Trio of Panthers pegged as Bednarik Award contenders

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Sarah Cutshall | Senior Staff Photographer

Jaylen Twyman has received All-American honors and is a candidate for the Outland and Nagurski trophies.

By Stephen Thompson, Sports Editor

A trio of Pitt football defenders — redshirt junior safety Paris Ford, redshirt junior defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman and senior defensive end Patrick Jones II — were named to the Chuck Bednarik Award watchlist Monday.

The Bednarik — given to college football’s best defensive player — is governed by the Maxwell Football Club, who will narrow the watchlist to 20 semifinalists on Nov. 3 and then three finalists on Nov. 23. The winner is announced at the College Football Awards on Dec. 10.

But history is not on the side of the Panthers. Only one Pitt player – current Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald — has ever won the Bednarik. Donald took home the Bednarik, Lombardi and Nagurski awards as well as the Outland Trophy in 2013 before departing Pitt for the NFL.

Pitt’s three watchlist players are tied for the most players of any school in the country, alongside USC and reigning national champion LSU. The Atlantic Coast Conference also led the Power Five with 18 players earning watchlist honors, blowing away competing conferences. The second-place Pac-12 was closer to the fifth-place Big 10 than the leading ACC in terms of players named to the watchlist.

Should college football be played this fall, the Panthers will face a total of 15 Bednarik Award watchlist honorees from opposing teams.

This is only the latest addition to Ford’s growing resumé. He has already been named a preseason All-American by Athlon Sports, Sporting News and national football writer Phil Steele, in addition to being named to the Jim Thorpe Award and Nagurski Trophy watchlists.

Despite coming to Oakland as one of head coach Pat Narduzzi’s highest-rated recruits, Ford redshirted his first year in 2017 before serving a reserve role in 2018. But his talent could only be contained for so long — Narduzzi publicly declared him as a starting safety at the end of spring practices, and Ford delivered in his first full year.

He has compiled 97 total tackles, 14 passes defended, three forced fumbles and three interceptions in 13 games played. Ford is projected as a first-round pick should he choose to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the 2021 NFL Draft.

The same can be said for Ford’s teammate Twyman. After seeing limited action in his redshirt sophomore year, the four-star recruit turned in a productive 2019 campaign. After starting interior lineman Keyshon Camp suffered a season-ending knee injury in the season opener against Virginia, Twyman was tasked as his replacement.

He quickly became a point of focus for opposing offensive lines, but still managed to post 10.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and a pair of passes defended. In addition to recognition for the Bednarik Award, Twyman has received All-American honors, is a candidate for the Outland and Nagurski trophies and is also considered a first-round NFL Draft talent.

Rounding out Pitt’s list of Bednarik contenders is Jones. Perhaps the least-heralded of Pitt’s star defensive trio, Jones is still surrounded by lofty expectations. Like Ford and Twyman, his progress was sparked by opportunity. When the Panthers’ best edge rusher Rashad Weaver went down with a knee injury in preseason camp last year, Jones was one of the few veterans left in his unit.

With his full season as a starter, Jones starred. Eighteen quarterback hurries, 11.5 sacks, eight and a half tackles for loss and four fumble recoveries earned him a spot on the All-ACC second team and an honorable mention in Phil Steele’s All-American team.

With talent stacked across the defensive line, opposing offenses will be spread thin trying to account for all of Pitt’s prolific pass-rushers. That will open the door for Jones to further improve on his standout junior campaign.

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