2013 Preseason Award Projections: Lott IMPACT Trophy

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 Lott IMPACT Trophy is given to the top Defensive Impact Player of the Year in college football. Last year’s winner was Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.

Lott IMPACT Trophy Winner:

Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

I had Te’o (the actual winner) as the runner-up to Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei last year. I could be making the same mistake in 2013, too. Clowney should impact coaches’ game plans more than any other player in college football this season. However, all the double- and triple-teams that will be sent his direction could cause his numbers to decline and lead to another player getting the Lott IMPACT Trophy due to having a bigger stat line. However, I’ll stay true to the award’s description and predict Clowney wins the Lott IMPACT Trophy.

Clowney was one of the best players in college football last year. 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-teams all year long.

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. He has a rare skill set with elite speed, strength and athleticism. Clowney has incredible explosion off the snap. He is lightning fast coming off the edge and has natural power to shed blocks. The junior has already developed an arsenal of pass-rushing moves.

Even if Clowney’s numbers decrease from all the extra blocking potential, he still could provide the biggest impact of any defensive player in the nation. It is impossible to pick another defender over him.

Lott IMPACT Trophy Runner-Up:

C.J. Mosley, Alabama

This was a tough call between UCLA’s Anthony Barr, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy and Alabama’s C.J. Mosley. I went with Mosley because I think he has the best shot of maintaing his production from last season. Teams will try to take away impact plays from Barr and Van Noy and each figures to see double-teams constantly.

Te’o was a high-profile player and Mosley is the same. He is the leader of the defense of the most high-profile program in the nation. Mosley has been a play-maker who has helped Alabama win two straight National Championships and already is well known after being the most consistent weapon on the team’s defense in last year.

Mosley was the leader of the stop unit in 2012. He led the team with 107 tackles. The junior also notched two interceptions, four sacks, eight tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and two passes broken up. While many Alabama defenders struggled with Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, Mosley played extremely well with 14 tackles and a sack. He also had big games against Michigan, Tennessee, Missouri and Ole Miss. Mosley was a consensus First-Team All-American and All-SEC selection.

Mosley split a starting role with Nico Johnson in 2011; Mosley was used more in pass defense with Johnson serving as a run-defender next to Hightower. Mosley missed two games with a dislocated elbow, but was still a valuable contributor. The sophomore totaled 37 tackles with 4.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and an interception. Mosley was injured again in the National Championship after he intercepted a pass from Jordan Jefferson. Mosley dislocated his hip on the tackle by Jefferson, but was fine for the start of the 2012 season.

There is no reason to think that Mosley’s production will fall off this year provided he stays healthy. Alabama has good talent around him, so he shouldn’t be put in a position of trying to make every play for his defense. The Crimson Tide coaching staff also has done a great job of putting Mosley in position to succeed. The senior has excellent instincts and is a well-rounded player. Mosley (6-2, 234) is tough against the run and superb in pass defense. He could have a huge senior season like Te’o did last year.

Lott IMPACT Trophy Dark Horse:

HaHa Clinton-Dix, Alabama

For the darkhorse, I want to be bold and go with a defender in the secondary. The Lott IMPACT Trophy has only once been awarded to a defensive back, California’s Dante Hughes in 2006. My top defensive back candidates were Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby, Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy and HaHa Clinton-Dix. I chose Clinton-Dix because it seems that the trophy named after Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott is long overdue to be given to a safety.

With Mark Barron having left Alabama for the NFL, Clinton-Dix had a breakout season in 2012 as a platoon player with Vinnie Sunseri. Clinton-Dix totaled 37 tackles with five interceptions, four passes broken up and a forced fumble. The sophomore was very good in pass coverage as a deep defender and roving free safety. He covered a lot of ground, defended big receivers and demonstrated ball skills. As the replacement for Robert Lester, Clinton-Dix is expected to be the difference-maker in the Alabama secondary this year.

The 6-foot-1, 209-pounder could be poised for a huge season. I think Clinton-Dix has the ability to break through and win the Lott IMPACT Trophy for a safety.

Honorable Mentions: UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton, BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy, Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix, Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt, Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, TCU defensive end Devonte Fields, Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, Florida defensive end Dominique Easley, South Florida defensive end Aaron Lynch, LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton, Boise State defensive end Demarcus Lawrence, Stanford defensive end Trent Murphy, Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby, Florida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, TCU cornerback Jason Verrett, Georgia cornerback Damien Swann, Vanderbilt safety Kenny Ladler, Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson, Florida State linebacker Christian Jones, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, Alabama linebacker Adrian Hubbard, Western Kentucky linebacker Andrew Jackson, UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks, Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov, Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough, Florida linebacker Ron Powell, Iowa linebacker James Morris, Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens, Alabama linebacker Trey DePriest, Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson, Florida State safety Lamarcus Joyner, Florida cornerback Marcus Roberson, Stanford safety Ed Reynolds, Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, LSU safety Craig Loston, North Carolina defensive back Tre Boston and Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman.

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