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Defensive Heisman Candidates

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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A handful of non-offensive players from the ACC and SEC who could emerge in the Heisman Trophy race.

The stars have to align for a player to contend for the Heisman Trophy, a notion that is especially true for a defender. Though long odds obviously await, here are a handful of defensive players from the ACC and SEC who could garner some attention for college football's most prestigious individual award. 

1. Derwin James, S, Florida State -- In one full season in Tallahassee, James, as a true freshman, finished with 91 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks; in his only complete game of 2016, he recorded eight stops and an interception. James may be the nation's most explosive player, a rare talent with the ability to take a game over out of the defensive backfield. He may also return some punts this fall. There is great anticipation around James' return to the field, following a left knee injury, and his first game back will be against Alabama, in Atlanta's new Mercedes Benz Stadium, in primetime. The new face of the Seminoles, James takes the field with an appealing energy and emotion.      

2. Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama -- Fitzpatrick played both cornerback and safety for the Crimson Tide at an All-American level a year ago and his versatility will continue to allow Alabama to do a variety of different things defensively. The SEC leader in interceptions last season with six, Fitzpatrick plays with unrivaled awareness and instincts. He also has a knack for the endzone, with four career pick-sixes, and a special teams score, in two years. Simply put, Fitzpatrick is a pure playmaker with remarkable athleticism and has been at his best against many of the best teams in the country.   

3. Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson -- Along with monstrous tackle Dexter Lawrence, Wilkins will lead a Tiger defensive line that is poised to be the best in all of college football. The number of ways he can impact a game are remarkable; in 2016, Wilkins amassed 20 quarterback pressures, 13 tackles for loss, ten pass break-ups, a blocked kick, a touchdown reception and a ten-yard run on a fake punt, the final two accomplishments coming in the same game. If Clemson uses Wilkins a number of different ways, that would clearly help boost his profile. 

4. Arden Key, DE, LSU -- Potentially the number one overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Key is the quintessential pass-rusher. As a sophomore, 6'6'' dynamo led the league and ranked fourth in the country with 1.09 sacks per game. Key added eleven quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles in just eleven games played. From Jadeveon Clowney to Myles Garrett, Key now looks to be the next-in-line of athletic freaks off the edge in the SEC.  

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports