As the 2016 college football season approaches and national experts make predictions about teams, Alabama is being regarded by many as having the country’s top defensive team, When the Charlotte (N.C.) Touchdown Club, in cooperation with the Football Writers Association of America, announced 88 players from around the country who are on the Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list, one could understand the ranking of the Crimson Tide defense.
The Bronko Nagurski Trophy is awarded to the nation’s top defensive player and five Alabama players are on the watch list – tied for the most from any team.
The Alabama representatives are end Jonathan Allen, inside linebacker Reuben Foster, outside linebacker Tim Williams, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and safety Eddie Jackson.
The Bronko Nagurski Trophy has been presented annually since 1993 by the Charlotte Touchdown Club and the Football Writers Association of America to recognize the top defensive player in college football. The award is named in honor of college and NFL Hall of Famer Bronko Nagurski. The 2016 winner will be announced at the Charlotte Touchdown Club’s annual awards banquet in December.
One of the most productive defenders along the Tide’s vaunted defensive front, Allen returns for his senior campaign after foregoing the NFL Draft. He was named to the All-SEC First Team defense by the conference coaches and the Associated Press as a junior after ranking 17th nationally and second in the SEC in sacks with .80 per game (12.0 sacks). Allen recorded 36 tackles on the season with a team-leading 14.5 tackles for loss (-92 yards) and added four pass breakups and six quarterback hurries. All 12 of his sacks came against Power 5 competition with 11 coming against ranked teams.
Foster returns for his senior season to anchor the Alabama defense after learning under unanimous first team All-American and current Buffalo Bills linebacker Reggie Ragland during his junior campaign. An instinctive backer who earned the starting job at inside linebacker a season ago, Foster finished second on the team with 73 total tackles, eight for a loss (-24 yards), with two sacks (-7 yards), three quarterback hurries and nine pass breakups in 2015.
Humphrey, one of the nation’s top cornerbacks in the 2014 recruiting class, redshirted in 2014 and then came on to earn a starting job at corner in 2015. He earned freshman All-America honors from the FWAA and returns the most starting experience at corner for the Tide with 15 starts a season ago. Humphrey made 45 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions and eight pass breakups.
Jackson transitioned from corner to safety last spring and excelled in that role as a junior. He was selected to the All-SEC First Team by the conference coaches and Associated Press following the 2015 slate. Jackson also earned second team All-America honors from Walter Camp and the FWAA and was named a third team All-American by the Associated Press last season after leading the team in interceptions with six - two returned for touchdowns, a forced fumble and fumble recovery to go with his 46 tackles. Jackson accumulated 230 return yards on his interceptions, shattering the previous all-time record of 163 that was set in 1952. He finished as the league leader in interceptions and was ranked seventh nationally for picks.
One of the nation’s top pass rushing threats on the outside, Williams played in all 15 games as a junior and ranked second on the team with 10.5 sacks (-78 yards) to go with 12.5 tackles for loss (-92 yards), four quarterback hurries and one pass breakup. Williams came on strong late in his junior season, recording nearly all of his sacks and tackles for loss during his last five SEC games and the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. He recorded at least half a sack in all five contests and 2.0 sacks apiece at Auburn and versus Florida. Williams notched 11.0 of his 12.5 tackles for loss (-61 yards) during that time, and added 7.0 of his 10.5 sacks (-60 yards).