2015 Preseason Award Projections: Thorpe Award

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2015 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 May for the 2016 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 Louisville safety Gerod Holliman.

Thorpe Award Winner:

Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida

In 2014, Hargreaves was the best cover corner in college football, and sources at NFL teams have said he would have been a top-10 pick if he could have entered the 2015 NFL Draft. Hargreaves totaled 50 tackles, three interceptions and 13 passes broken up last season. He went toe to toe with Amari Cooper and held his own in an impressive performance. While Cooper caught some contested passes, Hargreaves was really the only corner in 2014 who could run with Cooper and prevent separation.

As a true freshman, Hargreaves was Florida’s best and most consistent quarterback. Considering the Gators had established veterans in Marcus Roberson and Louichez Purifoy, it said a lot that Hargreaves was on the field immediately. Hargreaves recorded interceptions in his first three college games while totaling 11 pass breakups and 38 tackles in 2013.

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 since Patrick Peterson or Joe Haden. There already is a spotlight on Hargreaves, so if he stays consistent to his play in 2014 and 2013, he could easily be the Thorpe Award winner.

Thorpe Runner-Up:

Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech

Playing alongside his older brother Kyle in 2013, Kendall Fuller made an impact as a true freshman. Kyle Fuller became the Bears’ 2014 NFL Draft first-round pick, and some believe that Kendall Fuller (5-11, 195) could become just as talented a prospect. It wouldn’t be surprising if the junior takes his game to another level in 2015 and wins the Thorpe Award.

Fuller played at a very high level in 2014, notching 17 passes broken up and two interceptions, 50 tackles and 4.5 tackles for a loss. He shut down East Carolina’s Justin Hardy in their matchup. Pittsburgh’s Tyler Boyd was a challenge for Fuller, but Fuller held his own.

After Hargreaves, Fuller is a favorite as the next-best cover corner in college football. He has excellent instincts, speed, athleticism and agility to prevent separation. Obviously, Fuller is very skilled at playing the ball. The Thorpe Award likes big interception totals, which Fuller is capable of producing.

Thorpe Dark Horse:

Jalen Ramsey, Florida State

This is a tough prediction, because Ramsey has the talent to win the award, but one has to wonder how he will play if he is moved to cornerback from safety. There is talk that Ramsey will move to cornerback this season after Florida State lost Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams to the NFL. It will be interesting to see if the Seminoles follow through on that as Ramsey had an excellent sophomore season and was a dynamic defender in the middle of the field. As a safety, he might be the best free safety in college football.

The Florida State defense was disappointing as a unit collectively in 2014, but some individual players impressed. Ramsey was one of the team’s best defenders with a lot of clutch tackles. He totaled 79 stops, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 12 passes broken up, two interceptions and two forced fumbles on the year. At times during the 2014 season, Ramsey was the Seminoles’ best defensive player. He and fellow safety Nate Andrews constantly made clutch touchdown-saving tackles throughout the season. If Ramsey stays at safety, he is easily capable of putting together a huge season that could win him the Thorpe Award.

Honorable Mentions: LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White, Tennessee cornerback Cam Sutton, Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor, Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell, USC cornerback Adoree Jackson, Virginia Tech cornerback Brandon Facyson, Minnesota cornerback Eric Murray, Mississippi State’s Will Redmond, Mississippi State’s Taveze Calhoun, Oklahoma’s Zach Sanchez, Ohio State’s Eli Apple, Alabama’s Eddie Jackson, UCLA’s Fabian Moreau, Arizona State’s Lloyd Carrington, Penn State’s Jordan Lucas, Houston’s William Jackson, LSU’s Rashard Robinson and Ole Miss safety/cornerback Tony Conner.

Florida State safety Nate Andrews, USC safety Su’a Cravens, LSU safety Jalen Mills, Duke safety Jeremy Cash, West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, Clemson safety Jayron Kearse, Ohio State’s Vonn Bell, Virginia’s Quin Blanding, LSU’s Jamal Adams, Georgia’s Quincy Mauger, Middle Tennessee’s Kevin Byard, Baylor’s Orion Stewart, Kansas’ Isaiah Johnson, Notre Dame’s Max Redfield, USC’s Leon McQuay and Tennessee’s LaDarrell McNeil.

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