|2021 BRONKO NAGURSKI
TROPHY WATCH LIST UNVEILED
|DALLAS (FWAA) – The Football Writers Association of America released its 2021 Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch today, selecting 90 defensive standouts from 61 schools in all 10 Division I FBS conferences plus independents on a roster that includes seven returning players from last season’s FWAA All-America team, another from the 2019 team, the nation’s top four tacklers from a year ago, three of the top seven sack leaders and one of the interception leaders.
The FWAA and the Charlotte Touchdown Club will announce five finalists for the 2021 Bronko Nagurski Trophy on Nov. 17. The Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner will be chosen from those five finalists and honored at the Bronko Nagurski Awards Banquet presented by LendingTree on Dec. 6 at the Charlotte Convention Center. The FWAA All-America Committee, after voting input from the association’s full membership, selects a 26-man All-America Team and eventually the Nagurski Trophy finalists. Committee members, by individual ballot, select the winner they regard as the best defensive player in college football.
Players may be added or removed from the watch list during the course of the season. As in previous years, the FWAA will announce a National Defensive Player of the Week each Tuesday this season. If not already on the watch list, each week’s honored player will be added at that time.
All three returning FWAA first-team All-Americans leading off the list are in the secondary – cornerbacks Ahmad Gardner of Cincinnati and Tiawan Mullen of Indiana, along with Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton. Four players from last year’s second team All-America defense also top the outstanding list, linebacker Nate Landman of Colorado, safety Tykee Smith of Georgia (a transfer from West Virginia), tackle Darius Stills of West Virginia, and end Kayvon Thibodeaux of Oregon.
Will McDonald, an end, is one of three Iowa State defenders on the list after tying for the national sack lead last year at 10.5, joining linebacker Mike Rose, who tied for third in the country in interceptions with six, and safety Greg Eisworth. Cade Hall led San Jose State’s surprise season a year ago from his end spot and tied for third
nationally with 10.0 sacks. TCU boasts two players, led by end Ochaun Mathis, who tied for fifth with 9.0 sacks a year ago. The Big 12 has four schools (adding Baylor and Oklahoma) with at least a pair of players on the team.
The top four total tackles leaders from 2020, each of them a linebacker, also highlight the list. Auburn’s Zakoby McClain and Carlton Martial of Troy each claimed the title with 113 total tackles each, with Arkansas’ Grant Morgan (111) and N.C. State’s Payton Wilson (108) just behind. McClain and Morgan are the returning leaders of the 20-player SEC contingent that is spread among nine schools. Defending national champion Alabama leads the national team list with six players – defensive tackles DJ Dale and Phidarian Mathis, linebackers Will Anderson Jr. and Christian Harris, cornerback Josh Jobe and safety Malachi Moore. A Georgia trio led by defensive tackle Jordan Davis leads six different SEC schools have at least two players on the list.
Safety Brandon Joseph of Northwestern tied for the national interception lead last year with six and complements Hamilton and Smith as the watch list’s returning secondary leaders along with LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr., who was an FWAA First Team All-America cornerback in 2019. The Big Ten is second among the conferences with 13 players from 10 different schools, with national runner-up Ohio State as its leader with three – tackle Haskell Garrett, end Zach Harrison and cornerback Sevyn Banks.
Clemson has four players on the team to make up half of the ACC contingent – tackle Bryan Breese, end Myles Murphy, linebacker James Skalski and safety Nolan Turner – and Georgia, Iowa State, Ohio State and Oklahoma are next as teams with three players each. Arkansas, Auburn, Baylor, Cincinnati, Indiana, LSU, Missouri, Notre Dame, San Diego State, TCU, Troy, USC and Washington have two apiece.
This year’s watch list includes at least four players from all 10 FBS conferences plus five from the independent schools. The SEC led the conference list with 20 with the Big Ten (13) and Big 12 (12) just behind, making up half of the list. The Pac-12 (9) was fourth, followed by the ACC (8), Conference USA, Independents, Mountain West and Sun Belt (5 each) and the American Athletic and Mid-American had four apiece. The list includes 29 linebackers, 22 backs, 22 ends and 17 tackles.