2014 Preseason Award Projections: Nagurski Award

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2014 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 May for the 2015 NFL Draft. We also will project the winners of the postseason awards that are given out to the best of college football.

The Bronco Nagurski Award is given to the best defensive player in college football. Last year’s winner was Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

Bronko Nagurski Award Winner:

Randy Gregory, Nebraska

The Nagurski Award has an inclination to go with defensive linemen or linebackers. Gregory will play mostly defensive end, but Nebraska also moves him around and lines up as a linebacker. While Gregory won’t take anyone by surprise this season, he looks too physically dominant to be contained by Big Ten offensive tackles.

Initially, Gregory was slated to go to Purdue, but it didn’t work out with the Boilermakers, and Gregory became one of the most sought after junior college prospects in years. He then landed at Nebraska and made an impact player for the Cornhuskers as one of the best pass-rushers in the nation. In only 10 starts, Gregory totaled 66 tackles with 19 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, one pass batted and an interception.

Gregory will see tons of double-team attention in 2014, but Nebraksa will move him around to get good rushing opportunities. Also, he just overwhelms the opposition, so he should be in line for another big sack total this fall. Gregory looks like the best defensive player in college football, so winning the Nagurski Award in 2014 isn’t a stretch.

Bronko Nagurski Award Runner-Up:

Leonard Williams, USC

In 2012, Williams earned a starting spot as a freshman and took the Pac-12 by storm. The Daytona Beach, Florida product excelled for defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Williams recorded eight sacks, 64 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, four passes batted, an interception and two fumble recoveries in a fabulous freshman season.

Williams played well for USC in 2013. but the sophomore was banged up for part of the season. Williams recorded 74 tackles with 13.5 tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and five sacks. He generated more pass rush than the numbers indicate.

Williams missed spring ball after shoulder surgery and will need to be healthy to hold up against the steady amount of double-teams that are slated to come his direction in 2014. Still, the 6-foot-5, 290-pounder is very disruptive and capable of producing a huge season. Williams could end up winning the Nagurski Award with a dominant season for the Trojans.

Bronko Nagurski Award Dark Horse:

Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State

Calhoun was one of the breakout performers who led Michigan State to a Big Ten Championship and a win in the Rose Bowl. He was huge for the Spartans throughout the season and ended up as the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. In 2013, Calhoun recorded 37 tackles with 14 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception.

The 6-foot-4, 257-pounder has speed off the edge and is strong for his size. He should be in store for another good season leading Michigan State’s front seven.

Calhoun may not produce a huge sack total in 2014 as he will see plenty of double-teams come his direction. Plus, Calhoun plays in a running conference, so he will see fewer opportunities compared to other pass-rushers. Therefore, I have him behind Gregory and Williams.

Honorable Mentions: Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley, UCLA linebacker Erik Kendricks, Florida State defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr, Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams, Texas defensive end Cedric Reed, Florida defensive end Dante Fowler, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson, Florida State cornerback Ronald Darby, Alabama safety Landon Collins, Alabama defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt, Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson, Ohio State defensive ends Noah Spence and Joey Bosa.

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