2023 Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watchlist

August 2, 2023 by FWAA

The Football Writers Association of America released its 2023 Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List today, selecting 94 defensive standouts from 69 schools in all 10 Division I FBS conferences, plus Independents. The watch list roster includes three returning players from last season’s FWAA All-America team, the top four tacklers from last season, the sack and interception leaders from 2022 and five secondary players who had at least six interceptions last year.

CollegeFootballPoll.com's Dave Congrove is a nominating member of the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.

The FWAA and the Charlotte Touchdown Club will announce finalists for the 2023 trophy on Nov. 15 and the winner will be unveiled Dec. 4 at the Bronko Nagurski Awards Banquet in Charlotte, N.C.

The trio of FWAA All-Americans top the list, each of them from the second team. Old Dominion linebacker Jason Henderson led all FBS players in tackles last year by a wide margin – his 15.5 tackles per game average was 4.2 tpc ahead of the second-best total. Ohio State linebacker Tommy Eichenberg, who averaged 9.2 tackles per game last season and helped the Buckeyes become the FBS’s 14th-best team in total defense and thrust them into the College Football Playoff semifinals. Clemson’s Tyler Davis is the third returning All-American plugging the middle of a Tigers’ defense that was 13th nationally stopping the run giving up 102.7 ypg.

Davis is one of 13 defensive tackles on the Bronko Nagurski Trophy watch list, 10 of which are also on the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, also awarded by the FWAA and releasing its list today. Besides the defensive tackles, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy list includes 29 linebackers, 19 each of cornerbacks and safeties and 16 defensive ends.  

Eichenberg is one of three Ohio State players on the list along with defensive end JT Tuimoloau and safety Lathan Ransom. Penn State, with one player from each segment of its defense in defensive end Chop Robinson, linebacker Abdul Carter and cornerback Kalen King, and Michigan, the same with defensive tackle Kris Jenkins in front of linebacker Junior Colson in front of safety Rod Moore, are nine of the Big Ten Conference’s 15 players that tie the Southeastern Conference for the most from one conference.

The SEC has three players each from defending national champion Georgia and Alabama. Georgia defensive end Mykel Williams and safety Malaki Starks, both fresh off last season’s FWAA Freshman All-America Team, join linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson for the Bulldogs. Also a Freshman All-American last season was Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner with teammate cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry and safety Malachi Moore joining him on the list. A quintet of Tigers – super sophomore linebacker Harold Perkins Jr. and Mekhi Wingo of LSU, cornerback Kris Abrams-Draine and linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper of Missouri, and Auburn cornerback D.J. James – are others among the nine schools represented from the SEC. Kentucky defensive tackle Deone Walker is another returning Freshman All-American.

Besides Davis, Clemson’s other representatives are linebackers Barrett Carter and Jeremiah Trotter Jr. Florida State is expected to challenge for the Atlantic Coast Conference title supported by watch listers defensive end Jared Verse up front and cornerback Fentrell Cypress II in the secondary. Also from the ACC is North Carolina linebacker Cedric Gray, who was third nationally in tackles last season with 146, and Miami safety Kamren Kinchens, who tied for third in the FBS with six interceptions.

Cornerback Josh Newton of national runner-up TCU is at the forefront of the 11-man crew from the Big 12 that has one player from 11 of its now 14 schools, including new members Cincinnati with super sophomore defensive tackle Dontay Corleone and UCF linebacker Jason Johnson. Heading up the 10 players from the Pac-12 are two from Utah, safety Cole Bishop and defensive tackle Junior Tafuna, and UCLA defensive end Laiatu Latu, the top returning sack leader from a year ago with 10.5 sacks that tied for seventh nationally.

There are 14 schools which have two players on the list including Buffalo, which has linebacker Shaun Dolac, second behind ODU’s Henderson in total tackles last season with 147 and an 11.3 tpc average, on the list joining safety Marcus Fuqua, whose seven interceptions tied for the national lead. Notre Dame’s pair are linebacker JD Bertrand and cornerback Benjamin Morrison. Illinois bolsters the Big Ten’s count with standout defensive linemen Jer’Zhan Newton on the end and tackle Keith Randolph in the middle.

Defending American Athletic Conference champion Tulane and UTSA, a new member to the conference and a co-favorite with Tulane in the preseason, each have two players. Tulane defensive end Darius Hodges and cornerback Jarius Monroe are two of the AAC’s six representatives along with linebacker Trey Moore and safety Rashad Wisdom from UTSA. Other schools with two players on the team are Marshall – safety Micah Abraham tied for third in the FBS with six interceptions last season – Oregon, Toledo and UTEP.

As a list by conference, the Big Ten and SEC lead with 15 each, the Big 12 has 11 and the Atlantic Coast and Pac-12 have 10 each followed by the American, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt with six each and Conference USA and the Independents with four.

In all 10 players from the 94-player list were on last season’s FWAA Freshman All-America Team. There are 69 schools – more than half of the FBS membership – represented on this year’s team.

Players may be added or removed from the watch list during the course of the season. As in previous years, the FWAA will announce a National Defensive Player of the Week each Tuesday this season. If not already on the watch list, each week’s honored player will be added at that time.

CB Micah Abraham, Marshall CB Kris Abrams-Draine, Missouri
DE Praise Amaewhule, UTEP LB Levelle Bailey, Fresno State
S Yam Banks, South Alabama LB JD Bertrand, Notre Dame
S Cole Bishop, Utah CB Cobee Bryant, Kansas
S Calen Bullock, USC DT James Carpenter, James Madison
LB Abdul Carter, Penn State LB Barrett Carter, Clemson
DT DeWayne Carter, Duke DT Kendy Charles, Liberty
LB Junior Colson, Michigan DT Dontay Corleone, Cincinnati
CB Fentrell Cypress II, Florida State  DT Tyler Davis, Clemson
CB Cooper DeJean, Iowa LB Shaun Dolac, Buffalo
DE Brandon Dorlus, Oregon LB Jamon Dumas-Johnson, Georgia
LB Tommy Eichenberg, Ohio State S Nick Emmanwori, South Carolina
DE JaQues Evans, WKU DE Donovan Ezeiruaku, Boston College
S Tra Fluellen, Middle Tennessee LB Jaylan Ford, Texas
S Marcus Fuqua, Buffalo LB Easton Gibbs, Wyoming
LB Cedric Gray, North Carolina LB Cal Haladay, Michigan State
DE Gabe Hall, Baylor LB Jason Henderson, Old Dominion
DE Darius Hodges, Tulane S Maxen Hook, Toledo
LB Ty'Ron Hopper, Missouri S Jack Howell, Colorado State
DT Jaylon Hutchings, Texas Tech DE Brennan Jackson, Washington State
CB D.J. James, Auburn DT Kris Jenkins, Michigan
LB Jason Johnson, UCF LB Layton Jordan, Temple
CB Donte Kent, Central Michigan S Kam Kinchens, Miami
LB Tyrice Knight, UTEP CB Kalen King, Penn State
DE Laiatu Latu, UCLA CB Jordan Mahoney, Massachusetts
CB Dwight McGlothern, Arkansas CB Kool-Aid McKinstry, Alabama
LB Jackson Mitchell, UConn CB Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo
CB Jarius Monroe, Tulane LB Cody Moon, San Diego State
S Malachi Moore, Alabama S Rod Moore, Michigan
LB Trey Moore, UTSA CB Benjamin Morrison, Notre Dame
DE Jer'Zhan Newton, Illinois CB Josh Newton, TCU
LB Maema Njongmeta, Wisconsin S Tyler Nubin, Minnesota
S Kitan Oladapo, Oregon State DE Collin Oliver, Oklahoma State
DT Devonte O'Malley, NIU LB Harold Perkins Jr., LSU
DE Owen Porter, Marshall DT Keith Randolph Jr., Illinois
S Lathan Ransom, Ohio State DE Chop Robinson, Penn State
S Kobe Savage, Kansas State LB DJ Schramm, Boise State
LB Jackson Sirmon, California S Malaki Starks, Georgia
CB Reddy Steward, Troy LB Danny Stutsman, Oklahoma
DT Junior Tafuna, Utah CB T.J. Tampa, Iowa State
S Trey Taylor, Air Force CB Ridge Texada, North Texas
DE Bralen Trice, Washington LB Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Clemson
DE JT Tuimoloau, Ohio State LB Dallas Turner, Alabama
DE Jared Verse, Florida State DT Deone Walker, Kentucky
LB Nathaniel Watson, Mississippi State CB Aydan White, N.C. State
S Evan Williams, Oregon DE Mykel Williams, Georgia
DT Mekhi Wingo, LSU S Rashad Wisdom, UTSA

The FWAA All-America Committee, after voting input from the association’s full membership, selects a 26-man All-America Team and eventually the Nagurski Trophy finalists. The Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner will be chosen from the five finalists named in November. Committee members, by individual ballot, select the winner they regard as the best defensive player in college football.

The FWAA has chosen a National Defensive Player of the Year since 1993. In 1995, the FWAA named the award in honor of the legendary two-way player from the University of Minnesota. Nagurski dominated college football, then became a star for professional football’s Chicago Bears in the 1930s. Bronislaw "Bronko" Nagurski is a charter member of both the College Football and Pro Football Halls of Fame.