Picture : Benjamin Mata scored more than 20 goals in 2023 !

2023, the most prolific year for defenders!

The year 2023 became the first year in football history with as many as 3 defenders to score 20+ top-level goals:       JamesTavernier (26), Benjamin Mata (21) and Ladislav Krejčí (20).

Only once before, in 1976, more than one defender reached that mark (Daniel Passarella 27, Nelinho 20).
The cases of maximum scoring performance of defenders in a calendar year are summarized in this ranking.
The record is still held by Daniel Passarella: just mentioned 27 goals in 1976. So, James Tavernier lacked only 1 goal to equal Passarella’s annual record. 
(Here we should mention that Fernando Hierro also once scored 27 goals in a calendar year, but this happened in 1992 when he was often used as a midfielder. Therefore, the Hierro achievement cannot be counted in this category).
Tavernier reached 20-goal annual mark for the 2nd time in his career and for the 2nd time in a row (2022, 2023) – just like Edgardo Bauza in 1980 and 1981.
Only Ronald Koeman achieved 20 annual goals more often (3 times), but unlike Bauza and Tavernier, he did not manage to do it twice in a row.

1Daniel Passarella CB1976Argentina River Plate 24 1227
2Ronald KoemanCB1987NetherlandsPSV2121226
3James TavernierRB2023EnglandRangers 2033 26
4Gabriel RB2005BrazilFluminense2031 24
5Edgardo Bauza CB1980Argentina Rosario Central23   23
6James TavernierRB2022EnglandRangers1129 22
7Ronald KoemanCB1989NetherlandsPSV, Barcelona1621322
8Ronald KoemanCB1994NetherlandsBarcelona14 5221
9Edgardo Bauza CB1981Argentina Rosario Central20 1 21
10Benjamin MataCB2023Cook IslandsWellington Olympic 1461 21
12Ladislav Krejčí CB2023CzechiaSparta Prague15 3220

A player was taken into account only if he featured as defender in vast majority of his games inside the year in consideration (regardless his positions in other years).
Tie-breakers: 1) more international goals (ICC + NT), 2) more national team goals (NT), 3) more national league goals (NL).