Written By: Jason Feiner @Blitzalytics –
One of the most prestigious awards in collegiate athletics, the Lott IMPACT Trophy is presented to the best defensive athlete, merited for both character and performance. The Lott Trophy Foundation has nominated 42 defensive athletes (Ronnie Lott’s retired number) for the 2018 honors. Honorees must be team leaders, while demonstrating the multifaceted talent to be a disruptive force on and off the field.
Forty-two nominated athletes represent the defensive finest in college football. The trophy represents more than the talent or production of an athlete, but the IMPACT that the student athlete has had within their school community. The Lott Impact Trophy is awarded to the player that performs on the field and in the classroom. Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity (IMPACT) each represent an important aspect of the award, and only the student athlete that demonstrates these qualities will receive this prestigious recognition.
There are 22 linebackers, 11 defensive backs and 9 defensive linemen on the 2018 watch list. Each candidate will be evaluated, during the season, with a weekly voting determining the player of the week. With eight players on the watch list for the second year in a row, the 2018 competition is nothing to gawk at. These are some of the most impactful student athletes in the country, each deserving of a nomination.
Many names stand out, and others who may not be as well-known will become icons once the season is underway. In order to gain a better understanding of some of the candidates for the 15th annual Lott Impact Trophy, let’s take a look at the defensive linemen in the running.
Christian Wilkins DT, Clemson
A returning nominee from 2017, Wilkins represents one of the most daunting forces among the collegiate elite. Thought to be a first round prospect during the 2017 draft season, in a surprising move, he elected to return to Clemson for his final collegiate season. Wilkins is an imposing threat on one of the most dominant defenses in the country. He has the ability to rush the passer, dominate the interior offensive line and act as a cog against the run game. Accounting for 193 career tackles, 26 for a loss and 10 sacks, Wilkins has been a two-time All American and All-ACC selection. Heading into his second season as Clemson’s team captain, Wilkins is a leader both in the locker room and in the community. Earning the CoSIDA Academic All Region honor in 2017, he is the first scholarship Tiger to graduate in 2.5 years. Spending his offseason as a substitute school teacher, Wilkins emulates the meaning of IMPACT and remains one of the most dominant defensive linemen in college football.
ED Oliver DL, Houston
Another player making his second stint on the Lott watch list, Oliver may be the top defensive player in the country. Since taking over as a starter during his true freshman season, the Cougars’ star has been a dominant presence along their defensive line, causing mayhem in the backfield of opposing offenses and giving nightmares to their offensive coordinators. He is a true monster with game-changing ability. Standing at 6’3” and weighing 290 pounds, he possesses the versatility to play anywhere along the defensive line, accruing 139 tackles, 39.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in just 25 career games. He is a handful for any opposing offense.
The Outland Trophy Winner in 2017, awarded to the best interior defensive lineman in the country, Oliver was a consensus All-American, becoming just the eighth Cougar to receive the honor. He is a leader on and off the field, and his ability combined with his IMPACT explains why he has been nominated for the 2018 Lott Trophy.
Anthony Nelson DE, Iowa
Anthony Nelson is a leader on Iowa’s defense, with the ability to rush the passer, play the edge, and drop into coverage. He is an athletic prospect with the ability to wreak havoc in the backfield of opposing offenses. With 41 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 7.5 sacks throughout the 2017 season, Nelson received third team All-Big Ten recognition from the media and coaches.
Along with his impressive play on the field, Nelson was a first team CoSIDA Academic All-American for his performance in the classroom, achieving a 3.89 GPA. The Owls’ defensive end has been recognized as an All-Big Ten Academic selection the past two years, while logging over 100 hours of community service throughout his collegiate career. The Lott IMPACT Trophy revolves around performance on the field, in the classroom, and through community outreach, and Nelson emulates each aspect of the award. He is definitely a player to watch, heading into the 2018 season. If he can increase his production on the field, he may place himself at the top of the list come voting time.
Zach Allen DE, Boston College
One of the most disruptive players in the country, Allen was one of only two defensive linemen to record 100 tackles last season. Leading the Eagles with 15.5 tackles for a loss and accruing 5 sacks, Allen was named second team All-ACC. He is a dominant force with the versatility to play anywhere on the defensive line. A strong and impactful edge defender on Boston College’s defense, Allen has been a leader for their young roster and a staple in their last two bowl appearances.
Zach Allen, a foundational member of BC’s defensive front, received Academic All-ACC honors, Academic All District and became a National Honor Society member this past season.
Displaying the true meaning of student athlete, Allen has been a core leader on and off the field throughout his collegiate career. One of the most productive athletes on defense throughout the 2017 season, Allen has a chance to become the best player at the collegiate level; he is already one of the most productive defensive linemen. He is a player to watch once the 2018 season is underway.
Nick Bosa DE, Ohio State
One of the most intriguing defensive stars heading into the 2018 season is Nick Bosa, the brother of LA Charger All-Pro Joey Bosa. The Big-Ten Conference Defensive Lineman of the Year and a Coaches Association First Team All-American is poised to be one of the best defensive players of 2018. Totaling 34 tackles, Bosa led the buckeyes with 16 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks. A defensive force on the edge of Ohio State’s defense, Bosa has a chance to go number one overall in the 2019 NFL draft, challenging Ed Oliver as the best defensive player in the country. For his effort in each game during the 2017 campaign, team coaches named him “Game Champion,” a title no other defensive player has received in each contest. He is a game changer whenever he steps on the field and a team leader in the locker room. Nick Bosa received an Academic All-Big Ten for his diligence and efforts in the classroom. He is a student athlete who acts on the image set forth by the Lott Trophy Foundation, characterized by IMPACT. With another year of dominant production and accolades in the classroom, the Buckeyes’ defensive leader could run away with the prestigious honor of the Lott IMPACT Trophy.
Dexter Lawrence DT, Clemson
Clemson may boast the most threatening and talented defensive line in the country. Dexter Lawrence will be paired with counterpart Christian Wilkins throughout the season. The two-time All-ACC selection and second team All American will be terrorizing opposing quarterbacks all year, as he attempts to make a jump to the professional level in his final collegiate season.
Accruing 28 pressures over 27 career games, Clemson possesses an elite one-two punch on the interior defensive line. He is an elite talent and a leader in Clemson’s system. Don’t sleep on the big-bodied pass rusher, as Dexter Lawrence will impact this year’s voting by season’s end.
Joe Jackson DE, Miami
Jackson helped lead Miami to a 10-3 record and a national rank of 13th. He is an elite edge rusher with the ability to contain the run game or pressure the quarterback, accumulating 59 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks. Gaining Academic All-ACC honors and majoring in criminology, Jackson is a leader in the Hurricanes locker room and in the classroom. He is one of the top defensive ends in the country and is sure to continue building on his productive 2017 season.
Sutton Smith DE, Northern Illinois
One of the most productive defensive players in the country, Smith led the nation in tackles for loss with 29.5 and placed third for sacks with 14. A powerful and quick edge rusher with an explosive initial step off the line finished the 2017 season with 60 total tackles, 3 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns. The redshirt junior is a disruptive force and team leader on Northern Illinois’ young defensive unit. Going into his junior season, the
All-American looks poised to build on his sophomore campaign both on and off the field.
Jeffery Simmons DT, Mississippi State
There is a lot to like about Mississippi State’s defensive leader heading into the 2018 collegiate season. Simmons is a powerful defensive lineman with the versatility to play all over a defensive system. In 2017, he accounted for 60 total tackles, 12 for a loss, 5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles (two of which he recovered) and a defensive touchdown over 13 games played. He feasts on opposing offenses and can dominate offensive linemen at the point of attack. Simmons is one of the best defensive prospects in the country, and in his first year at Mississippi, he attained a 4.0 GPA and earned first year academic honor roll. Along with his accolades in the classroom, Simmons spends hours of work in the community where he frequently visits grade schools throughout the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia. He also has supported kids through Camp Rising Sun, Earl Nash Elementary, and Fifth Street School in West Point, providing motivation for success. Simmons represents the true meaning of IMPACT, on the field and community-wide, helping underprivileged children. However, there is one factor that may still haunt him. Coming into college, Simmons was charged with misdemeanor assault charges when he hit a woman attempting to separate a fight involving a family member. He has publicly apologized for this incident and has said, “I regret doing it, but I have to live and learn from it.” Throughout his time at Mississippi State, Simmons has grown into a team leader and a respectable member of the community, dedicating his time and support to children around the world.
Previous winners of the Lott IMPACT Trophy include:
2004 – David Pollack, Georgia
2005 – DeMeco Ryans, Alabama
2006 – Dante Hughes, Cal
2007 – Glenn Dorsey, LSU
2008 – James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
2009 – Jerry Hughes, TCU
2010 – J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
2011 – Luke Kuechly, Boston College
2012 – Manti Te’o, Notre Dame
2013 – Anthony Barr, UCLA
2014 – Eric Kendricks, UCLA
2015 – Carl Nassib, Penn State
2016 – Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
2017 – Josey Jewell, Iowa
A total of four defensive linemen have won the prestigious award.