Many individual honors for college football players are dismissed or forgotten, as they’re typically revealed during bowl season, when players are declaring for the NFL Draft or as coaches begin the annual job shuffle. As a result, preseason award predictions oftentimes grab more attention than the honors themselves.
Bosa returns for his junior season after becoming the 27th unanimous All-American selection in school history. He led the Big Ten in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (21) and tied for the lead with four forced fumbles for the national champs. His absence for their opener at Virgnia Tech (suspension) shouldn’t impact his ability to grab another unanimous All-American selection in 2015.
Yes, casual fans, Baylor’s beastly defensive end Shawn Oakman is more than just a terrifying presence at coin tosses. His viral pregame photo from the Cotton Bowl came after a monster regular season for the future NFL first round pick. In 2014, Oakman set the program record for sacks (11) in registering 51 tackles, 19.5 of which went for a loss.
Washington, a seasoned defensive tackle with 37 career games under his belt, joins Bosa to form a terrifying front line for the nation’s most talented defense. The 6’4″, 290-pounder recorded 10.5 tackles for loss during his 832 defensive snaps for the Buckeyes.
After leading the Crimson Tide in sacks (5.5) as a freshman in 2013, Robinson battled constant double teams in 2014 and allowed Bama’s defensive playmakers to roam the field. He returns to a unit that ranked fourth nationally in rushing defense (102 yards per game) and sixth in scoring defense (18.4 points per game).
In just two years, Scooby Wright has gone from an unheralded two-star recruit to racking up just about Defensive Player of the Year award and a unanimous All-American selection. His absurd sophomore season included 163 tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and six forced fumbles. He’s the most disruptive player in the game.
Smith provided stability on a Notre Dame defense that didn’t have much of it. He was one of only three defensive players to start every game, as the Irish were demolished by injuries. The future NFL first round pick led the team with 112 tackles and nine tackles for loss.
West Palm Beach native Curt Maggitt is just one piece of an imposing Tennessee defensive line. Freshman Kahlil McKenzie has received the bulk of offseason attention, especially after a fall camp photo of him went viral, but it’s Maggitt that leads the group. The 2014 All-SEC Second Teamer quelled any concerns of his health in 2014 after taking a redshirt season in 2013 (ACL injury) by racking up 48 tackles from his defensive tackle position.
Jalen Ramsey can do just about everything. The most versatile defensive back in the country captured the ACC long jump title last spring and was the opening leg of FSU’s 4 x 100 relay team. This all came after he recorded 79 tackles, 12 pass break-ups and two picks during his sophomore season on the football field.
Florida’s offensive futility in 2014 overshadowed a fantastic defensive unit, led by Vernon Hargreaves. The Tampa native ranked first in the SEC with 13 pass-breakups and helped the Gators rank 20th nationally in scoring defense at 21 points per game.
The former Ohio State transfer and team captain recorded a ridiculous 113 tackles from his “strike” safety position in reminding everyone that he’s an elite all-around defensive back. In playing 1,029 snaps, he led a unit that ranked 20th nationally in third-down defense (34 percent) and 24th in scoring defense (22 points per game).
Jalen Mills’ impressive 2014 campaign started with a big game against Wisconsin when he had four tackles, one quarterback hurry and a fourth quarter interception that helped the Tigers prevail. He has started every game of his LSU career and his 39 career starts are the highest on the defense. The former Freshman All-American will lead a stocked secondary.
Michigan State nearly lost both their defensive coordinator, Pat Narduzzi, and elite defensive end, Shilique Calhoun, but received a huge offseason boost when Calhoun elected to delay his NFL career and return to East Lansing for his senior season. Narduzzi would become the head coach at Pittsburgh. Calhoun has 29 career tackles for loss and 16.5 career sacks for a defense that has become one of the nation’s best.
The second Tennessee defensive lineman on the HERO Sports Preseason All-American Team, Derek Barnett is yet another reason why fans are expecting a turn-the-corner season for the Vols. He had arguably the best freshman season of any defensive lineman in program history, recording 20.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in leading an improved defense.
Most casual college football fans only remember Robert Nkemdiche from his status as the top-ranked player in the 2013 class but the Georgia native has become so much more than a once-heralded recruit in two seasons. While helping Ole Miss lead the nation in scoring defense (16.0 points per game), Nkemdiche routinely stuffed the front line and made it easy for the Rebels’ playmakers to terrorize the opposition.
Day’s knee injury against Northwestern on November 15th kept him out of the Irish’s final two regular season games and has largely kept him lower on the national offseason radar as a result. He’s one of many valuable pieces on an improved (and healthy) Notre Dame defense and will wreak havoc on opposing offenses all season.
The versatile UCLA linebacker first made headlines for his exploits as a dynamic player on both sides of the ball, but now that he’s focusing on defense, people have him vaulting up NFL Draft boards. Jack’s agility and unteachable athleticism make him one of Pac-12 two best defensive players, along with Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright.
Lee was talented enough to play as a true freshman in 2013 but it appears the redshirt could’ve transformed from a great player into an elite player. He started all 15 games for the national champs, finishing third on the team with 81 tackles and second in both tackles for loss (16.5) and sacks (7.5).
Cassanova McKinzy might receive a ton of attention for his name but the Auburn linebacker boasts much more than that. The senior has 189 career tackles and will team with fellow senior Kris Frost in Will Muschamp’s new defense, one that expects to improve in numerous areas, including stopping the run.
Fuller participated in 987 total plays in 2014, with 867 coming on defense. One of the best all-around players in the game, the 6’0″, 195-pounder is an elite NFL prospect that should land in the first round next spring if he elects to forgo his senior season. All eyes will be on Fuller and the Hokies defense when the mighty Buckeyes roll into Blacksburg on September 7th.
Sanchez has started all 26 games during his Sooner career, earning All-Big 12 honors and semifinalist spot for the Jim Thorpe Award (nation’s top defensive back) in 2014. He snagged six picks for an eight-win Oklahoma team.
Vonn Bell’s OSU bio page describes him as one of the top playmakers in college football who has a knack for making the big players. It couldn’t be more spot-on. After starting only one game during his freshman season in 2013, he immediately transformed into an elite safety. In recording 92 tackles, six picks and 12 passes defensed, Bell helped the Buckeyes hold opponents to only 342 yards per game, good for 19th nationally.
Baker received a look on offense during spring practice and while head coach Chris Petersen might seek to utilize the Bellevue native’s talent as much as possible, he remains an elite defensive back. He started every game as a true freshman, including the Cactus Bowl, where he snagged his first career interception, a one-handed beauty against Oklahoma. It might be a reach to dub him an All-American but we’re willing to bet the 5’10” safety proves it on a defense that lost a ton of talent.
HERO Sports is dedicated to college football, with an emphasis on FCS coverage. We are proud to be the go-to site for comprehensive FCS analysis for fans across the country. HERO Sports also publishes betting odds and insights for FBS games.