Heading into the 2012 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation's leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and the next fall's stars could be the headline players next April for the 2013 NFL Draft. We also will project the winners of the postseason awards that are given out to the best of college football.
The Hendricks Award is given to the best defensive end in college football. Last year's winner was Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus.
Hendricks Award Winner:
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina
It is rare for underclassmen to win these awards, but Clowney looks like he will be such a dominant force that I think he will be the best defensive end in college football in 2012. After being the No. 1 recruit in the nation out of high school, Clowney took the SEC by storm in 2011. He was the SEC Freshman of the Year and a Second-Team All-SEC selection.
Clowney totaled 36 tackles, eight sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles in his first collegiate season. He should be even better now that he has a year of experience.
Even though Clowney plays in the best conference in the nation, he has a workable schedule and doesn't see many elite left tackles. His best test will come in mid-October when South Carolina takes on LSU. The entire NFL scouting community will be watching the matchup between Clowney and Tigers left tackle Chris Faulk.
Clowney should have good pass-rushing opportunities when he takes on passing offenses such as Vanderbilt, Georgia, Tennessee and Arkansas. It wouldn't be surprising if the sophomore produces a sack total in the 13-16 range this season.
Clowney is a physical freak; he's 6-foot-6, 256-pounds, but still has fabulous speed to turn the corner. The scary part is the Clowney is still developing his body, so he's just scratching the surface of his capabilities. Besides being very fast, Clowney has some strength and physicality to his game that should only get better as he fills out his frame.
Clowney has the skill set to be a dominant player in college football. From day one last year, there was no left tackle who the true freshman couldn't compete with. He had a good game early in the 2011 season against Georgia's Cordy Glenn, one of the top tackles in the conference.
There is a lot of great competition for this award. Choosing Clowney over some highly-touted upperclassmen is risky, but he is in the running as one of the most physically-gifted players in college football. A dominant season seems where he proves to be the best end in the nation seems likely.
Hendricks Award Runner-Up:
Barkevious Mingo, LSU
Even though Sam Montgomery led the Tigers in sacks last year, the team's most disruptive pass-rusher was Mingo. The redshirt sophomore initiated many big plays for the Tigers defense in 2011; more than his stats indicate. He has blinding speed off the edge and is one of the most fierce pass-rushers in college football.
Mingo totaled 46 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, eight sacks and a forced fumble last season. He put a ton of pressure on the quarterback and was a Second-Team All-SEC selection. Mingo was absolutely dominant against Auburn and played well versus Arkansas and Georgia. However, he was held in check by offensive tackles Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker in both two games against Alabama.
Mingo (6-5, 240) is a fabulous athlete and a pure speed-rusher. He has a fabulous burst off the snap and a lot of untapped potential. There are many reasons Mingo should be as good, or even better, in 2012. With a year of starting experience against elite competition, he should be able to use that knowledge to his advantage. ,Br>
LSU has a tremendous supporting cast on the defensive line with fellow end Montgomery and defensive tackle Bennie Logan. Mingo should see plenty of good pass-rushing opportunities. The Tigers also have a talented secondary that can force quarterbacks to hold onto the ball longer than they would like.
There is no doubt that Mingo will see a challenging schedule of offensive tackles in 2012. Alabama will provide another tough matchup, but a great test will come in the form of new conference foe Texas A&M. Offensive tackles Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews both could be future first-round picks, so that game should provide a great gauge for the offensive tackles and defensive ends. Mingo also gets excellent preparation by going against his teammate offensive tackles Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst on a daily basis.
With his phenomenal skill set, Mingo is very capable of a massive season to win the Hendricks Award as the top end in college football.
Hendricks Award Dark Horse:
Brandon Jenkins, Florida State
There are so many deserving candidates for the final spot. The Hendricks Award leans heavily towards defensive ends who produce big sack totals, as it should. Of the remaining defensive ends, Jenkins has shown the ability to generate the most sacks in a single season. He tied for third in the nation in 2010, producing 13.5 sacks as a sophomore. If Jenkins gets back to those numbers as a senior, he could easily bring home the Hendricks Award.
An eight-sack season is something to be proud of for many defensive ends, but for Jenkins that is was a down year. The Seminoles speed-rusher was somewhat disappointing as a junior. He started the season slowly, facing a plethora of double teams. Jenkins had two sacks in the first six games before heating up down the stretch. He had six sacks in the final seven games, as well as a number of pressures on the quarterback. Jenkins totaled 41 tackles with 12 tackles for a loss in 2011.
The attention that the junior demanded helped defensive end Bjourn Werner enjoy a breakout season. As noted before, Jenkins notched 13.5 sacks in 2010 but also producred 21.5 tackles for a loss, 63 tackles and two forced fumbles. He had five multi-sack games and was voted the team's MVP.
Jenkins (6-3, 265) is a speedy edge-rusher who has developed some pass-rushing moves. With his experience, supporting cast and skill set there is no reason to think that he won't have a good senior season. Jenkins has shown the ability to be massively productive, and if he is among the nation's leaders in sacks this year, he could be the Hendricks Award winner.
Honorable Mentions: LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery, Auburn defensive end Corey Lemonier, TCU defensive end Stansly Maponga, Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas defensive end Alex Okafor, Florida State defensive end Bjourn Werner, Michigan State defensive end William Gholston, USC defensive end Wes Horton, SMU defensive end Margus Hunt, Virginia Tech James Gayle, Pittsburgh defensive end Aaron Donald, Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan, North Carolina defensive end Kareem Martin, Ohio State defensive end John Simon and Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore.