With Jabril Cox moving on, there's a wide-open field for top defensive honors
With North Dakota State linebacker Jabril Cox announcing his intention to transfer to an FBS program, the FCS level is losing a three-time national championship-winning player who would have been the favorite for the Buck Buchanan Award in 2020.
Without Cox, the national defensive player of the year award has changed to a wide-open field of candidates.
Linebackers and defensive ends have won the bulk of the Buchanans with 12 and 11 winners, respectively. Only one defensive tackle and one cornerback have been recipients.
Here are 10 potential candidates for the 26th annual Buchanan:
Trace Mascorro, Sam Houston State, DT, Sr., 6-1, 275
If a ball carrier goes up the middle, it doesn't get any tougher than the Southland Conference's 2019 newcomer of the year, who had 15.5 tackles for a loss.
Romeo McKnight, Illinois State, DE, Sr., 6-5, 260
Size and athleticism... and, oh yes, big production (16.5 tackles for a loss, 12 sacks).
Elerson G. Smith, Northern Iowa, DE, Sr., 6-7, 245
The "G" must stand for great after a season in which the big man racked up 21.5 tackles for a loss, 14 sacks, and five forced fumbles. He was ninth in the Buchanan voting last year.
Troy Andersen, Montana State, OLB, Sr., 6-4, 233
That Andersen has earned first-team All-Big Sky honors on both sides of the ball underscores his all-around talent and ability to dominate games.
Bryson Armstrong, Kennesaw State, Sr., 5-11, 212
Wait, he's still an Owl? Armstrong has been outstanding for a long time, winning Big South Defensive Player of the Year last season.
Willie Eubanks III, The Citadel, ILB, Sr., 6-2, 215
Following a campaign in which he was the first Citadel player to sweep both the Southern Conference's coaches and media Defensive Player of the Year awards.
Anthony Adams, Portland State, S, Jr., 6-0, 180
His average of two passes defended per game as a sophomore — 19 pass breakups and five interceptions in 12 games — easily led the FCS.
Brandon Easterling, Dayton, S, Jr., 6-0, 203
Last year's eighth-place Buchanan finisher had jaw-dropping statistics: 140 tackles (82 solo), six interceptions, and three fumble recoveries in 11 games.
Robby Hauck, Montana, S, Jr., 5-10, 185
Grizzlies head coach Bobby Hauck's son is trying to follow former teammate Dante Olson to the Buchanan. With 224 tackles in two seasons, he's on pace to surpass Olson's all-time school record (397).
Kordell Jackson, Austin Peay, NB, Sr., 5-11, 163
No returning player finished higher in the Buchanan voting than K-Jack's sixth-place finish. He had a hand in 10 takeaways, including seven interceptions with two pick-sixes against Mercer.
— Written by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photo courtesy of Garrett Becker/Montana State Athletics)