2017 Preseason Award Projections: Lombardi 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 Lombardi Award is given to the top offensive lineman, defensive lineman, tight end or linebacker in college football. Last year’s winner was Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen.

Lombardi Award Winner:

Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson

The Lombardi Award considers a wide range of eligible players, but the honor hasn’t gone to an offensive player since Orlando Pace in 1996. Pace was also the last player to win the award in back-to-back seasons. The selection committee has been inclined to go toward defensive tackles and linebackers more than defensive ends. Thus, I’m going to go with a defensive tackle even though I think LSU defensive end Arden Key could be college football’s top defensive player in 2017.

The 6-foot-5, 340-pound Lawrence put together a tremendous freshman season that helped Clemson win the National Championship. NFL sources have already raved about Lawrence, who was impossible to ignore last year. Lawrence was an All-Freshman selection all over the nation last year while also being the ACC Rookie of the Year. On the year, he totaled 63 tackles with 9.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks and a pass batted. Considering the other good talent around him and that he now has a year of experience, Lawrence could dominate in 2017. I think the sophomore could be in store for a monster season and end up winning awards like the Lombardi Award.

Lombardi Runner-Up:

Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama

I picked Jonathan Allen to be the runner-up last year, so I was close to getting it right. This year, I will stick with Alabama, which has another special interior defensive lineman with Da’Ron Payne. Scouts who have looked ahead to the 2018 class have raved about Payne’s potential. Coming from Alabama, it isn’t a stretch that Payne could take on the lead role for his defense with Jonathan Allen moving on to the NFL. Payne is a run plugger with a lot of potential to grow. In 2016, he totaled 36 tackles with 3.5 for a loss, 1.5 sacks and one pass broken up. Sources say that Payne helped create sacks for Allen, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson with his ability to collapse the pocket. Payne should see more pass-rushing opportunities in 2017 with that trio in the NFL. Given his tremendous skill set of size, speed and athleticism, Payne could be poised for a huge junior season that lands him with a lot of postseason accolades. If the Crimson Tide put Payne into a lot of good pass-rushing opportunities, it wouldn’t be surprising if he has a significant sack total and is a true challenger for the Lombardi Award.

Lombardi Dark Horse:

Ed Oliver, DT, Houston

Oliver dominated at the point of attack as a freshman, starting with his debut game against Oklahoma. He overwhelmed offensive linemen throughout 2016 with his quickness, athletic ability, and physicality. On the year, Oliver totaled 66 tackles with 22.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles and nine passes batted. The 6-foot-2, 290-pounder is going to see a ton of double teams for the rest of his college career, but Oliver is good enough to produce even with the extra attention. Without as much talent around him, however, Oliver might not demonstrate the production of players like Lawrence and Payne, who have other first-rounders playing around them. Oliver and Lawrence look like future top-five picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. Oliver is definitely in the running for the Lombardi Award.

Honorable Mentions: Georgia DT Trenton Thompson, Clemson DT Christian Wilkins, Washington DT Vita Vea, Ohio State DT Dre’Mont Jones, Auburn DT Dontavius Russell, Florida State DT Derrick Nnadi, Utah DT Lowell Lotulelei, Michigan DT Maurice Hurst, Texas A&M DT Daylon Mack, Notre Dame DT Jerry Tilery and Tennessee DT Kahlil McKenzie Jr.

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, Wake Forest DE Duke Ejiofor, Missouri DE Marcell Frazier, Ohio State DE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State DE Tyquan Lewis and Clemson DE Clelin Ferrell.

Ohio State LB Jerome Baker, Texas LB Malik Jefferson, Virginia LB Micah Kizer, Iowa LB Josey Jewell, Clemson LB Kendall Joseph, Florida State LB Matthew Thomas, USC LB Cameron Smith, Alabama LB Shaun Dion Hamilton and Alabama LB Rashaan Evans.

Washington OT Trey Adams, Notre Dame OT Mike McGlinchey and Texas OT Connor Williams.