It's a wonderment as to why LSU freshman cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. wasn't at least named a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award in 2019 but there's little doubt he should be the favorite as the 2020 season grows closer.
On Monday, Stingley, along with teammate JaCoby Stevens, were named to the Jim Thorpe Award watch list for the upcoming season. The LSU duo hope to carry a longstanding tradition over the last decade with college football's most prestigious defensive back award.
If Stingley or Stevens were to win the award, they'd join Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Grant Delpit as the fourth LSU player to earn the recognition as college football's premier pass defender. In all honesty, Stingley should've been a candidate for this award as a freshman as his six interception season led the country while his 21 passes defended was first in the SEC and second in the country.
He was a consensus All-American for his freshman year performance and a first-team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press. And the scary part is, he's only scratching the surface of his potential.
“He hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he’s going to be,” defensive coordinator Bo Pelini said. “He’s going to keep getting better and there’s just a lot of room for improvement.”
One of the bigger revelations to come out of the offseason was how the Tigers plan to be more versatile with Stingley in 2020. LSU coach Ed Orgeron said that the coaching staff would love to put the star sophomore in situations where he can make even more plays, like blitzing off the edge.
“I think this year you’re not going to see us just use Derek in man free coverage, I think you’re going to see him blitzing, I think you’re going to see him use his talents in some places where we need him on defense," Orgeron said on WWL radio this summer. "I think Bo’s going to mix it up where he’s going to have our corners doing different things.”
As for Stevens, the senior safety is coming off a breakout junior season where he very well could've been a day two pick in this past year's NFL Draft. En route to the undefeated championship, Stevens recorded 92 tackles, nine tackles for a loss, five sacks and three interceptions.
It was that rover safety role that Stevens, like Delpit before him, used to his advantage and should see a s. The mutual respect between LSU's new defensive coordinator and its senior leader became apparent as soon as Pelini was hired in January.
“‘I’m really excited,” Stevens said on LSU Sixty back in May. “Just how aggressive we’re going to be and how loose we’re going to play. The best thing I love about coach Pelini is he doesn’t make players adjust to his system. I can’t wait to get back to working with him.
"I can't even tell you how excited I am to have JaCoby Stevens in our system,” Pelini said during the Coaches Caravan a few weeks later. “He can do so many things. The NFL is going to be licking their chops over this guy. There's a lot of versatility, and there's a lot of depth in our secondary."
To see the complete Jim Thorpe Award watch list, click here.