2017 Preseason Award Projections: Bednarik Award

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2017 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 2018 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 Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen.

Bednarik Award Winner:

Da’Ron Payne, Alabama

The Bednarik Award has a strong inclination to go those who play in the middle of the defense as evidenced by 15 of the 22 winners having been linebackers. Only four defensive linemen have won the award, Julius Peppers (2001), Ndamukong Suh (2009), Aaron Donald (2013) and Jonathan Allen 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.

Payne was one of the teammates who helped Allen win the Bednarik Award last year. Sources say that Payne did a tremendous job of contributing to sacks for Allen, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson. Scouts who have looked ahead to the 2018 class have raved about Payne’s potential. Coming from Alabama, it isn’t a stretch, as Payne could take on the lead role for the Crimson Tide with Allen moving on to the NFL.

Payne is a run plugger with a lot of potential to grow. He totaled 36 tackles with 3.5 for a loss, 1.5 sacks and one pass broken up last season, but should see more pass-rushing opportunities in 2017 due to the departures of Allen, Williams and Anderson. Payne has the tremendous skill set of size, speed, and athleticism to potentially receive a lot of attention as Alabama’s top defensive lineman. I think Payne is poised for a big season that will include a lot of postseason accolades, including a serious shot at winning the Chuck Bednarik Award.

Bednarik Award Runner-Up:

Jerome Baker, Ohio State

There has been a lot of media hype about Baker, but in speaking with scouts who did advance work on the 2018 class, they weren’t impressed with Baker. They said that Baker runs around more blocks than he takes on and has the speed to get away with that against average offensive lines in college. Fortunately for Baker and Ohio State, he will be able to continue to get away with that in 2017, but that could catch up to him in the NFL.

Baker had a quality debut with 83 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, and two interceptions. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder could produce a big season now that he has a year of experience. There is a lot of talent around Baker, however, that will eat up production as well. Thus, I have Baker as a runner-up, but he is a top contender to win the Bednarik Award.

Bednarik Award Dark Horse:

Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

When watching Virginia Tech last year, Edmunds was impossible to ignore as he was all over the field for the Hokies. He totaled 106 tackles with 18.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, three passes broken up, one forced fumble and one interception for the year. Edmunds is a quick, instinctive linebacker with good length. He is capable of producing a huge season for Virginia Tech and earning a lot of postseason honors like the Bednarik Award.

Honorable Mentions: LSU DE Arden Key, Kansas DE Dorance Armstrong Jr., Boston College DE Harold Landry, N.C. State DE Bradley Chubb, Virginia DE Andrew Brown, Florida State DE Josh Sweat, Georgia DT Trenton Thompson, Houston DT Ed Oliver, Clemson DT Dexter Lawrence, Clemson DT Christian Wilkins, Ohio State DT Dre’Mont Jones, Auburn DT Dontavius Russell, Texas ILB Malik Jefferson, Virginia ILB Micah Kiser, Iowa ILB Josey Jewell, Louisville OLB James Hearns, Florida State OLB Matthew Thomas, Ole Miss OLB Marquis Haynes, Oklahoma OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, and Clemson ILB Kendall Joseph.