2019 Preseason Award Projections: Lombardi Award

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2019 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 2020 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 most outstanding college football player. Last year’s winner was Oregon safety Ugo Amadi.

Lombardi Award Winner:

Chase Young, DE, Ohio State

The Lombardi Award has a wide range of eligible players, but prior to Bryce Love winning it in 2018, it had not gone to an offensive player since Orlando Pace in 1996. Thus, I’m going to lean toward the top defensive players as my candidates. The Lombardi Award has a preference for defensive tackles and linebackers with some defensive ends sprinkled in. Last year’s selection of a safety was a surprise, and it was mind-blowing that the Lombardi Award went to Amadi over players like Quinnen Williams, Josh Allen, Clelin Ferrell, Ed Oliver, Christian Wilkins, Devin White, Brian Burns and more. The Lombardi Award has recently gone to players who have produced big sack totals, so Young makes sense as a top candidate to win it this year.

With Nick Bosa injured for most of 2018, Young took over for the Buckeyes and led their edge rushing over his superb sophomore season. He recorded 34 tackles with 15.5 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, five passes broken up and two forced fumbles on the year. The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder is a quick edge rusher who has lot of athleticism and the upside to be even better as he gains experience. Young will see a lot of double teams and extra attention this fall, but he is good enough to overcome it and still produce a big year that yields a lot of postseason honors, including being a top contender for the Lombardi Award.

Lombardi Runner-Up:

Raekwon Davis, DT, Alabama

Three years ago, I picked Jonathan Allen to be the runner-up, so I was close to getting it right because he won the award after his phenomenal senior year. I could see Davis having a massive final year with the Crimson Tide.

Davis had a breakout 2017 campaign as the replacement for Allen. The sophomore formed a lethal interior with Da’Ron Payne and was Alabama’s most consistent pass-rusher. Davis totaled 8.5 sacks, 10 tackles for a loss, 69 tackles and one interception for the year. He came up with some big performances in the playoff games to help Alabama win another National Championship. As a junior, Davis was a tremendous run defender for the Crimson Tide, collecting 55 tackles with 5.5 for a loss and 1.5 sacks. His pass-rushing numbers fell with Quinnen Williams as Alabama’s feature rusher on the inside, but with Williams in the NFL, I could see Davis bouncing back with a bigger sack totals as a senior. The 6-foot-6, 315-pound Davis is a tough athlete with upside. With the good talent around him, he could produce another big season and have a real shot at winning a number of postseason honors, like the Lombardi Award.

Lombardi Dark Horse:

A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa

Over the past two seasons, Epenesa was a very good defender for the Hawkeyes. He flashed as a freshman in 2017, recording 4.5 sacks, 5.5 tackles for a loss, 15 tackles and one forced fumble. Epenesa showed that he was just scratching the surface, performing even better as a sophomore. He collected 10.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, four passes batted, 16.5 tackles for a loss and 37 tackles in 2018. The 6-foot-5, 277-pounder is one of the best edge defenders in college football, and if continues his upward trajectory, he could put together a huge junior year to be a top NFL prospect and earn a lot of postseason honors. Given the amount of double teams likely coming his direction in 2019 and playing in a running conference, I have Epenesa as more of a dark horse.

Honorable Mentions: Auburn DT Derrick Brown, LSU DT Rashard Lawrence, Penn State DT Robert Windsor, Michigan STate DT Naquan Jones and Florida DT Tedarrell Slaton.

Auburn DE Nick Coe, Penn State DE Yetur Gross-Matos, Alabama DE Terrell Lewis, Notre Dame DE Khalid Kareem, Utah DE Bradley Anae, Michigan State DE Kenny Willekes and Florida DE Jabari Zuniga.

Alabama LB Dylan Moses, Alabama LB Anfernee Jennings, Oregon LB Troy Dye, Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray, and Miami LB Shaq Quarterman.

Georgia OT Andrew Thomas, Stanford OT Walker Little, Washington OT Trey Adams and Tennessee OT Trey Smith.

Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor, Arizona State RB Eno Benjamin, Clemson RB Travis Etienne, Georgia RB D’Andre Swift, Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins, Mississippi State RB Kylin Hill and Alabama RB Najee Harris.