Arden Key, LSU
As the most disruptive pass-rushing linebacker in college football, Key enters the season as the 2017 Butkus Award favorite.
A four-star recruit from Atlanta, Key had his pick of major programs coming out of high school and chose to join LSU over the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Georgia. Despite playing for an LSU defense that consistently stocks the NFL with talent, Key impressively managed to crack the rotation as a true freshman, racking up 41 tackles and five sacks.
Key took things to a different level last season with 55 tackles. including 12.5 behind the line of scrimmage, two forced fumbles and 11 sacks to set the LSU single-season record. At 6-6 with a long frame and incredibly explosive athleticism, Key was too much to handle for opposing offensive lineman, and even ran down quarterbacks like Heisman winner Lamar Jackson with ease.
That was already scary enough, but Key is all the way up to 255 pounds, giving him even more power off the edge. While offseason shoulder surgery a personal level of absence during the spring are concerns, Key is ahead of schedule in his recovery and is hopeful to return to practice ahead of LSU’s opener against BYU.
With 2016 Butkus finalist Kendall Beckwith gone, Key is going to be the top defender on another loaded LSU unit. If fully healthy, Key has all the potential to win the Butkus Award and other defensive honors.