Power Ranking Top Contenders Named to 2013 Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistJuly 15, 2013

Power Ranking Top Contenders Named to 2013 Rotary Lombardi Award Watch List

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    The Rotary Lombardi Award (not to be confused with the NFL's Lombardi Trophy) is presented each year to the best lineman or linebacker in college football, and on Monday, 100-plus players were named to its preseason watch list.

    Offensive and defensive players are both eligible to take home the award, a 40-pound hunk of Texas pink granite molded to represent the stance of a lineman. In recent years, though, offensive linemen have been largely ignored—the past 16 recipients have all been defenders, dating back to Orlando Pace in 1996.

    Last year, Manti Te'o became the second consecutive linebacker to win (after Boston College's Luke Kuechly), but the past six years have been evenly distributed among three lineman and three linebackers.

    Which way will the Lombardi go in 2013? Here's a quick primer on the favorites:

Honorable Mentions

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    Tennessee LB A.J. Johnson led the SEC with 138 tackles as a sophomore in 2012. If the Vols turn things around under Butch Jones, Johnson will be a big reason why. 

    Texas DE Jackson Jeffcoat missed the second half of last season, but he is extremely productive when he stays on the field. He has 11.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss in his last 12 full games. 

    Stanford LB Trent Murphy had 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss en route to third-team All-American honors last year. He appeared bigger, stronger and more explosive this spring, and could help Stanford field the nation's top defense.

    Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt was lost, at times, in the overbearing shadow of Manti Te'o, but now this team is his. He finished his sophomore year with 12 sacks and could be poised for even more in 2013.

    BYU LB Kyle Van Noy could have been a first-round pick in the NFL draft, but opted to return for his last year in Provo. With 14 sacks in 2013, he would tie the all-time NCAA career record of 36, held by Central Florida's Bruce Miller.

5. DT Will Sutton, Arizona State

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    Sutton is a divisive NFL prospect, lauded for his production but shunned for his lack of size (6'1'', 288 pounds) at a position, defensive tackle, that normally requires it. As a college player, though, there is no way to deny his greatness.

    He was an All-American lineman and the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year for an underrated Arizona State defense last season. Sutton also finished 2012 with the exact same number of sacks (13) and tackles for loss (24) as a certain South Carolina defensive end who shan't be named until later. 

    The Sun Devils have high hopes for 2013, and Sutton is a big reason for that fervor. If he can lead Arizona State back to national relevance, he'll have a strong case for the Lombardi.

4. LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State

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    Shazier was just a sophomore last year, but led the Big Ten with 17 tackles for loss and finished second with 70 solo tackles. He didn't just contribute with tackles, either, finishing top 10 in the conference with five sacks (eighth), 12 passes defended (ninth) and three forced fumbles (third).

    He'll be counted on to (somehow) do even more in 2013, when the Buckeyes lose seven defensive starters but are still expected to make a BCS National Championship run.

    If Ohio State finishes the year undefeated—as many predict—voters will be hard-pressed to ignore its do-it-all defensive leader. 

3. LB Anthony Barr, UCLA

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    UCLA moved Barr from running back to linebacker last year, and the returns were better than anyone could have expected. He finished with 13.5 sacks, one behind Georgia's Jarvis Jones for the NCAA lead, and more than any other returning player in college football.

    Expectations are, obviously, higher for Barr entering 2013, but he's talented enough to not disappoint. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah described his closing speed as "silly," and also mentioned that he would have taken Barr over any pass-rushers in the 2013 NFL draft.

    The Bruins think they're ready to compete with the big boys this season, and after making the Pac-12 Championship in two consecutive years, that doesn't seem overly far-fetched. Barr's Lombardi resume will be aided by that national spotlight.

2. LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama

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    C.J. Mosley is the latest in a long line of great Alabama linebackers and is vying to become the school's first Lombardi winner since Cornelius Bennett in 1986.

    The Tide's defense returns seven starters in 2013, but it loses a spate of well-respected veterans such as Dee Milliner and Jesse Williams. Mosley will need to assume an even bigger leadership role than last season if he wants to keep the unit in tip-top shape.

    If things go according to plan, though, Mosley will be the best player on the nation's best defense. That alone makes him a very strong Lombardi candidate. 

1. DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

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    What can you say about Clowney that hasn't already been said?

    He's big, he's fast, he's strong, he's skilled, and perhaps most important of all, he's motivated. In a word, he's unstoppable, and he's ready to wreak havoc on the SEC once again.

    Clowney fought off constant double-teams en route to 13 sacks last season, one behind Georgia's Jarvis Jones for the national lead. Opposing blocking schemes will be even more stop-Clowney-intensive in 2013. But after an offseason of workouts, the 6'6'' pass-rusher will be even bigger and stronger than he was as a sophomore—which is pretty scary to think about.

    He's should be considered an overwhelming favorite for this award.