2017 Preseason Award Projections: Butkus 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 Butkus Award is given to the linebacker in college football. 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 with picking C.J. Mosley from Alabama. Two years ago, we predicted Scooby Wright, but injuries robbed him of the 2015 season and Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith, our prediction for runner-up, deservedly won the Butkus Award. Alabama’s Reuben Foster won the Butkus Award last year, and he had him in our Honorable Mentions category.

Butkus Award Winner:

Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

The Butkus Award favors linebackers with big production and 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 Edmunds 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 in 2017. When watching Virginia Tech last year, Edmunds was impossible to ignore as he was all over the field for the Hokies. He racked up 106 tackles with 18.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, three passes broken up, one forced fumble and one interception on 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 Butkus Award.

Butkus 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 aren’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 season in 2016 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 which eat up production as well. Thus, I have Baker as a runner-up, though he certainly a top contender to win the Butkus Award.

Butkus Dark Horse:

Micah Kiser, Virginia

Over the past two seasons, Kiser has been a tackling machine for Virginia. He had a breakout 2015 season as a sophomore, when he totaled 117 tackles with 7.5 sacks, 13 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and two passes broken up. In 2016, he managed to increase his tackle production to 134 stops, 10 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, seven passes broken up, five forced fumbles and an interception.

Kiser is a tough run defender who is strong, intelligent, instinctive, and physical in the tackle box. In the college game with a lot of rushing attacks, the senior should produce another big season to earn a lot of All-American and postseason honors. Tyler Matakevich won this award two years ago, and I could see Kiser having a similar season to win the Butkus Award.

Honorable Mentions: Texas’ Malik Jefferson, Iowa’s Josey Jewell, Clemson’s Kendall Joseph, Florida State’s Matthew Thomas, USC’s Cameron Smith, Alabama’s Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama’s Rashaan Evans, Wisconsin’s Jack Cichy, Washington’s Azeem Victor, Wisconsin’s T.J. Edwards, Baylor’s Taylor Young, Oklahoma State’s Chad Whitener, Notre Dame’s Nyles Morgan and Georgia’s Reggie Carter.

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