Heading into the 2017 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation's leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and the next fall's stars could be the headline players next April for the 2018 NFL Draft. We also will project the winners of the postseason awards that are given out to the best of college football.
The Lott IMPACT Trophy is given to the top "Defensive Impact Player of the Year" in college football. Last year's winner was Michigan safety/linebacker Jabrill Peppers.
Lott IMPACT Trophy Winner:
Arden Key, LSU
The Lott IMPACT Trophy has a significant inclination toward linebackers. A linebacker has been the winner in four out of the last six years. Over this decade, the award has gone to a few non-linebackers, including Carl Nassib, J.J. Watt and Peppers. In its 12 years, only five times has the Lott IMPACT Trophy gone to a non-linebacker.
Around the scouting community, Key is regarded as one of the top prospects for the NFL, and it is easy to see why as Key was one of the best players in college football in 2016. He recorded 56 tackles with 14.5 for a loss, 12 sacks, three forced fumbles and three passes broken up on the year. Key is a dangerous pass-rusher with excellent speed and the ability to bend around the corner. He has can simply take over games and is a constant threat to make a game-changing play. His production might slip some as a junior because of the double teams that will come his direction, but Key is one of the top players in the nation and has the talent level to overcome the extra attention. In terms of making the biggest impact, Key is a favorite among the nation's defensive players.
Lott IMPACT Trophy Runner-Up:
Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
Given the Lott IMPACT Trophy's inclination toward linebackers, I had to pick a linebacker for my runner-up. When watching Virginia Tech last year, Edmunds was impossible to ignore as he was all over the field for the Hokies. In 2016, he totaled 106 tackles with 18.5 tackles for a loss, 4.5 sacks, three passes broken up, one forced fumble and one interception. Edmunds is a quick, instinctive linebacker with good length. He is capable of producing a huge 2017 for Virginia Tech and earning a lot of postseason honors like the Lott IMPACT Trophy.
Lott IMPACT Trophy Dark Horse:
Jerome Baker, Ohio State
There has been a lot of media hype about Baker, but in speaking with scouts who did advance work on the 2018 class they weren't impressed with Baker. They said that Baker runs around more blocks than he takes on and has the speed to get away with that against average offensive lines. Fortunately for Baker and Ohio State, he will be able to continue to get away with that in 2017 but that could catch up to him in the NFL. He had a quality debut with 83 tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, and two interceptions. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Baker could produce a big season now that he has a year of experience. Although there is a lot of talent around Baker that will eat up production as well. Thus, I have Baker as a Dark Horse.
Honorable Mentions: Clemson LB Kendall Joseph, South Carolina LB Skai Moore, Wisconsin LB Jack Cichy, Michigan LB Mike McCray, Ohio State LB Chris Worley and Penn State LB Jason Cabinda.
Clemson DT Dexter Lawrence, Houston DT Ed Oliver, Georgia DT Trenton Thompson, Clemson DT Christian Wilkins, Washington DT Vita Vea, Ohio State DT Dre'Mont Jones, Auburn DT Dontavius Russell, Florida State DT Derrick Nnadi, Utah DT Lowell Lotulelei, Michigan DT Maurice Hurst, Texas A&M DT Daylon Mack, Notre Dame DT Jerry Tilery and Tennessee DT Kahlil McKenzie Jr.
Kansas DE Dorance Armstrong Jr., Boston College DE Harold Landry, N.C. State DE Bradley Chubb, Virginia DE Andrew Brown, Florida State DE Josh Sweat, Wake Forest DE Duke Ejiofor, Missouri DE Marcell Frazier, Ohio State DE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State DE Tyquan Lewis and Clemson DE Clelin Ferrell.
Alabama S Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama S Ronnie Harrison, Florida State S Derwin James, Pittsburgh S Jordan Whitehead and Texas A&M S Armani Watts.