The Bronko Nagurski Trophy is one of the premier individual honors in college football. The award is given to the best defensive player in the country as voted on by the Football Writers Association of America. Aaron Donald was the winner for 2013.
Now the first watch list for the upcoming season has been released. Unlike last year, when Jadeveon Clowney was the clear favorite before a lackluster junior campaign, this time the race is truly wide open. There are no shortage of contenders, though.
Players can be added to the list throughout the fall and given the nature of the race, somebody from off the radar could very well win the trophy. The winner will join the likes of Champ Bailey, Charles Woodson and Warren Sapp, among other big names.
Here's a complete look at the watch list, as released by the Charlotte Touchdown Club and the FWAA:
|2014 Bronko Nagurski Trophy Preseason Watch List|
|Henry Anderson, Stanford, DE||Myles Jack, UCLA, LB|
|Stephone Anthony, Clemson, LB||Grady Jarrett, Clemson, DT|
|Vic Beasley, Clemson, DE||Jordan Jenkins, Georgia, LB|
|Michael Bennett, Ohio State, DT||A.J. Johnson, Tennessee, LB|
|Craig Bills, BYU, DB||Eric Kendricks, UCLA, LB|
|Joey Bosa, Ohio State, DE||Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington, DE|
|Kelby Brown, Duke, LB||Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech, DT|
|Malcom Brown, Texas, DT||Derrick Malone, Oregon, LB|
|Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State, DE||Tyler Matakevich, Temple, LB|
|Alex Carter, Stanford, DB||Derrick Mathews, Houston, LB|
|Sam Carter, TCU, DB||Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville, DE|
|Jeremy Cash, Duke, DB||Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State, LB|
|Frank Clark, Michigan, DE||Ryan Mueller, Kansas State, DE|
|Landon Collins, Alabama, DB||Steven Nelson, Oregon State, DB|
|Blake Countess, Michigan, DB||Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss, DT|
|Christian Covington, Rice, DT||Shawn Oakman, Baylor, DE|
|Su'a Cravens, USC, DB||Denzel Perryman, Miami, LB|
|Carl Davis, Iowa, DT||Marcus Peters, Washington, DB|
|Tyeler Davison, Fresno State, DE||Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss, DB|
|Trey DePriest, Alabama, LB||Hayes Pullard, USC, LB|
|Quandre Diggs, Texas, DB||Cedric Reed, Texas, DE|
|Lorenzo Doss, Tulane, DB||Jordan Richards, Stanford, DB|
|Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State, DB||A’Shawn Robinson, Alabama, DE|
|Alvin Dupree, Kentucky, DE||KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame, DB|
|Mario Edwards Jr., Florida State, DE||Jake Ryan, Michigan, LB|
|Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon, DB||Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma, DB|
|Kyler Fackrell, Utah State, LB||Danny Shelton, Washington, DT|
|Devonte Fields, TCU, DE||Derron Smith, Fresno State, DB|
|Trey Flowers, Arkansas, DE||Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame, LB|
|Leonard Floyd, Georgia, LB||Eric Striker, Oklahoma, LB|
|Dante Fowler Jr., Florida, DE||Charles Tapper, Oklahoma, DE|
|Alani Fua, BYU, LB||A.J. Tarpley, Stanford, LB|
|Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech, DB||Jared Tevis, Arizona, DB|
|Markus Golden, Missouri, DE||Shaq Thompson, Washington, LB|
|Randy Gregory, Nebraska, DE||Tony Washington, Oregon, DE|
|Bryce Hager, Baylor, LB||Trae Waynes, Michigan State, DB|
|Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida, DB||P.J. Williams, Florida State, DB|
|Anthony Harris, Virginia, DB||Leonard Williams, USC, DE|
|Ben Heeney, Kansas, LB||Ramik Wilson, Georgia, LB|
|Chucky Hunter, TCU, DT||Gabe Wright, Auburn, DT|
|Martin Ifedi, Memphis, DE|
Although it's a pretty extensive list, it's still a select group considering how many defensive players are eligible across the nation. That's why there's always a chance somebody that doesn't even make the initial listing emerges to win the award in the end.
Vic Beasley (Clemson), Leonard Williams (USC), Randy Gregory (Nebraska) and Vernon Hargreaves III (Florida) headline the list.
The fact Beasley is back with Clemson comes as somewhat of a surprise. He was eligible to enter the NFL draft as a possible first-round pick, which is usually enough for most players to make the jump. The defensive end opted to continue his Tigers career instead.
Heather Dinich of ESPN passed along comments from the dynamic edge rusher, who explained why his decision went right down to the wire:
I want to play in the NFL, it's always been a dream. It's kind of tough to turn down the opportunity to go in the first round. But I looked at the big picture, seeing I could get my degree and also have the possibility of improving my draft stock.
His return is huge for a Clemson defense that's going to take on a bigger burden as the offense rebuilds without Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. It should allow Beasley to shine bright on defense and gives him the inside track on the defensive awards.
Williams is a player enjoying a rapid rise. The Trojans defensive lineman has racked up nearly 140 tackles over his first two seasons, 26 of which were for a loss, and 13 sacks. It's allowed him to become a top prospect with an eye toward the NFL draft.
Alas, Bucky Brooks of NFL.com believes he's still very much a work in progress despite the enormous amount of hype heading into his junior season:
When scouts affix a top-10 grade to a player, they expect to see a player that dominates the game with his presence and skills. While Williams certainly "flashes" that kind of talent, he must take his game to another level in 2014 to truly earn the blue-chip label that observers have attached to his name at this point.
Further improvement in his third season with USC will solidify his stock and allow him to contend for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.
Gregory was a force on the defensive line in his first season with Nebraska. He had 65 tackles, 9.5 sacks and even an interception return for a touchdown. He's an athletically gifted end who's only scratched the surface of his potential.
Hargreaves enjoyed an outstanding freshman season for Florida. The cornerback flashed shutdown capability while tallying 38 tackles, 11 passed defended and three interceptions. He should take another step forward as a sophomore.
Myles Jack (UCLA), Ramik Wilson (Georgia) and Shilique Calhoun (Michigan State) are some other preseason contenders to watch. All three are creating plenty of buzz and further illustrate the among of depth on the defensive side of the ball this season, even without a singular star leading the pack.
It should make for a very interesting Nagurski Trophy race.