2016 Preseason Award Projections: Nagurski 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 Bronko Nagurski Award is given to the best defensive player in college football. Last year’s winner was Temple linebacker Tyler Matakevich.

Bronko Nagurski Award Winner:

Jarrad Davis, Florida

The Nagurski Award has an inclination to go with linebackers and defensive linemen. Only one defensive back has won the award this century – Oklahoma safety Roy Williams in 2001. Thus, I won’t be picking any defensive backs in these three slots. It also has been 20 years since a player won it in back-to-back seasons – Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald. The Nagurski Award has gone to linebackers in four of the past five seasons, so I will stick with that trend.

If you watched the Gators last year, Davis leapt out at you and was maybe the most impressive player on their defense even with a ton of future draft picks around him. In watching the defensive prospects this preseason, Davis and Myles Garrett are the most impressive to me. Given that a lot of these awards favor linebackers, I think Davis has a shot to bring home some accolades for his senior season.

In 2015, Davis totaled 98 tackles with 11 tackles for a loss, four passes broken up, an interception and 3.5 sacks. The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder is fast, physical and instinctive. With the likes of Antonio Morrison, Jonathan Bullard, Keanu Neal, and Vernon Hargreaves III all in the NFL, it wouldn’t be surprising if Davis’ numbers leap in his second year as a starter. With a year of starting experience under his belt, Davis could be poised for a massive season. He could produce a huge year and add another linebacker to win the Nagurski Award.

Bronko Nagurski Award Runner-Up:

Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State

McMillan played really well in 2015. He totaled 119 tackles with 1.5 sacks and four passes broken up on the year. McMillan 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 season. Plus, Ohio State lost defensive lineman like Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington, who were made tackles against the run as well. McMillan could produce a huge 2016 season, and he looks like a strong candidate to win the Nagurski Award.

Bronko Nagurski Award Dark Horse:

Myles Garrett, Texas A&M

The Nagurski Award displays a slight lean toward linebackers, making even a superstar defensive lineman into a dark horse. Garrett became a phenom quickly during his freshman season for the Aggies. Instantly, he started to dominate the best conference in college football. Garrett broke the NCAA freshman sack record previously set by Jadeveon Clowney with 11.5 sacks. Garrett also had 53 tackles and 14 for a loss that season. As a sophomore in 2015, Garrett took his game to another level. Even with teams sending extra blocking his direction, he continued to overwhelm the opposition. On the year, Garrett had 59 tackles with 12.5 sacks, 19.5 tackles for a loss, five forced fumbles, two passes batted and an interception. He was utterly unblockable in many games. Even though he has seen double teams, Garrett is too talented to be held in check as he is extremely fast and freakishly athletic.

Don’t be surprised if Garrett has a massive 2016 season even though teams will be selling out to stop him and he will see steady double teams. He is just that much better than the competition. I think Garrett will get close enough to, if not reach, double-digit sacks and bring home a lot of postseason hardware. The Nagurski Award could be one of those accolades.

Honorable Mentions: Michigan State DT Malik McDowell, Tennessee LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Northwestern LB Anthony Walker, Mississippi State LB Richie Brown, Stanford LB Peter Kalambayi, LSU DT Davon Godchaux, LSU DE Lewis Neal, Michigan State DT Malik McDowell, Florida Atlantic DL Trey Hendrickson, Auburn DE Carl Lawson, Florida DE Bryan Cox Jr., Texas A&M DE Daeshon Hall, Alabama DL Jonathan Allen, Alabama LB Tim Williams, Alabama LB Rueben Foster, Louisville DE Devonte Fields, Missouri DE Charles Harris, Oklahoma DL Charles Walker, Michigan DL Chris Wormley, Auburn DT Montravius Adams, Clemson DT Carlos Watkins, Florida DT Caleb Brantley and Tennessee DE Derek Barnett.

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