2013 Preseason Award Projections: Hendricks Award

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2013 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 this coming fall’s stars could be the headline players next April for the 2014 NFL Draft. We also will project the winners of the postseason awards that are given out to the best of college football.

The Ted Hendricks Award is given to the best defensive end in college football. Last year’s winner was South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

Hendricks Award Winner:

Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

It is rare for underclassmen to win these awards, but I correctly predicted this award a year ago when I went with Clowney. I wrote this last summer: “Clowney looks like he will be such a dominant force that I think he will be the best defensive end in college football next season.” That was proven true as Clowney dominated the SEC and finished third in the nation in sacks.

Clowney was one of college football’s best players in 2012. He amassed 54 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles, two passes batted and 13 sacks. The sophomore finished sixth for the Heisman Trophy. Clowney was an overwhelming force at the point of attack throughout the season. He destroyed offensive game plans and mandated double-team blocking all year long.

After being the No. 1 recruit in the nation out of high school, Clowney took the SEC by storm in 2011. He was the SEC Freshman of the Year and a Second-Team All-SEC selection. The freshman totaled 36 tackles with eight sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles.

The Gamecocks have a tough 2013 schedule and Clowney will see some quality left tackles in North Carolina’s James Hurst, Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson and Florida’s D.J. Humphries. Clowney could see more single blocks when going against those linemen.

The 6-foot-6, 272-pounder is a complete player who is a good run-defender while being a monster pass-rusher. Clowney has a rare skill set with elite speed, strength and athleticism. He has incredible explosion off the snap. Clowney is lightning fast coming off the edge and has natural power to shed blocks, too. He already has a developed arsenal of pass-rushing moves.

There is a lot of great competition for this award. Choosing Clowney over some other defensive ends is still risky when you consider that Clowney could easily see his production decline from all the double- and triple-teams he’ll be seeing this season. Still, the junior is probably the most physically gifted player in college football. A dominant season seems during which Clowney proves once again to be the best end in the nation seems likely.

Hendricks Award Runner-Up:

Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame

Like Clowney, Tuitt had a massive 2012 season and figures to see frequent double-teams this fall. However, Tuitt probably has a better supporting than Clowney. Notre Dame has a dominant tackle, Louis Nix, next to Tuitt. On the other side, the Fighting Irish have a quality edge-rusher in linebacker Prince Shembo as well as a promising sophomore defensive end in Sheldon Day. Those rushers could be enough to help keep double-teams off of Tuitt this fall.

Tuitt was one of the breakout stars who helped lead Notre Dame to last season’s National Championship game. The sophomore was a dominant force for the Fighting Irish with his combination of power and surprising quickness. He recorded 12 sacks, 47 tackles, three forced fumbles, one pass break up and a 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Navy. Manti Te’o received all the headlines last year, but Tuitt and Nix were phenomenal for the Fighting Irish. Like the rest of the Notre Dame defense, Tuitt had a disappointing performance to end the season against Alabama. However, the sohomore played through a sports hernia in the final two games and that seemed to limit his pass-rush explosiveness.

Tuitt should see some good offensive tackles in 2013. The junior has an early season matchup against Taylor Lewan of Michigan in Week 2, and if Tuitt has a big game against Lewan, it could jump start Tuitt’s national profile. He will take on Stanford and promising young left tackle Andrus Peat late in the season.

With Tuitt’s solid supporting cast, there is no reason to think that the junior should have a significant decline this season. He could be even better now that he has a year of experience. The 6-foot-6, 303-pounder has a rare combination of quickness, size and strength. Tuitt is probably the most likely end to beat out Clowney for the Hendricks Award.

Hendricks Award Dark Horse:

Aaron Lynch, South Florida

As a freshman at Notre Dame in 2011, Lynch looked like he was going to become something special. The 6-foot-6, 262-pounder had a developed body with an impressive combination of speed and strength. He recorded 33 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Lynch looked like he was just scratching the surface of his talent.

Lynch left the Fighting Irish program due to homesickness for Florida and landed with the Bulls. He was forced to sit out the 2012 season, but there is a lot of excitement for Lynch at South Florida. The Big East is a weak conference and Lynch could dominate it this fall. With his elite skill set against pedestrian offensive tackles, he could have a breakout year and be a surprising contender for the Hendricks Award.

Honorable Mentions: Stanford defensive end Trent Murphy, TCU defensive end Devonte Fields, Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton, Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, Georgia Tech defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu, Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner, Florida defensive end Dominique Easley, Florida defensive end Dante Fowler, USC defensive end Morgan Breslin, North Carolina defensive end Kareem Martin, Missouri defensive end Kony Ealy, Alabama defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan and Alabama defensive end Ed Stinson.

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