2014 Preseason Award Projections: Thorpe 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 this coming 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 Jim Thorpe Award is given to the top defensive back in college football. Last year, the Thorpe Award went to Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard who was an honorable mention in our preseason projection.

Thorpe Award Winner:

Trae Waynes, Michigan State

I think Michigan State has a good shot of repeating with the Thorpe winner. The Spartans’ defense is widely respected and well known after the team’s amazing 2013 season. Waynes was an integral part of thaat defense and played really well to close out the season with wins over Ohio State and Stanford.

While Dennard received all the headlines in 2013, Waynes also turned in an excellent season for the Spartans. The sophomore was an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick by the coaches and media. He totaled 50 tackles with five deflections and three interceptions.

There are a number of reasons why the Kenosha, Wisconsin product Waynes could win the Thorpe Award. First, his schedule features some good receivers, but not a lot of elite ones. Even when he gets a challenging matchup like Marylands’ Stefon Diggs, the Spartans have excellent safeties to provide help. Safety Kurtis Drummond is also a Thorpe Award candidate, however this award seems to prefer cornerbacks. Thus, Waynes is my pick for 2014.

Thorpe Runner-Up:

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon

It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Ekpre-Olomu wins the Thorpe Award. However, he has a harder schedule than Waynes faces. I think Ekpre-Olomu will play well against the good receivers he goes up against, but it only takes a few plays to help give the nod to someone else.

Ekpre-Olomu had a strong 2013 overall. Late in the regular season, the junior was phenomenal against Oregon State and wide receiver Brandin Cooks. Ekpre-Olomu had some rough moments in coverage against Colorado (Paul Richardson), but he had a number of impressive games. Ekpre-Olomu had 78 tackles, three interceptions, six passes broken up and one forced fumble for the year.

In 2012, Ekpre-Olomu totaled 63 tackles with four interceptions, six forced fumbles and 16 passes defensed. The sophomore showed good instincts, ball skills and coverage ability. Against USC and star receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, Ekpre-Olomu had some good and bad moments.

The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder is battle tested, plus Oregon is comfortable to count on him to provide tight coverage against elite receivers.

Thorpe Dark Horse:

Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

Hargreaves was Florida’s best and most consistent quarterback in 2013. Considering the Gators had established veterans in Marcus Roberson and Louichez Purifoy, it said a lot that the freshman was on the field immediately. Hargreaves recorded interceptions in his first three college games while totaling 11 pass breakups and 38 tackles for the year. The SEC coaches made him a First-Team All-SEC selection. He was also named an All-American by numerous media outlets.

During the 2014 season, Hargreaves will line up against some of the top receivers in college football, including Alabama’s Amari Cooper, Tennessee’s MarQuez North, Georgia’s Malcolm Mitchell, South Carolina’s Shaq Roland and Florida State’s Rashad Greene. Hargreaves should produce a lot of standout performances to impress voters.

The 5-foot-11, 192-pound Hargreaves has natural cover skills to run with wide outs and not allow separation. He has enough size to handle big receivers and the speed to run with deep threats. Hargreaves could end up being the best cornerback prospect to enter the NFL in many years.

Honorable Mentions:

Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams, Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell, Stanford cornerback Alex Carter, USC cornerback Josh Shaw, Washington cornerback Marcus Peters, Virginia Tech cornebrack Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech cornerback Brandon Facyson, LSU cornerback Jalen Mills, Texas A&M cornerback Deshazor Everett, Minnesota cornerback Eric Murray, Tennessee cornerback Cameron Sutton and Ole Miss cornerback Tony Connor.

Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt, Alabama safety Landon Collins, Florida State safety Nate Andrews, Stanford safety Jordan Richards, USC safety Su’a Cravens, TCU safety Sam Carter, Duke safety Jeremy Cash, Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond, West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, Syracuse safety Durell Eskridge, Clemson safety Jayron Kearse, Virginia safety Anthony Harris and Georgia safety Corey Moore.

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