As a member of the Football Writers Association of America, I’ve been asked to nominate players for the FWAA All American teams and year-end awards. This week, we were given ballots for the defensive side of the ball.
These are nominations for spots on the team, not actual votes. A sub-committee of members will do the actual voting from the pool of nominees, and I’m not on that sub-committee. While my ballot is heavy on players I covered, we were instructed to vote for players deserving of consideration, regardless of our region or conference.
Defensive line: (submit up to four)
Vinny Curry, Marshall
Sam Montgomery, LSU
Andre Branch, Clemson
Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
Curry and Mercilus are one-two in the nation in sacks, and two-three in both tackles-for-loss and forced fumbles. Branch leads the ACC in sacks. He had four against Virginia Tech and one against Auburn in two of Clemson’s biggest wins of the year. Montgomery was arguably the best defensive player on the field in the war of attrition that was the Game of the Century.
Just missing my cut were South Carolina end Melvin Ingram, UNC’s Quinton Coples and Sylvester Williams, who were hurt by a late-season tailspin by the team, and Michigan State tackle Jerel Worthy.
Linebackers: (submit up to three)
Chase Thomas, Stanford
Luke Kuechly, Boston College
Courtney Upshaw, Alabama
Kuechly’s numbers are other-wordly. 17 solo tackles against Duke, 20 total tackles against Florida State, 19 against Virginia Tech. He is everywhere on the field for a Boston College team that needs him to be. Thomas isn’t a tackle machine like Kuechly, but just about every tackle he makes is an explosive lay. Nearly half of his total tackles are behind the line of scrimmage, and he has four forced fumbles. Had Alabama’s kickers done their job, Upshaw probably would have laid claim to Montgomery’s title as best defensive player on the Game of the Century’s winning defense.
Missing the cut were Sean Spence of Miami and Upshaw’s teammate Don’t’a Hightower.
Defensive backs: (choose up to four)
Matt Daniels, Duke
David Amerson, NC State
Morris Claiborne, LSU
Merrill Noel, Wake Forest
From his record-setting six pass break-ups on opening day to his two interceptions against Virginia Tech, Daniels has staked his claim as an All American throughout the season. He’s at his best when his team needs him, with 47 tackles, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble, two picks, and 9 break-ups the five games decided by less than a touchdown.
Noel is the only player in the conference, or country, with more passes defensed than Daniels. He also averages more than 21 yards on kick returns, although that shouldn’t count as defensive performance.
Amerson leads the nation in interceptions and flips the field with his turnovers, adding 122 return yards to his nine picks.
Claiborne picked off an Alabama pass in the fourth quarter and returned it 33 yards to the Alabama 15, setting up the game-tying field goal. By comparison, only one of LSU’s seven second-half possessions went for more yards than Claiborne’s pick. It’s just the latest in what has been a big-play year for the corner.
Bronko Nagurski Trophy for the nation’s best defensive player: (Nominate one)
Morris Claiborne, LSU