In all likelihood, regardless of how immaculate the resumes may look by the time December rolls around, a defensive player will not win the Heisman in 2014.
Such proclamations don’t exactly require the “BREAKING NEWS!” or “SPOILER ALERT!” tag at this point. The force field standing between defensive players and the most prestigious award in all of college football seems impenetrable, despite a handful of quality attempts in recent years.
Ndamukong Suh should have won the award for Nebraska in 2009. Unfortunately, not enough voters felt that way at the time. Manti Te’o made things interesting in a dream season at Notre Dame just a short time ago, finishing second in voting with good—but not great—overall numbers. And just last year, Aaron Donald generated a few Heisman ripples with his Suh-ian performance for Pitt. The overall team performance simply didn’t cooperate, thus his campaign fell short.
Admittedly, I’ve longed for a defensive winner for as long as I can remember. It’s not that I’m simply a subscriber to chaos. The award—including the way players are selectively chosen—is in dire need of a reboot.
As it stands now, the notion of a reboot seems like a stretch in 2014. There is no Jadeveon Clowney-like buzz for a defensive player, at least as the season inches closer. That doesn’t mean winning the award is impossible, but the preseason hoopla is an integral part of the process.
A combination of wins, statistics, marquee moments and flair will be essential for defensive player to alter the Heisman trend. It doesn’t hurt to contribute in other ways, either. As for the select few who are capable of turning the brass statue on its side if everything plays out perfectly, here are a few defenders to keep an eye on.
Vernon Hargreaves (Florida, CB)
As a true sophomore, he might be the most important defensive player in the country. As we’re well aware by now, however, oftentimes this label doesn’t equate to Heisman success and acclaim.
The evaluation process on cornerbacks is unique from any other position on the field. Silence is a valued commodity and, ultimately, that likely will be what keeps Florida’s magnificent cornerback out of consideration for an award that is about generating noise. Well, that or an offense that might not keep the team in enough games.
If Florida is able to bounce back after a dismal, injury-filled year, however, its best player will undoubtedly get the praise he deserves. And if Hargreaves is able to come up with a few interceptions on the limited instances quarterbacks throw in his direction, perhaps he can sneak into the conversation.
A few snaps on offense and a few more punt and kick return attempts wouldn’t hurt, either. He returned three punts and one kickoff last season. Ultimately, those chances will have to increase for him to receive serious consideration.
Regardless of whether he gets those opportunities, this is one—especially if you’re an SEC quarterback thinking about throwing to his side—worth keeping an eye on.
Mario Edwards Jr. (Florida State, DE)
The Heisman conversation for Mario Edwards begins with the team he plays on. That is by no means an insult to his unique style and unlimited potential, but rather an understanding of the state of the award.
Florida State will likely be favored by double digits in every regular-season matchup in 2014, and the value of collecting wins in large amounts cannot be overstated. For proof of this, Edwards can talk to teammate Jameis Winston.
Edwards, however, will have to win the Heisman in much different fashion. In fact, part of his inclusion is simply assuming that he takes that next step that he has yet to reach.
At nearly 300 pounds, Edwards will likely move up and down the Seminoles’ defensive line in 2014. While the sack totals and overall numbers may not equal some of the others included in this piece, his influence could be far greater than any defender in the country.
Again, it comes down to evaluating. If voters are looking beyond simply sack totals and batted balls—and goodness, they better—then Edwards could surprise.
Joey Bosa (Ohio State, DE)
At 6’5” and 285 pounds, Joey Bosa can do a backflip. Here’s proof.
I’m not exactly sure what that tells us about the sophomore’s Heisman chances, but it does provide a glimpse of how much athleticism is bottled up in this colossal frame.
Bosa meets a few of the necessary checklist items for hopeful defensive players, the first being the team he plays for. Ohio State, much like a season ago, is poised for another national championship run. Zeroing in on his scenario a bit closer, Bosa won’t be terrorizing quarterbacks by his lonesome.
Playing alongside Michael Bennett, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, Bosa will be given ample opportunities to dominate one-on-one matchups, and thus enhance his sack total. Last season he finished with seven-and-a-half sacks, although his production increased as he got deeper into his freshman season.
For Bosa to have a serious chance at the award, he’ll likely have to double that total. Given Ohio State’s schedule—along with the talent on the defensive side—such lofty goals should not be considered unreachable.
Vic Beasley (Clemson, DE)
Here’s where the resumes become a bit more familiar.
After forgoing a shot at the NFL, Vic Beasley returns to a Clemson defense that should be one of nation’s elite. While that’s not something we’re accustomed to saying about the Tigers, this has the makings to be a ferocious group. And such ferocity begins with a star defensive end who was everywhere in 2013.
Beasley’s 12 sacks in 2013 put him on the map. The buzz surrounding his play isn’t Clowney-esque yet, but he made a name—and a whole lot of money—for himself last year.
Now, what does he have in store for an encore? And what does Clemson have in store after an Orange Bowl win?
For Beasley to be in the Heisman conversation, the Tigers must first find replacements for quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. That may seem like a strange place to begin, but again, this award focuses on wins as much as it does individuals numbers. The offense has some catching up to do.
Beasley, if healthy, will post numbers. The defense, if healthy, will be one of the best in the country. If the offense can do its part and Beasley shows out in the Tigers’ high-profile games—zeroing in on a Sept. 20 matchup against Florida State—perhaps the Heisman chatter will start to hum.
Myles Jack (UCLA, LB)
UCLA’s best running back might be the best linebacker in the country. If you watched Myles Jack operate for the Bruins as a freshman—which is still somewhat hard to fathom—this bizarre statement should also seem to fit.
The whole thing is so natural, it’s almost scary.
Jack wasn’t just one of the best defensive players in all of college football out of the gate—finishing with 77 tackles, a sack, two interceptions and a touchdown—but he also averaged seven yards per carry and found the end zone seven times on 38 attempts.
Because of his unique, two-way presence, Jack feels like a logical front-runner in this category. Obviously this will depend a great deal on how he’s used going forward, although the splash has already been made.
Linebacker is his position of the future. There’s no questioning this. But even if Jack plays a small (but impactful) role on short yardage plays and red-zone opportunities, the rest of his resume will look a little more pronounced.
Aiding this potential Heisman run is a team loaded with young talent on defense, intriguing wideouts on offense and a quarterback on the brink of stardom. Outside of Auburn, there is no team in the country with more program momentum.
The ingredients for a Heisman run are all in place. Now it’s a matter of tackling history. Or, in the case of this potential two-way star, running right over it.