Heisman voters are beginning to see the error of their ways.
Yes, the quarterback is still the most important position on the field. And no, offensive linemen are not going to start dominating college football's most prestigious award anytime soon. And no true defensive player has yet to win the award. However, defensive players are finally starting to get their due.
A defensive player has been a Heisman finalist in three of the last four seasons. Nebraska's nose tackle supreme Ndamkong Suh finished fourth behind Colt McCoy, Toby Gerhart and Alabama's first Heisman winner Mark Ingram in 2009. In 2011, the voters sent special teams dynamo and opportunistic defensive back Tyrann Mathieu to New York. And in the most recent voting, Manti Te'o finished second behind Johnny Manziel after leading Notre Dame to a perfect regular season in 2012.
South Carolina's freak of nature Jadeveon Clowney isn't the frontrunner to win the 2013 Heisman Memorial Trophy. However, there is no reason to believe he won't be in Manhattan come December. And he certainly leads a long and impressive list of amazing college football defenders who absolutely deserve to be mentioned among "College Football's Most Outstanding Player(s)."
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina (12/1)
There is little doubt that Clowney is the most physically gifted player in the nation. He is a near lock as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. And because he set the table as a sophomore with a monster hit against Michigan and huge numbers statistically, he has a great chance at landing in New York. The monster defensive end finished third in the nation in sacks (1.08 pg) and second nationally in tackles for loss (1.96 pg). He enters his third year with 21.0 sacks, eight forced fumbles and 35.5 tackles for a loss and because he plays a stat-heavy defensive position, his box score will speak for itself. However, winning the SEC East might be a must if Clowney hopes to take home the trophy.
2. C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama
He is a first-team All-American. He is the top linebacker prospect in the nation for next year’s NFL Draft. He plays a stat-heavy position as the leader of the defense for the two-time defending BCS champs. He led the Crimson Tide in tackles a year ago and enters his final season with 211 tackles, 14.0 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, five interceptions and three career defensive touchdowns. And his team will be preseason No. 1 again. He could very easily be this year’s Manti Te’o in terms of team success and individual production.
Related: The SEC's Top Heisman Candidates in 2013
3. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
The freakish, five-star athlete from Los Angeles Loyola broke onto the national scene in 2012. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound edge rusher led the Bruins in sacks (13.5) and tackles for a loss (21.5) and constantly disrupted the opposing backfield. He makes plenty of big plays — Barr had four forced fumbles and a blocked kick last year as well — and plays for a team with conference championship hopes. Packaged with his elite first-round NFL upside, Barr has a chance to win all types of national awards this fall.
4. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
There may not be a harder hitter in the nation than Shazier and that includes Clowney. He flies all over the field with elite speed and athleticism as he led the 12-0 Buckeyes in tackles (115) and tackles for a loss (17.0). He posted five sacks, forced three fumbles and returned his only interception for a touchdown. He has electric ability and looks to make the big play at all times. Once he refines his craft and plays more under control, he will have a chance to make some Heisman waves — especially, if the Buckeyes go unbeaten once again.
Related: The Big Ten's Top Heisman Contenders in 2013
5. Stephon Tuitt, DL, Notre Dame
From a physical standpoint, Tuitt might be one of the few players in the nation who can compete with Mr. Clowney. A potential top-10 NFL pick, Tuitt brings elite size, speed and skill to a position that produces big-time highlights — like this one. The massive sophomore led the team in sacks (12.0) a year ago and returns to what should be the nation's top defensive line. Tuitt will be the Irish's star defender this year.
6. Jordan Jenkins, LB, Georgia
The guy taking over for Jarvis Jones will pleasantly surprise in 2013. Jenkins is bigger and more physical than Jones and brings an elite work ethic to the rebuilt Georgia 3-4 defense. He played in all 14 games as a true freshman a year ago and finished second on the team in sacks (5.0). With a chance at a national title at a playmaking, stat-heavy position, Jenkins could easily find himself where Jones couldn't — in New York at season's end.
7. Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU
The Cougars' outside defender is penciled in as a first-round selection next May as he returns to lead one of the more underrated defenses in the nation. The do-everything linebacker posted an absurd 22.0 tackles for a loss to go with 53 total tackles, 13.0 sacks, six forced fumbles, two blocked kicks and a pair of interceptions — one returned for a touchdown. With Ziggy Ansah in the NFL this fall, Van Noy takes over as the star of the BYU defense.
Related: 2013's Top Independent Heisman Candidates
8. Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
The star defensive end came to TCU as one of the most heralded recruits to ever sign with the Horned Frogs. He didn't wait long to make his mark and prove the hype was legit, as he finished third in the Big 12 in sacks (10.0) a year ago. Fields led the league's top defense by posting 53 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and an interception. He is suspended for the season opener against LSU meaning he will miss a national opportunity to make a big statement, otherwise he would have a strong argument as a top-5 candidate on this list.
9. Aaron Lynch, DE, USF
Lynch is clearly the most talented defender in the newly minted American Athletic Conference. The monstrosity of a defensive end starred as a true freshman at Notre Dame in 2011, leading the team in sacks. After his breakout debut in South Bend, he transferred back home to Florida and sat out last season. Now eligible, Lynch could swing the balance of power in the AAC with his play along the line of scrimmage. He could easily be a top-10 pick in next year’s NFL Draft.
Related: The American Athletic Conference's Top Heisman Contenders in 2013
10. Will Sutton, DL, Arizona State
The star defensive lineman for the Sun Devils led the Pac-12 in sacks (13.0) and tackles for a loss (23.5). He was virtually unblockable last season and he was rewarded with Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He returns for his senior season and leads what was one of the best defenses west of the Mississippi. If ASU can win the South it will be because of Sutton's play and that could get him some Heisman love.
11. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
The No. 1 safety in the nation is returning as one of the defensive leaders for the two-time defending BCS national champions. He dominated the back end of arguably the best defense in the nation, patrolling the secondary to the tune of five interceptions a year ago. He makes plays against the both the run and the pass and has to be considered the most complete, best all-around defensive back in the nation.
12. Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford
There are three superstars on the Cardinal's defense this fall and Murphy is the most likely to get some Heisman publicity. He led the team in sacks (10.0) and tackles for a loss (18.0) while posting 56 total tackles and returning his lone interception for a touchdown. With marquee showdowns and national championship aspirations, Murphy could find himself in the mix for the stiff-armed trophy.
13. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Despite missing the final seven games of the season, Jeffcoat still finished second on the Longhorns in sacks (4.0) and tackles for a loss (11.0) as well as fumbles forced (2). The son of Jim Jeffcoat is a refined, polished pass-rusher who proved his recruiting hype was real when he posted a great sophomore season (8.0 sacks, 16.5 TFL). If Texas has a defensive turnaround like many in Austin are hoping for, it will be because of the electric play of Jeffcoat.
14. Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford
The first-team All-American patrols the back end of the Cardinal secondary. He is a projected first-round NFL Draft pick heading into his final season for Stanford after a huge 2012 campaign. Reynolds totaled 47 tackles and returned six interceptions for 301 yards and three touchdowns. More big plays like that from Reynolds and he will be getting much-deserved Heisman love.
15. Anthony Johnson, DT, LSU
Unfortunately, defensive tackles have to be truly transcendent (e.g., Suh or Oregon's Haloti Ngata) to be considered legitimate Heisman contenders. This LSU star could easily be the best player in the nation at his position, as he is now one of the most experienced members of the Bayou Bengals' defense. He should build substantially on his 30-tackle, 3.0-sack, 10.0-TFL sophomore season.
16. Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
This might be a bit optimistic but Thompson has all the tools to become one of the nation's best players as just a sophomore. He posted 74 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss, three interceptions and recovered one big fumble against Washington State last season. Now he shifts from safety to linebacker to get around the football more. Fans in the Northwest can bet that UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will will find all sorts of ways to utilize this future superstar on the field.
17. A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee
The star tackler for the Vols led the SEC in stops last year and was fourth nationally (138 total tackles). Yet, on a team that was horrendous on defense and didn't make a bowl game, he needs some extra pizzazz to be mentioned among the nation's top defenders. Well, he scored six rushing touchdowns a year ago as a goal-line back on 12 carries. Lead the nation in tackles and score six more touchdowns again this fall and Johnson will get plenty of national respect.
18. Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
The Beavers' edge rusher is one of the most underrated defensive players in the nation. He finished with 44 total tackles, 9.0 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss for arguably the most improved defense in the nation last year. With Pac-12 North division title expectations looming in 2013, Crichton won't be an unknown for much longer.
19. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
As long as he stays healthy, Borland is as big a playmaker as there is in the nation. He enters his senior season with 13 career forced fumbles, three career interceptions, 13.0 career sacks and a ridiculous 41.0 tackles for a loss. All of this alongside his 309 career total tackles for the three-time defending Big Ten champions.
20. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
The issue with cornerbacks and the Heisman is the lack of opportunities. The best covermen are left alone by opposing quarterbacks so one would have to be special (e.g., Charles Woodson) to compete for this award. But I.E.O. makes enough big plays — see 2012's four interceptions and six forced fumbles — to deserve consideration.
21. Morgan Breslin, DE, USC
If USC expects to return to Pac-12 contention, Breslin needs to build on his outstanding 2012 campaign. He was tied for fifth nationally in sacks a year ago (13.0) in his first season at Heritage Hall. He added 19.5 tackles for a loss and 62 total tackles.
22. Lamarcus Joyner, DB, Florida State
The former elite five-star recruit is rounding into form for the defending ACC champion Seminoles. He makes big plays in the secondary and leads a defense that could once again be one of the nation's best. What gives Joyner an edge, however, might be his special teams play. He averaged nearly 25 yards per return on 18 kick returns last year.
Related: The ACC's Top Heisman Contenders in 2013
23. Loucheiz Purifoy, CB, Florida
The supremely talented coverman should get national respect for his overall ability. He posted 78 total tackles, forced four fumbles and blocked two kicks a year ago, but what makes him a Heisman contender is his versatility. Should Will Muschamp need Purifoy on offense or special teams, he could deliver big-time plays.
24. Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State
The junior could be the next big star nationally for the Broncos' defense. He posted 48 total tackles, 9.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for a loss, four forced fumbles and an interception last year. Should Boise State run the table or finish 12-1, Lawrence will get much of the credit on defense.
25. Andrew Jackson, LB, Western Kentucky
There is a good chance WKU becomes a huge story in 2013 with Bobby Petrino leading the way and Jackson would be both the reason and a beneficiary. Jackson totaled 122 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, 2.0 sacks and four forced fumbles a year ago. Look for Jackson to become more of a household name this fall.
Best of the Rest:
Domnique Easley, DT, Florida
Dion Bailey, S, USC
Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
Adrian Hubbard, LB, Alabama
Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma
Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU
Hayes Pullard, LB, USC
Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas
James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech
Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
Josh Harvey-Clemons, S/LB, Georgia
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