The juniors are candidates for national defensive player of the year honor 

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama junior defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and junior defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne have been named to the 2017 Bednarik Award Watch List announced today by the Maxwell Football Club of Philadelphia.

The two are among 85 players from around the country named to the preseason list. Alabama’s Jonathan Allen became the first Crimson Tide defender to win the Bednarik Award when he was honored in 2016.

The leader of the Crimson Tide secondary after a pair of standout seasons in his first two years in Tuscaloosa, Fitzpatrick made the move to safety midway through the season in 2016 and will once again direct the Tide secondary in 2017. He has returned four interceptions for touchdowns during his career to set the Alabama all-time mark for pick-sixes. The Old Bridge, N.J., native was a first team All-American by the Associated Press, American Football Coaches Association and Pro Football Focus in 2016 and earned second-team honors from Walter Camp and The Sporting News. He led the team in interceptions (6) and interception return yards (186) as a sophomore and his 186 return yards ranked near the top nationally while his six picks tied for seventh in the FBS.

One of the key cogs along the Crimson Tide’s vaunted defensive front, Payne totaled 36 tackles, three quarterback hurries, one pass breakup and a fumble recovery for a touchdown in 2016. He added 3.5 tackles for loss (-13 yards) and 1.5 sacks (-10 yards) from his nose guard spot on one of the top defenses in Alabama history. The Birmingham, Ala., native scored a key touchdown in Alabama’s come-from-behind victory at Ole Miss last season with a three-yard return early in the third quarter to highlight his sophomore campaign.

The Chuck Bednarik Award has been presented annually since 1995 by the Maxwell Football Club of Philadelphia to the top defensive player in college football. The award is named in honor of former college and NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Chuck Bednarik. The 2017 winner will be announced at the ESPN Home Depot College Football Awards Show in December.