Undrafted – The Network
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Predicting the Pros – Defense Edition

Do the awards in College Football actually matter? Well, yes, of course they do. They are given out to only the most deserving players and coaches in College Football. What then does my question mean, and why would I even ask it? My actual question is not if they matter to the player, but if they matter in providing a roadmap for who will and will not be a successful player.

There are many awards given out each year, which is why I have split the awards into Offense and Defense. Continuing now with the Defense we look at the winners of these awards over the past 10 years, how they fared in the NFL and if it is actually indicative of whether a player can make at the top of the sport. As the old adage goes, Defense wins championships, it’s not always pretty but these players get the job done. It may not be as flashy as the Offense and doesn’t always receive the plaudits it deserves, but defenders are artists and the field is their canvas.

Image Credit – Elation EU

The awards I will look at will be all the awards given to players on the Defensive side of the ball, except the Heisman Trophy which requires its own article as it is the biggest award in the College Football Season. I also will not be looking at the Walter Camp Trophy and the Maxwell Award as both are given to Best Player in College Football, which mostly coincides with the Heisman Trophy. If this is not the case in that year, then it will be addressed. What then are the awards we will look at?

The College Football Offensive Awards

The Jim Thorpe Award – Best Defensive Back

The Butkus Award – Best Linebacker

The Chuck Bednarik Award – Best Defensive Player

The Bronko Nagurski Trophy – Best Defensive Player

The Ray Guy Award – Best Punter

These are the awards that we will look at, including the award for the nation’s best Punter. So, let’s assess then who won these awards, how they did in the NFL and if there is any correlation between award winners and successful professional football players.

Image Credit – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Based on the winners from 2010 all the way to 2019, we will rank these awards on which is the most likely to produce the most successful players, and which of these awards becomes somewhat meaningless at the next level. We look at the best player and the worst player and then we predict what this means for the greatest league in the world. I am not for a second taking away what these awards mean to the individuals, these are awards that players work incredibly hard for and therefore should be extremely proud to win them, but that does not translate to success in the National Football League.

The Jim Thorpe Award

2020 winner – Trevon Moehrig

Image Credit – Frogs O’War

The winner of the 2020 award was highly touted Safety Trevon Moehrig. He looks extremely versatile at the next level, having played both Safety positions in college, however he projects into the NFL at Free Safety. Based on this then, how does he endeavour to succeed in the NFL.

Best – Patrick Peterson

Patrick Peterson takes this position more on longevity than necessarily being the best player to win this award in the last 10 years. Since his arrival into the league as the 5th overall pick to the 2011 Cardinals he has been an absolute star for them. He has 8 pro bowls, 3 First-team All-Pro selections and he even made the 2010s all decade team, which is an enormous achievement. He pips Minkah Fitzpatrick to this award because while Fitzpatrick is probably more adaptable and at this point in their respective careers more sought after, Peterson is still the gold standard.

Worst – Gerod Holliman

The only player on this list to never actually make an NFL team proper, Holliman is unfortunate to be in a group with solid contributor and spectacular starters. He was taken in the 7th round, which does not necessarily help his case, but having been on two practice squads in 2015, before outright leaving the league, means he has to take this spot. He still plays for the Columbus Lions in the Arena League, but it is not close to comparable.

Trevon Moehrig is in a slightly difficult situation, Corners who win this award seem to thrive in the NFL, with all of them being a contributors at some point in their careers. There have been All-Pros, Pro-Bowlers and Superbowl winners. The Safeties however are hit and miss, for everything Minkah Fitzpatrick, there is a Gerod Holliman, therefore it is pretty much 50/50 if he works out in the league.

The Butkus Award

2020 winner – Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah

Image Credit – The Athletic

The award given to the best Linebacker in all of college football is quite the honour and its previous recipients are some of the best ever, I am talking people in the argument for first ballot Hall of Fame nods. Owusu-Koramoah has some enormous shoes to fill before he even steps foot onto a field.

Best – Luke Kuechly

This one was extremely close between Kuechly and Von Miller, both are likely to be first ballot Hall of Fame selection, however the reason I feel Kuechly takes the award as being the best in the last 10 years is more to do with their impact at the next level. Middle Linebacker is seen as the Quarterback of the Defense, the one in charge of making sure everyone knows their job. In terms of actual ability on the pitch, but him and Miller are dominant at their positions, but Kuechly snags this one for his importance to the whole Defense.

Worst – Manti Te’o

Calling anyone the worst in this award is difficult because if we do say Te’o is technically the worst, it is only because all the others have been truly excellent. From his arrival in the league Te’o has been a solid contributor, however most of his fellow award recipients have done more. Te’o has moved around the league with three teams and now finds himself as a free agent, and although he is the worst, strictly speaking, he is not bad by any means.

Owusu-Koramoah is in some incredible company, and he has a lot of potential, he really looks like the real deal. The question now becomes, how good can he be. He plays as an Outside Linebacker and an Edge Rusher, so it really depends on where he fits at the next level to judge his success, but if a team sets him free, look out.

The Chuck Bedarik Award

2020 winner – Zaven Collins

Image Credit – ESPN

The first of our two best Defensive player in college awards, yes you heard that right, the best Defensive player in college is so subjective that they have two awards that different people can win. This was on full display in 3 of the last 10 years, however looking at the list, there are some real heavyweights here. To be fair to the winners, this is an incredibly subjective question, because it encompasses different styles of players playing completely different positions, but we still want to debate this.

The Bronko Nagurski Trophy

2020 winner – Zaven Collins

Image Credit – The Draft Network

So, who is the best and worst then I hear you cry, well since Zaven Collins won both awards, we will be looking at this one together, only judging players who have won both. This already rules out our best Defensive Back Patrick Peterson and our best Linebacker Luke Kuechly. As crazy as that sounds, Peterson only won the Chuck Bednarik Award and Kuechly the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.

Best – Aaron Donald

Once you remove Peterson and Kuechly from the mix this is not even close. Donald is an incredibly talented player, winner both awards and the Outland Trophy for best Interior Lineman, an award usually dominated by the Offense. He is a once in a generation talent, 3-time Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL, and while this year was contentious, he was still top 3. He has been at that level since day 1 too, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

Worst – Scooby Wright III

With Aaron Donald so far out in front, it is difficult to place the others, however when you have a total of 7 tackles from the Linebacker position in your 2-year NFL career, it becomes a lot easily to pick him. An All-American in college, it is a Mystery this Machine did not do better in the NFL, but when you split up his time in college from his time in the NFL, it is easy to look for the clues. As much as he was a scrappy player, all players do know the level is very different and he just could not cut it.

Zaven Collins is an exceptional player, without question, however the Linebackers are somewhat hit and miss when this award comes their way. Kuechly set the standard and then nobody has been able to live with that standard. It is difficult to predict this, but based on the stats of the players, I think I have an idea.

The Ray Guy Award

2020 winner – Pressley Harvin III

Image Credit – From The Rumble Seat

People always say the Kicker is the under appreciated hero of the team, however they say this while ignoring the obvious contributions of the Punting team. I cannot remember a time, when a Punter has ever been truly given credit for their ability, but that ends now! They begin a Defensive series; a good field position is critical in these situations. There is a reason the NFL log statistics of Punts inside the 20-yard line. Without Punters teams would crumble to the ground… Okay maybe I hear it too now.

Best – Michael Dickson

I am sure all the Punter fans out there are outraged I did not pick Ryan Allen for my best Punter. He has won three Superbowls, however he was a member of the Patriots, a team not exactly known for their Punting team. I think he also may have played with a high decent Quarterback, the name however, escapes me. The reason Michael Dickson gets the nod here is that he is a Pro-Bowler and none of the other Punter’s are. He also has 94 punts inside the 20-yard line in 213 career Punts. For the statisticians in the room, that is nearly half which is actually pretty incredible. See told you Punters and Punting is interesting, or at least if I did not say that I now make that statement.

Worst – Tom Hackett

Okay so going Undrafted is fairly common for a Punter, making a practice squad but failing to make a team, again not uncommon, but being voted twice a consensus All-American, being selected to an All-Century team in College, and winning the Ray Guy Award twice and still not making a career in the NFL is completely unheard of. So unheard of, like Broadway Joe Namath, I can guarantee it has never happened, before or since.

What then are Pressley Harvin III’s chances of success. Well honestly, they are pretty slim. If a player with the credentials of Tom Hackett does not make a team, everyone else is up against it. I really hope for him that he gets his shot, but the odds are not with him.

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