Photo by Jevone Moore

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (FWAA) – Three finalists for the 2021 Bronko Nagurski Trophy representing the top three teams in the current College Football Playoff rankings and two conferences were named Wednesday by the Football Writers Association of America and the Charlotte Touchdown Club as candidates for the award honoring the nation’s top defensive player. One finalist’s team has already clinched a spot in a conference championship game and the two others can clinch spots with wins on Saturday.

In alphabetical order, the finalists are Alabama linebacker Will Anderson Jr., Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis and Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux.

The Bronko Nagurski Trophy recipient will be chosen from these three finalists. The FWAA All-America Committee, after voting input from the association’s entire membership, selects the defensive player of the year who is part of the 2021 FWAA All-America Team and presented with the trophy at the Bronko Nagurski Awards Banquet presented by LendingTree on Mon., Dec. 6 at the Charlotte Convention Center.

Here is a look at the 2021 finalists:

Will Anderson Jr., LB, Alabama (#31, 6-4, 243, So., Hampton, Ga.): Last season’s FWAA Freshman Player of the Year is the cog in an Alabama (9-1) defense that is fourth nationally in rushing defense giving up just 83.5 yards per game. Anderson is versatile in “affecting the quarterback,” a non-statistical term but a favorite of head coach Nick Saban when talking with the media. A beast in the backfield, he leads the nation in sacks (12.5) and tackles for loss (23.0) and has been credited by the Alabama coaching staff with a team-high 34 quarterback pressures. Only Derrick Thomas (1987-88) and Wallace Gilberry (2007) have better single-season sack and TFL numbers in Crimson Tide history. Anderson was the Bronko Nagurski National Player of the Week on Oct. 16 following a 4.0-sack game at Mississippi State, the most since Thomas did it in 1988, and has had at least one sack in 7 of 10 games. His 67 tackles (36 solo), second on the team, include and at least 1.0 TFL in nine of 10 games.  Alabama’s previous Bronko Nagurski winner was defensive end Jonathan Allen in 2016, and the Crimson Tide have had finalists now in nine of the last 11 seasons, most recently nose guard Quinnen Williams in 2018.

Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia (#99, 6-6, 340, Sr., Charlotte, N.C.): Davis is credited with being the most dominant defensive tackle in college football for top-ranked Georgia (10-0). The Bulldogs own the nation’s second-best total defense, giving up 247.0 yards per game and, with Davis anchoring the interior line, own the nation’s second-best rushing defense (78.1 ypg). Georgia is the national scoring defense leader (7.6 ppg) by more than a touchdown and has not given up more than 17 points in any game. Davis first garnered attention in Week 1 when he earned the Bronko Nagurski National Player of the Week honor with three tackles and a sack as Georgia held Clemson to two rushing yards in a 10-3 win. Double-teamed and avoided in the middle, Davis’ 23 tackles and 3.5 sacks don’t pop off the stat sheet. But nobody has been able to run past Davis and the attention he commands opens opportunities for other players, as linebackers Nakobe Dean and Channing Tindall and safety Lewis Cine are each having All-America caliber seasons. Georgia is well represented in Bronko Nagurski Trophy history. The Bulldogs have now had a finalist in three of the last five seasons (safety J.R. Reed in 2019 and linebacker Roquan Smith in 2017), seven finalists overall, and one previous winner in Champ Bailey from 1998.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon (#5, 6-5, 258, Soph., Los Angeles, Calif.): Thibodeaux is perhaps the hottest defender in the nation and the first Bronko Nagurski finalist for Oregon (9-1) since defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in 2005. The pass rush specialist lists as a linebacker but usually plays standing up on the defensive front. Thibodeaux had 26 quarterback pressures in the four games leading into last weekend and owns a 91.2 pass-rush grade from PFF, ninth-best among FBS edge defenders. He added two sacks last week against Washington State, and despite losing two early-season games to injury, leads Oregon with 6.0 sacks and has 35 total tackles, fifth-best on the Ducks. Thibodeaux was the Bronko Nagurski National Player of the Week for Oct. 23 when he had a career-high nine tackles, 4.5 TFL’s and two sacks in a win over UCLA. Oregon has never had a Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner.

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.

The Bronko Nagurski Trophy is a member of the National College Football Awards Association (NCFAA), which encompasses the most prestigious awards in college football. Founded in 1997, the NCFAA and its 25 awards now boast over 800 recipients, dating to 1935. Visit ncfaa.org and @NCFAA on Twitter to learn more about the association.

Founded in 1941, the Football Writers Association of America consists of journalists, broadcasters, publicists, photographers and key executives in all areas of college football. The FWAA works to govern media access and gameday operations while presenting awards and honors, including an annual All-America team. For more information about the FWAA and its programs and initiatives, contact Executive Director Steve Richardson at 214-870-6516 or tiger@fwaa.com.

About the Charlotte Touchdown Club
The Charlotte Touchdown Club is a non-profit organization founded in 1990 for the purpose of promoting high school, collegiate, and professional football in the Charlotte, N.C., region. The club’s activities and services focus community attention on the outstanding citizenship, scholarship, sportsmanship, and leadership of area athletes and coaches. Since 1990, the club has raised and donated nearly $3 million to benefit area high school and collegiate athletics. For more information, contact John Rocco (704-347-2918 or jrocco@touchdownclub.com). The official website of the Charlotte Touchdown Club is touchdownclub.com.

About LendingTree, Inc.
LendingTree is the nation’s leading online marketplace that connects consumers with the choices they need to be confident in their financial decisions. LendingTree empowers consumers to shop for financial services the same way they would shop for airline tickets or hotel stays, by comparing multiple offers from a nationwide network of over 500 partners in one simple search and choosing the option that best fits their financial needs. Services include mortgage loans, mortgage refinances, auto loans, personal loans, business loans, student refinances, credit cards, insurance and more. Through the My LendingTree platform, consumers receive free credit scores, credit monitoring and recommendations to improve credit health. My LendingTree proactively compares consumers’ credit accounts against offers on their network and notifies consumers when there is an opportunity to save money. LendingTree’s purpose is to help simplify financial decisions for life’s meaningful moments through choice, education and support.