2016 Preseason Award Projections: Butkus 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 Butkus Award is given to the top linebacker in college football. Last year’s winner was Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley. Four years ago, we hit on our preseason projection of Manti Te’o winning the Butkus Award, but he was the obvious favorite entering the season. We made it two years in a row by picking C.J. Mosley from Alabama for 2014. Last year, WalterFootball.com predicted Scooby Wright, but injuries robbed him of the 2015 season and Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith deservedly won the Butkus Award. Smith was our prediction for runner-up.

Butkus Award Winner:

Anthony Walker, Northwestern

The Butkus Award likes linebackers with big production and favors run-stuffing linebackers. In the past decade, only Von Miller in 2010, won the award as a pass-rushing outside linebacker. Thus, I will stick with the interior linebackers as the top candidates to consider.

With that in mind, I think Walker could be poised for a huge 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 help him 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 Butkus Award.

Butkus Runner-Up:

Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State

McMillan played really well in 2015, totaling 119 tackles with 1.5 sacks and four passes broken up on the year. The junior 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 coming season. Plus, Ohio State lost defensive lineman like Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington who made tackles against the run as well. McMillan could produce a huge 2016 season and could easily be the winner of the Butkus Award.

Butkus Dark Horse:

Jarrad Davis, Florida

Even with high-profile players like Vernon Hargreaves III, Jonathan Bullard, Antonio Morrison, Keanu Neal, and Jalen Tabor on the defense last year, Davis was perhaps Florida’s most impressive defender. He was all over the field and finished the season in tremendous fashion against Florida State and Alabama. For 2015, Bullard totaled 94 tackles with 11 tackles for a loss, four passes broken up, an interception and 3.5 sacks. He really was a huge presence late in the year, and he could be even better now that he has a season of starting experience. Davis plays in a running conference, but there is a lot of talent around him, so I don’t think his stat line will be as big as Walker’s. Thus, I have Davis as the runner-up, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he won the Butkus Award.

Honorable Mentions: Tennessee’s Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Alabama’s Reuben Foster, LSU’s Kendell Beckwith, Iowa’s Josey Jewell, TCU’s Josh Carraway, Baylor’s Taylor Young, Clemson’s Ben Boulware, Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham, Mississippi State’s Richie Brown, Michigan’s Riley Bullough, Louisville’s Keith Kelsey and Illinois’ Hardy Nickerson.

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