2019 Preseason Award Projections: Nagurski 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 Bronco Nagurski Award is given to the best defensive player in college football. Last year’s winner was Kentucky linebacker Josh Allen.

Bronko Nagurski Award Winner:

Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma

The Nagurski Award has an inclination to go with linebackers and defensive linemen. Only two defensive backs have won the Award this century – Oklahoma safety Roy Williams in 2001 and Oklahoma cornerback Derrick Strait in 2003. 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 – and that trend will continue. Prior to Bradley Chubb, the last edge rusher to win the Nagurski Award was Da’Quan Bowers in 2010, so it is risky to take an edge rusher as well. The award has gone to linebackers in five of the past eight seasons. The Nagurski Award has avoided going to edge rushers, with superstars like Myles Garrett, Jadeveon Clowney, and Joey Bosa never winning the award. Thus, I decided not to go with edge-rusher candidates like Chase Young, Yetur Gross-Matos, Nick Coe and A.J. Epenesa.

Considering the Nagurski Award not only leans toward linebackers but ones with huge stat lines, Murray is an obvious choice. By looking at his stat line, Murray should be a favorite to win a lot of awards this fall, as he was a tackling machine for the Sooners in 2018. He was one of the nation’s leaders with 155 stops, which is an especially huge number considering he plays in a passing conference. Murray also added 12.5 tackles for a loss with two passes batted. If Murray can stay consistent with his 2018 production, he should have a lot of awards coming his direction at the end of 2019 and definitely could end up winning the Nagurski Award.

Bronko Nagurski Award Runner-Up:

Troy Dye, Oregon

Dye has been a good defender for the Ducks over the past three seasons. His 2018 season was his best, when he totaled 115 tackles with eight tackles for a loss, two sacks, one interception and eight passes defended. Dye has shown progress in pass coverage over his time at Oregon, and as a freshman, he had 91 tackles with 13 for a loss, 6.5 sacks and an interception. He had 107 tackles in 2017. Dye should be one of the top linebackers in college football as a senior, and if his tackle total increases, I could see him winning the Nagurski Award.

Bronko Nagurski Award Dark Horse:

Dylan Moses, Alabama

Alabama has been a factory for NFL linebackers under Nick Saban, and Moses should continue the tradition that has seen the likes of C.J. Mosley, Dont’a Hightower, Reggie Ragland, Reuben Foster and more. Moses flashed in 2018 with 86 tackles, 10 for a loss, 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one pass batted. He should take on a bigger role as a junior in 2019 with Mack Wilson in the NFL. Playing for Alabama should provide plenty of attention for Moses and land him a lot of postseason honors. However with all the talent on Alabama’s defense around him to eat up some stats and the fact that in many games their starters sit out a lot of the second half, Moses may not produce the tackle total necessary to win the Nagurski Award. However, it would’t be surprising if he ends up being a highly acclaimed star this fall, and he’s so good you can’t rule him out for the Nagurski Award.

Honorable Mentions: Ohio State DE Chase Young, Auburn DT Derrick Brown, Alabama DT Raekwon Davis, Penn State DE Yetur Gross-Matos, Auburn DE Nick Coe, Iowa DE A.J. Epensa, Northwestern LB Paddy Fisher, Utah State LB Tipa Galeai, Alabama LB Anfernee Jennings, Mississippi State LB Willie Gay Jr., Michigan LB Josh Uche, LSU LB Michael Divinity, Tennessee LB Darrell Taylor, Clemson S Isaiah Simmons, Florida CB C.J. Henderson, Alabama CB Trevon Diggs, Utah CB Jaylon Johnson, Mississippi State CB Cameron Dantzler, Alabama S Xavier McKinney, and Alabama CB/S Shyheim Carter.

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