Power Ranking Top Contenders Named to 2013 Outland Trophy Watch List

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2013

Power Ranking Top Contenders Named to 2013 Outland Trophy Watch List

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    Another day, another watch list.

    A list of 75 preseason favorites for the 2013 Outland Trophy was released Wednesday by the Football Writers Association of America. Awarded annually to the nation's best interior lineman, the Outland is unique in being position-specific but also open to both offensive and defensive players.

    Last year's winner, Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, was drafted second overall in the 2013 NFL Draft—the sixth Outland recipient in the last seven years to go in the first round, and the fifth in that time to go in the top six.

    Will 2013's Outland winner have the same success? Only time will tell.

8. OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame

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    Zack Martin had a fine junior season, but with the loss of Everett Golson, he'll have to be even better in 2013.

    He'll guard the blind side of markedly less-mobile Tommy Rees for Notre Dame, needing to keep him upright if Notre Dame stands any chance of repeating last year's success. Should the offense be semi-efficient, though, Martin will be a big reason why, and with a potential top-5 defense behind it, that might be enough for Notre Dame to crash the BCS.

    If the Irish make it that far, Martin would have a very strong case for the Outland.

7. DT Timmy Jernigan, Florida State

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    Slighter of build than your average DT, Timmy Jernigan uses speed and leverage to make an impact up the middle. On upside and upside alone, he might be the best interior pass-rusher in college football.

    Jernigan struggled to get reps last season, but he had an NFL-caliber log-jam in front of him. Now tasked with leading the Seminoles' defensive line—and flanked by Christian Jones at linebacker and LaMarcus Joyner at safety—he could have a huge season for one of the country's top defenses.

6. OG David Yankey, Stanford

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    David Yankey moves from tackle to guard—his more natural position—in 2013. The switch should be a boon to Stanford's offense, but it could hurt his Outland candidacy.

    Guards, while just as important as tackles, have trouble making the same tangible impact. No true guard has won the Outland since Aaron Taylor in 1997. Ten tackles have won the trophy in that same 15-year span.

    Yankey has the talent to place higher on this list, and even at guard, he might be dominant enough to make a run at the award. Especially if Stanford makes a BCS National Championship run.

    But the position switch puts him at a serious disadvantage. 

5. DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame

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    Brian Kelly & Co. got a major gift when Louis Nix III announced he would return in 2013. Losing Manti Te'o is obviously huge, but retaining a 6'3'', 324-pound behemoth up the middle is perfect tonic for that void.

    Nix didn't put up giant numbers in 2012, but made his presence felt in other, less-tangible ways. Playing the all-important role of nose tackle, he consistently occupies two or three blockers, freeing fellow defenders up to make more plays.

    The FWAA is a smart group of guys. If Notre Dame's defense is as good as last year, they won't care about Nix's uninspiring stats. They'll know precisely who was responsible for that dominance. 

4. OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama

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    Cyrus Kouandjio was the forgotten man on last year's Alabama line, playing fourth fiddle to 2011 Outland winner Barrett Jones, No. 10-overall pick Chance Warmack and No. 11-overall pick D.J. Fluker.

    But he was every bit as good as that trio, and in 2013, he should finally start getting the attention he deserves. According to former NFL scout John Middlekauff, current scouts prefer Kouandjio to Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel AND Lane Johnson—all of whom went in the top-four of last year's NFL Draft.

    If Alabama makes the title run many expect them to make, the FWAA will be hard-pressed to find a stronger Outland candidate than Kouandjio.

3. DT Will Sutton, Arizona

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    Will Sutton was a one-man wrecking ball for Arizona State last year, every bit as intimidating as he appears in the picture above. As a junior, he had 63 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and three forced fumbles en route to being named an All-American.

    Despite limited size for his position (6'1'', 288), the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year has elite pass-rush skills and a relentless motor. That and his acute understanding of leverage make him a good bet to build on last year's success.

2. OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan

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    Taylor Lewan made the shocking decision to return in 2013, costing himself (what many considered) a sure-fire spot in the NFL Draft's first round. But he said he had "unfinished business" in Ann Arbor, and come season's end, that business might include a statue of John Outland.

    Last year's Outback Bowl is best remembered for Jadeveon Clowney's helmet-shattering hit on Vincent Smith, and with good reason. But both before and after that, Lewan held his own against college football's top freak, not allowing a sack and holding Clowney to just four total tackles.

    He'll face great competition again in 2013, including Stephon Tuitt (Notre Dame), Deion Barnes (Penn State), Marcus Rush (Michigan State), Tyler Scott (Northwestern) and Adolphus Washington (Ohio State).

    Anyone who holds his own against that quintet deserves serious plaudits.

1. OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M

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    Jake Matthews blocked Johnny Manziel's sighted-side in 2012, but with Luke Joeckel now suiting up in Jacksonville, he'll switch to the blind-side this season.

    Most schools reel after losing an Outland winner, struggling to find a lineman capable of duly replacing his production. Texas A&M, though, might not just negate that loss; Matthews could be an improvement.

    Before Matthews withdrew from last year's draft, former NFL scout Russ Lande ranked him the second-best overall prospect—two spots ahead of Joeckel.

    With Johnny Football making plays behind him and Texas A&M gunning for an SEC Championship, Matthews enters 2013 the prohibitive favorite to take home the Outland.