Josh Jackson Headlines My FWAA Defensive All-American Ballot

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As a member of the Football Writers Association of America, Your Humble Author votes in the organization’s All-American polls. The 2017 Defensive All-American ballots came due Sunday, and this vote has been officially cast. So let’s break it down, shall we?

DEFENSIVE LINE

Bradley Chubb, NC State: Perhaps the most fearsome defensive ends in college football, Bradley Chubb leads Power Five programs in a variety of metrics that best define edge rushers. He has 21.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, two forced fumbles and nine quarterback hurries. Though Chubb was not my nominee for the Bronko Nagurski Award, it wouldn’t surprise me if he won — and he’s definitely a shoo-in for Unanimous All-American.

Harrison Phillips, Stanford: There isn’t a more productive interior lineman in college football, and to that end, Harrison Phillips was my choice for the Outland Trophy in addition to his All-American nomination. Phillips has 11 tackles for loss, six quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick.

Hercules Mata’afa, Washington State: Hercules Mata’afa is smaller than a lot of teams’ defensive ends, say nothing for tackles. But at 250 pounds, Mata’afa uses his speed and agility to slip through creases and blow past much bigger offensive lineman. As a result, Mata’afa stockpiles statistics more impressive than most at his position, matching Bradley Chubb in tackles for loss — but his inclusion on my ballot isn’t solely the result of impressive numbers.

Mata’afa sets the entire tone for Alex Grinch’s “Speed D,” a scheme that has been transformative for this program.

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma: As a whole, the Oklahoma defense has not been good this season. However, defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo has been individually excellent. He has 16 tackles for loss, second among Power Five players only to fellow All-American nominees Bradley Chubb and Hercules Mata’afa. He leads the Big 12 with eight sacks, and has been at his best in big moments. To wit, he made two tackles for loss in the narrow win over K-State, and last week’s Playoff-defining victory over TCU. 

LINEBACKERS

Uchenna Nwosu, USC: Uchenna Nwosu might be off the radar for those who don’t cover or follow the Pac-12, but there arguably has not been a more important linebacker to his team’s success anywhere in college football. Nwosu is as proficient defending the pass as he is stopping the run, having led the nation in pass deflections for a point nearly two months into the campaign. That’s virtually unheard of for a linebacker.

Jeff Holland, Auburn: The Auburn defense has been outstanding this season, and never more so than in the Tigers’ blowout of then-No. 1 Georgia. The driving engine against the Dawgs, as he has been throughout the season, was outside linebacker Jeff Holland.

Holland made a sack and created a ridiculous three quarterback hurries in the win, which serves as the mantlepiece for his all-around outstanding season. Holland’s nine sacks on the year rank him behind only Chubb and Mata’afa among Power Five players. He’s also the nation’s leader in forced fumbles. 

Joel Lanning, Iowa State:  Do-everything — seriously, EVERYTHING — linebacker Joel Lanning is the face of Iowa State’s surprising season. Lanning ranks among the nation’s leaders in tackles with 99, has seven tackles for loss, an interception, three sacks and two pass break-ups. Not that it factored into my decision for All-American nomination at linebacker, but he’s the only player at the position with a touchdown pass, a touchdown run and a couple completions against a College Football Playoff contender. 

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Josh Jackson, Iowa: One question looming for Iowa ahead of the 2017 season: How does a secondary replace a transcendent playmaker and All-American like Desmond King? Answer: With another playmaker of his caliber.

Josh Jackson has carried the banner of excellence for the Hawkeyes defense, leading the nation in both interceptions (7) and passes defended (23) through Nov. 11. He saved his best for Iowa’s two biggest games against Ohio State…

…and Wisconsin.

For both his consistency and performance in marquee spots, Josh Jackson was my nominee for the Bronko Nagurski Award, given to the best defensive player in college football.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama: There’s a level of consistency to Alabama’s defensive dominance that borders on boring, which makes taking for granted the stellar individual play of certain Crimson Tide members all too easy. Such is the case for Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has not stockpiled the most impressive numbers — but he hasn’t needed to. No, Fitzpatrick’s excellence isn’t illustrated through lofty numbers, though his stats are still impressive: 44 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries and six passes defended. 

Fitzpatrick is currently banged up, but his performance up to the time of voting more than warranted an All-American nomination.  

Jalen Davis, Utah State: As noted in reference to Minkah Fitzpatrick, it’s best not to decide All-American voting exclusively on statistics. However, Jalen Davis boasts a stat so impressive, it’s almost worthy of inclusion all on its own. He’s returned three of his five interceptions for touchdowns on the season, matching Ohio State star Malik Hooker’s total a year ago. Davis is also one of the nation’s leaders in pass defended with 13. 

Quin Blanding, Virginia: No player has been more individually electric in Virginia’s surprise 2017 than defensive back Quin Blanding. Blanding is one of the ACC’s leading tacklers with 96, has three interceptions including a pick-six, and has made three tackles for loss.