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 Jim Thorpe Award is given to the top defensive back in college football. Last year, the Thorpe Award went to USC cornerback Adoree' Jackson.
Thorpe Award Winner:
Tarvarus McFadden, Florida State
Recent Thorpe Award Winners have been players who were among the nation's leaders in interceptions, or at least productive in that category. Desmond King was second in the nation with seven picks the year he won it, and a previous winner was Gerod Holliman from Louisville, who had 14 interceptions in his final season before being a seventh-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Given that the Thorpe Award favors players who have large interception totals, the outcome is much harder to predict. I think a few factors favor McFadden as being a strong candidate to win the Thorpe Award.
Given the Thorpe Award's affinity for players who produce big interception totals, McFadden makes sense as he could have won it last year after tying for the nation's lead with eight interceptions. McFadden has good ball skills to pick passes off, but he also has some hiccups, which led to him being picked on last year and giving up some plays. Some of McFadden's interceptions came from teams throwing at him. I think McFadden will be more reliable in coverage this year and will still have teams throwing his direction. With his ball skills and size, I could see McFadden having another quality year for producing interceptions. Thus, it wouldn't surprise me if McFadden wins some postseason honors like the Thorpe Award.
Iman Marshall, USC
In my opinion, Marshall could be the top cover corner in college football. Teammate Adoree' Jackson got the attention last year, but Marshall was a tremendous corner in his own right. The talented Marshall became a starter as a freshman with an impressive debut in 2015. He had 67 tackles with eight passes broken up and three picks, including a two-interception game victimizing UCLA star quarterback Josh Rosen. Marshall stayed consistent as a sophomore with eight breakups, three interceptions and 51 tackles. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder is a cover corner who excels in a variety of techniques. He could be the top cornerback in college football in 2017, and it wouldn't surprise me if he won the Jim Thorpe Award.
Thorpe Dark Horse:
Jaire Alexander, Louisville
Alexander was very good for Louisville in 2016, racking up 39 tackles with nine passes broken up and five interceptions. He also was a dangerous punt returner. There is a lot of upside for Alexander to develop as a junior because the 5-foot-11, 188-pounder has really flashed at times for the Cardinals. Alexander could produce a big season with Louisville's high-powered offense providing a lot of leads that will cause a lot of teams to throw against the Louisville secondary. With his ball skills, Alexander might produce more interceptions as a junior, and he could end up winning the Thorpe Award.
Honorable Mentions: LSU's Kevin Toliver II, Oklahoma's Jordan Thomas, Alabama's Anthony Averett, Alabama's Tony Brown, Virginia Tech's Brandon Facyson, Stanfords' Quenton Meeks, Stanford's Alijah Holder, Texas A&M's Donovan Wilson, Connecticut's Jamar Summers, Florida's Duke Dawson, Florida's Chauncey Gardner, Oklahoma's Jordan Parker and South Florida's Deatrick Nichols.
Alabama's Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama's Ronnie Harrison, Florida State's Derwin James, Pittburgh's Jordan Whitehead, Texas A&M's Armani Watts, Georgia's Dominick Sanders, Virginia's Quin Blanding, North Carolina's Donnie Miles, UCLA's Randall Goforth, Penn State's Marcus Allen, Ohio State's Damon Webb, North Dakota's Cole Reyes and Northwestern's Godwin Igwebuike.