The 2016 season is fast approaching, which means it’s time to start previewing players who could be in the discussion for college football’s most prestigious awards when the season is all said and done.
The preseason watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (given to the nation’s best defensive player by the Football Writers Association of America) was revealed on Friday and a handful of Big Ten players made the list.
Here’s a look at the Big Ten players who were named to the Nagurski Trophy watch list, along with a preview of what to expect from them this season.
Vince Biegel, linebacker, Wisconsin: Biegel recorded 66 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and eight sacks during his junior season with the Badgers. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is gone, but Biegel will remain the anchor of this defense.
Riley Bullough, linebacker, Michigan State: Bullough recorded 106 tackles and was named second-team All-Big Ten during a tremendous junior season. Oddly enough, he was the first Spartans player to record 100 tackles in a season since his brother Max accomplished the feat in in 2012. Bullough is the true definition of a front seven anchor and should be mentioned as one of the Big Ten’s top defensive players.
Josey Jewell, linebacker, Iowa: Jewell led the Hawkeyes with 126 tackles last season. He is one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten entering the 2016 season.
Desmond King, cornerback, Iowa: King is one of the best cornerbacks in the country. He recorded 72 tackles, picked off eight passes and broke up another 13 throws last season. King also should be considered for the Jim Thorpe Award, which goes to the nation’s best defensive back.
Jourdan Lewis, cornerback, Michigan: Lewis is a lockdown cornerback whom opponents better be careful when targeting. Lewis broke up 20 passes last season with two interceptions. He should give King a run for his money as the conference’s best cover corner.
Tyquan Lewis, defensive end, Ohio State: Lewis recorded eight sacks last season as a sophomore playing opposite of Joey Bosa. He will likely garner more attention in pass rushing situations as a junior, but he’s talented enough for a repeat performance.
William Likely, cornerback, Maryland: Likely plays both sides of the ball, but is primarily a defender. He broke up 11 passes last season while recording 44 tackles and four tackles for loss. Likely is one of the most intriguing players in the conference.
Malik McDowell, defensive lineman, Michigan State: McDowell is poised for a monstrous junior season as the focal point of Michigan State’s defensive line. He recorded 41 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks as a sophomore. The best is yet to come from McDowell.
Raekwon McMillan, linebacker, Ohio State: McMillan should be in the running for this award until the very end. He recorded 119 tackles, four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks last season. But with an abundance of Ohio State’s defensive talent moving on, McMillan is now the face of the unit.
Hardy Nickerson Jr., linebacker, Illinois: Nickerson transferred to Illinois from California in April to play for his father, who was hired as Lovie Smith’s defensive coordinator in March. The younger Nickerson racked up 111 tackles and one sack last season with the Golden Bears. He will be a much-needed addition to Illinois’ front seven.
Jabrill Peppers, safety, Michigan: The versatile defender should play more of a linebacking role in Michigan’s remodeled defense. There aren’t many things Peppers can’t do. He 45 tackles and broke up 10 passes last season, but his defensive upside might be limited depending on how much offense he plays this season.
Anthony Walker, linebacker, Northwestern: He might get no love because of who he plays for, but Walker should not be underestimated as one of the country’s best defenders. He recorded 120 tackles and led the Big Ten with 20.5 tackles for loss last season.
Chris Wormley, defensive end, Michigan: Wormley is the featured piece along a star-studded Michigan defensive line. He recorded 43 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks a year ago. He could finish the season as the best defensive lineman in the conference.