|Arizona State's Will Sutton (No. 90) pressuring Utah quarterback Travis Wilson. (US Presswire)|
Of the dozens of individual awards handed out at the conclusion of each season of college football, the Pac-12's Morris Trophy is unique. Coaches and media are given zero input in deciding the winner. Only those whose opinion matter most -- opposing linemen -- count as the conference annually determines just who rates as the league's elite offensive and defensive linemen.
All of which makes the results of this year's polling all the more shocking.
The Board of Directors of the Morris Trophy, in conjunction with the Washington Athletic Club, announced that Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton and Stanford left tackle David Yankey, each underclassmen potentially eligible for early entry into the 2013 NFL draft, are the Pac-12's most dominating linemen.
While each certainly has the talent (and production) to warrant the honor, their victories were nonetheless considered upsets, especially on the defensive side with Sutton overtaking likely top 10 pick and reigning Morris Trophy winner, Star Lotulelei of Utah. Former Southern Cal left tackle Matt Kalil was voted the conference's best offensive lineman a year ago. He's played at a high level at left tackle for the Minnesota Vikings this season after being the No. 4 overall selection of the 2012 NFL draft.
While Lotulelei is expected to have the last laugh over Sutton and the rest of the Pac-12 defensive linemen when it comes to the 2013 draft, there is no denying the ASU defender's statistical advantage over the Utah star.
Sutton, who laughably has been listed by the Sun Devils at 6-1, 267 pounds for the past two seasons despite carring a frame much closer to 300 pounds, used his great quickness and tenacity to lead the conference with an average of 1.82 tackles per loss per game. His total of 20 tackles for loss put him just half a tackle for loss behind UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr for the conference lead -- and Barr played in an extra game with the Bruins qualifying for the Pac-12 championship. Hardly just productive against the run, Sutton led all interior entire country with 10.5 sacks interior defensive linemen with 10.5 sacks on the season. For the sake of comparison, Lotulelei posted 11 tackles for loss and five sacks, among his 42 overall tackles.
While Sutton lacks the classic size of most highly regarded defensive tackles, his quickness and surprising strength could make him an ideal pass-rush specialist from the interior. As NFL offenses increasingly turn to the short passing game, penetrating defensive linemen (such as the Cincinnati Bengals' Geno Atkins, for example) have become all the more valuable in the NFL. As such Sutton, despite his less than ideal size, currently ranks as a potential top 100 pick by NFLDraftScout.com.
Whereas the draft ranking for Sutton is a bit lower than most recent Morris Trophy winners, the 6-5, 310 pound Yankey is almost universally highly regarded. Voted an All-American this season by the American Football Coaches Association, Yankey has helped the Cardinal move past the loss of former all-conference left tackle Jonathan Martin by starting most games at the all-important blindside position. When not operating at left tackle, Yankey has slid around to the other positions up front for Stanford, actually logging time at all four exterior line positions this season. Despite the inconsistency in where he's lined up, Yankey has been dominant, allowing just one sack on the year and grading out at 86% on the year. Yankey currently ranks as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 3 offensive tackle prospect in the 2015 draft class.