2016 Preseason Award Projections: Bednarik Award

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2016 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 2017 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 Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich.

Bednarik Award Winner:

Anthony Walker, Northwestern

The Bednarik Award has a strong inclination to go with defenders from the middle of the defense as evidenced by 15 of the 21 winners having been linebackers. Only three defensive linemen have won the award, Julius Peppers (2001), Ndamukong Suh (2009) and Donald (2013). 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, selecting Walker is not going out on a limb.

I think Walker could be poised for a huge 2016 season. He is the best player on his team, and I see him using his speed to get to the ball and make a ton of plays this year. In 2015, Walker totaled 122 tackles with 20.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, four passes batted, one forced fumble and one interception.

Walker doesn’t have a lot of talent around him so he will probably beat his teammates to the ball constantly. The Big Ten is a running conference so Walker will see plenty of ground-based offenses to rack up a big tackle total. Plus, he is a good pass defender, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he has good stats to help him with splash plays.

Walker has instincts and always seems to be around the ball. I think he’s poised for a big season that will include a lot of postseason accolades with a serious shot at winning the Chuck Bednarik Award winner.

Bednarik Award Runner-Up:

Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State

McMillan played really well in 2015. He totaled 119 tackles with 1.5 sacks and four passes broken up on the year. McMillan is a physical, tough defender at the point of attack. As a freshman in 2014, he played a lot for Ohio State and totaled 54 tackles with 2.5 sacks and a pick-six. With Darron Lee, Von Bell and Tyvis Powell in the NFL, it wouldn’t surprise me if McMillan has an even bigger tackle total this season. Plus, Ohio State has lost defensive linemen like Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington who were made tackles against the run as well. McMillan could produce a huge 2016 season and could easily be the winner of the Butkus Award.

Bednarik Award Dark Horse:

Myles Garrett, Texas A&M

I personally think that Garrett got robbed of a lot of postseason awards last season. Some linebackers like Matakevich had bigger stat lines, but in my opinion, the best defensive player in college football last season was Garrett. Even with teams sending extra blocking his direction, he continued to overwhelm the opposition. In 2015, he had 59 tackles with 12.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for a loss, five forced fumbles, two passes batted and an interception. Garrett was utterly unblockable in many games.

Instantly, Garrett started to dominate the best conference in college football. He broke the NCAA freshman sack record previously set by Jadeveon Clowney with 11.5 sacks. Garrett also had 53 tackles and 14 for a loss.

Even though he sees double teams, Garrett is too talented to be held in check, and I think he will produce his third straight big season. Starring another season for Texas A&M will get Garrett plenty of notice, and he could make a strong case for this year’s Bednarik Award.

Honorable Mentions: Florida LB Jarrad Davis, Tennessee LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Alabama LB Reuben Foster, LSU LB Kendell Beckwith, Iowa LB Josey Jewell, TCU LB Josh Carraway, Alabama LB Tim Williams, Missouri DE Charles Harris, Tennessee DE Derek Barnett, Auburn DE Carl Lawson, Alabama DT Jonathan Allen, Michigan DL Chris Wormley, LSU S Jamal Adams, Alabama S Eddie Jackson, Michigan S Jabrill Peppers, Iowa CB Desmond King and Florida CB Jalen Tabor.

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