Production, impact, consistency -- any way you want to measure who’s most deserving of these end-of-year defensive awards, Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib has to come out on top.
Nassib leads the nation in sacks (15.5) and boasts more than a dozen entire FBS teams, such as Rutgers and Georgia Tech. He’s second nationally in tackles-for-loss (19.5), behind a player who basically competed in three more games. And he leads the country in forced fumbles (6), more than entire squads like Michigan (5).
Not only has he produced incredible numbers all season long -- he set a school record by registering a sack in 10 straight games -- but he’s done so despite playing in just four snaps the last two games. (And he’s battled shoulder and hamstring issues at times this season, as well.)
He’s a former walk-on whom no one wanted a few years ago. Not even the Sun Belt. He got here because of an unparalleled work ethic, lifting weights on Fridays when he wouldn’t play on Saturdays and pumping out push-ups while his teammates slept. That’s not why he should win these awards -- but it certainly can’t hurt. The Lombardi Award not only goes to the best lineman/linebacker, for example, but also the athlete who “best exemplifies the discipline of Vince Lombardi.”
Nassib’s teammates used to playfully tease him because they didn’t even know what position he played when he first showed up as a thin 6-foot-6, 218-pound no-name walk-on. Now he’s a versatile 6-foot-7, 275-pound starter who can drop into coverage. He didn't start a single game in high school, and now he's arguably the best defensive player in the country. What’s more disciplined than that?
At any rate, even if we’re simply trying to measure who had the best season, it still absolutely has to be Nassib. Take a look at the past two Lombardi winners at defensive end -- LSU’s Glenn Dorsey and Georgia’s David Pollack, who also won the Bednarik -- and Nassib trumps them both this season. The former walk-on boasts more tackles-for-loss, sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles than either of them. In fewer games.
And he’s done better than this year’s other Lombardi finalists despite playing higher-ranked offensive lines and fewer snaps. When it comes to sacks allowed, Nassib’s median opponent is ranked No. 34 nationally in that stat. The other Lombardi finalists aren't even close. Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett is the next-lowest at No. 45 -- and he has four fewer sacks.
Nassib has better numbers than every single finalist in three critical categories (sacks, tackles-for-loss, forced fumbles), with the exception of Clemson’s Shaq Lawson in tackles-for-loss (22.5). But he’s also come up more often in clutch situations than anyone else. More than half of Nassib’s sacks (8.5) are coming on third down, along with nearly all of his forced fumbles (4). No other Lombardi finalist can say that, either percentage-wise or with raw numbers.
Sure, Nassib has the advantage of a good surrounding cast with defensive tackles like Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson. But he’s taken on double-teams just like every other defensive end here, and he’s been even more successful. Against an Army team that got off just one pass, Nassib finished with a sack. Against an Indiana squad that’s allowed just 1.08 sacks per game, Nassib grabbed two sacks and two forced fumbles. Against a solid Ohio State team, he had 1.5 sacks to go along with eight tackles and 3.5 tackles-for-loss -- all better numbers than Bosa in that matchup, despite the Buckeyes’ offensive line being far superior to Penn State’s.
Nassib may not be as physically talented as Bosa, he may not have the hype of Garrett, and he may not have hit the ground running like Lawson, but he’s had the better 2015 season. He’s put up better numbers, at clutch times, on a consistent basis. He’s never really had an off-game. He’s never given up on a play. And he’s never far from the quarterback.
Nassib deserves strong consideration for the Bednarik. And no defensive player is more deserving of the Lombardi Award. It should be his.