After Clemson lost seven defensive starters from a team that finished runner-up to Alabama for college football’s national championship, questions surrounded the Tigers’ defense entering this season.
Defensive lineman Christian Wilkins has helped provide an answer , filling the void created by the departures of defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd to the NFL.
Wilkins now finds himself among five finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, an award that goes to college football’s top defensive player. It will be presented by the Charlotte Touchdown Club on Dec. 5 at the Charlotte Convention Center.
Other finalists are Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen, Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster, Florida State defensive back Tarvarus McFadden and Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers.
Wilkins, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound sophomore from Springfield, Mass., leads Clemson this season with 11 tackles for loss and has 3.5 sacks. The Tigers rank 14th nationally in total defense and are tied for fifth in sacks per game, a category Alabama leads.
Allen, a senior from Leesburg, Va., has accounted for seven sacks while pacing Alabama with 13 quarterback hurries. Teammate Foster, a senior from Auburn, Ala., leads the Crimson Tide with 70 tackles, 35 of them solo.
The Seminoles’ McFadden, a sophomore from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., leads the country with seven interceptions.
Peppers, a junior from East Orange, N.J., has 59 tackles, including four sacks and 14 tackles for loss for the Wolverines.
Also, former U.S. Naval Academy defensive back Chet Moeller will receive the Nagurski Legends Award, and West Point’s Andrew King will accept the inaugural Defender of the Nation Award. It honors a member of the nation's military academies and institutions who has demonstrated exceptional leadership on the field, in the classroom and in the community.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe will be the keynote speaker for the event, which will be televised by CBS Sports Network at 7 p.m. on Dec. 8.