he adds this honor to a prominent three-year career with the Ducks. Thibodeaux had seven sacks in 10 games off the edge, and he took over in victories against UCLA and Washington State. Thibodeaux also had a career-high 53 tackles in 2021.
LB: Will Anderson Jr., Alabama
Anderson won the Nagurski Award this season. Anderson put up numbers comparable to Crimson Tide legend Derrick Thomas in a remarkable season. Anderson has 15.5 sacks and 32.5 tackles for loss heading into the College Football Playoff, and he had 38 quarterback hurries. Anderson’s presence off the edge was felt in every game. The four-sack performance against Mississippi State on Oct. 16 started a streak of seven games with at least one sack per game.
LB: Nakobe Dean, Georgia
Dean won the Butkus Award, which is given to the nation’s top linebacker. He is a versatile force who can defend in all phases. Dean finished with 61 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss, but he also had five sacks and two interceptions. Dean’s 50-yard interception return for a TD against Florida was among the many highlights he provided this season.
LB: Devin Lloyd, Utah
Lloyd was a SN second-team All-American in 2020, but he turned up his game for the Pac-12 champions. Lloyd put together an impressive season that totaled 106 tackles and 22 tackles for loss, but he also had eight sacks, four interceptions and six pass breakups. He emerged as one of the most complete defensive players in the FBS.
CB: Riley Moss, Iowa
Moss missed three games because of injury, but he accomplished enough in 10 games for an Iowa defense that ranked second in the FBS with a +13 turnover margin. Moss made an opening statement with two pick sixes in the opener against Indiana, and he finished with four interceptions. Moss also excelled against the run with 33 solo tackles. Those efforts helped the Hawkeyes reach the Big Ten championship game.
CB: Ahmad Gardner, Cincinnati
“Sauce” already was a lock-down cornerback. He took on an expanded role for a Cincinnati defense that allowed just 16.1 points per game. Gardner had three interceptions, three sacks and four pass breakups for the Bearcats. Gardner was targeted just 36 times this season, and those receivers averaged 6.9 yards per catch. Now, we’ll see how he fares against Alabama in the College Football Playoff.
S: Verone McKinley III, Oregon
McKinley had a knack for making timely plays in the Ducks’ secondary. He finished with 71 tackles, but he led the team with six interceptions and six pass breakups. He had a key interception in the upset at Ohio State on Sept. 11 and had at least five tackles in eight Pac-12 games. That consistency made him an easy choice for our first team among a loaded class of FBS safeties.
S: Lewis Cine, Georgia
Cine is the third All-American off Georgia’s defense. He tied for the team lead in tackles with 61, and he had one interception and eight pass breakups. He played the most snaps this season for the Bulldogs’ dominant defense. He joins DeAndre Baker (2018) and J.R. Reed (2019) as first-team All-American defensive backs under Kirby Smart.
K: Harrison Mevis, Missouri
Mevis scored 100 points this season and connected on 90.9% of his field-goal attempts. The sophomore was consistent in long distance, too. He hit 11 of 13 between 40-49 yards and 3 of 3 from 50 yards or more. Mevis’ 56-yard field goal to force overtime against Boston College was one of the clutch plays of the year.
P: Matt Araiza, San Diego State
Araiza became a legitimate playmaker for the Aztecs because of his ability to flip the field. He averaged 51.4 yards per punt, and he has a chance to break the single-season record for punting yards with 180 yards in the Frisco Bowl. Araiza put 36 punts inside the 20 yard line.
RET: Marcus Jones, Houston
Jones emerged as a fantastic returner for the Cougars. He had a pair of kickoff returns for TDs and a pair of punt returns for TDs. He averaged 34.0 yards per kick return and 14.4 yards per punt return. On top of that, the cornerback had five interceptions.