2014 Preseason Award Projections: Bednarik Award

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2014 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 May for the 2015 NFL Draft. We also will project the winners of the postseason awards that are given out to the best of college football.

The Chuck Bednarik Award is given to the best defensive player in college football. Last year’s winner was Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Bednarik Award Winner:

Randy Gregory, Nebraska

The Bednarik Award has a strong inclination to go with defenders in the middle of the defense as evidenced by 13 of the 19 winners having been linebackers. Only three defensive linemen have won the award: Julius Peppers (2001), Ndamukong Suh (2009) and Donald last year. Three defensive backs are the other winners with Charles Woodson and Patrick Peterson joining Tyrann Mathieu. A safety has never won the Bednarik Award. Thus, Gregory, a defensive end, is not a safe pick.

In 2012, Gregory was a junior college star and became one of the top junior college recruits in the nation. Initially Gregory was slated to go to Purdue, but it didn’t work out with the Boilermakers. Gregory landed at Nebraska and made an immediate impact for the Cornhuskers as one of the best pass rushers in the nation. In only 10 starts, he totaled 66 tackles with 19 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, one pass batted and an interception.

After a breakout 2013 season, Gregory won’t take anyone by surprise this season. However, he looks too physically dominant to be contained by Big Ten offensive tackles. The 6-foot-6, 255-pounder has great speed and agility to rush the passer.

Gregory will see tons of double-team attention in 2014, but Nebraksa will move him around to get good rushing opportunities. Also, he just overwhelms the opposition so he should be in line for another big sack total this fall. Gregory could be the best defensive player in college football, and thus, he’s my pick for the Bednarik Award.

Bednarik Award Runner-Up:

Vic Beasley, Clemson

Over the past two seasons, Beasley has been one of the most consistent pass-rushers in college football. The senior enters 2014 with over 20 sacks across the past two years. He has blinding speed off the edge to continue his torrid pace this year.

Beasley was a tremendous pass-rusher for Clemson in 2013 with 13 sacks. He also picked up 23 tackles for a loss, 41 tackles, six passes batted, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. The junior ended the season in impressive fashion as he outplayed South Carolina and Ohio State. As a sophomore, Beasley had 14 tackles with eight sacks and a forced fumble.

Beasley won’t be able to stay at defensive end in the NFL. However, he should produce one more big sack total as an end while overwhelming ACC offensive tackles. While Beasley is going to see a steady amount of double-teams, Clemson has other talent on the defensive line to help take the heat off of Beasley. Beasley is a well-known commodity entering his senior year, and that will help him to get postseason honors as long as he continues to produce.

Bednarik Award Dark Horse:

P.J. Williams, Florida State

The Seminoles are loaded on defense and in the secondary. The best of the bunch of Florida State’s star recruits could be Williams. The 6-foot, 190-pounder was excellent in 2013 in his first season as a starter. To finish the year, he was the Defensive MVP of the BCS National Championship Game as he had seven tackles and a critical fourth-quarter interception that helped spark Florida State’s comeback win.

Williams totaled 35 tackles with seven passes broken up and three interceptions for the season. He has the combination of size, speed and athletic ability to be an impact cornerback for the Seminoles.

With Lamarcus Joyner and Terrance Brooks in the NFL, Florida State needs Williams to be the team’s No. 1 cornerback. Against the ACC schedule, Williams should be able to take out a lot of No. 1 receivers he goes up against. Williams could produce a dominant season and has the potential to become a star.

Honorable Mentions: USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams, Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman, UCLA linebacker Erik Kendricks, Florida defensive end Dante Fowler, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, Alabama safety Landon Collins, Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt, Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond, Florida State defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr, Texas defensive end Cedric Reed, Ohio State’s Noah Spence, Michigan State’s Shilique Calhoun, Kentucky’s Alvin Dupree, Ole Miss’ Robert Nkemdiche, Stanford cornerback Alex Carter, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes.

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