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Arden Key leads watch list field for Butkus Award

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Just a couple months ago, it was unclear whether Arden Key would even be on the LSU football team this fall.

Now, he's not only back with the Tigers, he's on the Butkus Award watch list, which is given to college football's top linebacker each year. Key ended a leave of absence from the team last month, and won't be ready for the start of fall camp while he recovers from shoulder surgery. He is an edge pass rusher for the Tigers who set a school record last year with 12 sacks in only 11 games. LSU coach Ed Orgeron said last week at SEC Media Days that he believes Key could be better than former Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett, who was drafted No. 1 overall in April by the Cleveland Browns.

Other notable players on the Butkus Award watch list: USC's Porter Gustin, Texas' Malik Jefferson, Iowa's Josey Jewell and Washington's Azeem Victor. There are 51 players in all; Butkus wore No. 51 for the Chicago Bears, one of 14 jersey numbers retired by the club.

The Butkus Award, named for Pro Football Hall of Famer Dick Butkus, has produced a long line of prized draft picks. The last 15 Butkus Award winners have been selected in the first or second round of the draft, including C.J. Mosley, Luke Kuechly, Von Miller and Patrick Willis. Last year's winner was Alabama's Reuben Foster, a first-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers.

The complete Butkus Award watch list:

Note: Click through tabs above to see other watch lists.

Genard Avery, Memphis

Jerome Baker, Ohio State

Davin Bellamy, Georgia

Keishawn Bierria, Washington

Eric Boggs, Appalachian State

Oren Burks, Vanderbilt

Jason Cabinda, Penn State

Lorenzo Carter, Georgia

Jermaine Carterq, Maryland

Jack Cichy, Wisconsin

Koron Crump, Arizona State

Nick DeLuca, North Dakota State

Devante Downs, California

Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin

Rashaan Evans, Alabama

DeMarquis Gates, Mississippi

Dre Greenlaw, Arkansas

Shaquem Griffin, UCF

Porter Gustin, USC

Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama

James Hearns, Louisville

Manase Hungalu, Oregon State

Malik Jefferson, Texas

Josey Jewell, Iowa

Jordan Jones, Kentucky

Kendall Joseph, Clemson

Junior Joseph, UConn

Peter Kalambayi, Stanford

Arden Key, LSU

Micah Kiser, Virginia

Darius Leonard, South Carolina State

Mike McCray, Michigan

Skai Moore, South Carolina

Airius Moore, North Carolina State

Nyles Morgan, Notre Dame

Uchenna Nwosu, USC

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma

D.J. Palmore, Navy

Jacob Pugh, Florida State

Shaquille Quarterman, Miami (Fla.)

Tegray Scales, Indiana

Cameron Smith, USC

Sione Teuhema, Southeastern Lousiana

Matthew Thomas, Florida State

Azeem Victor, Washington

Fred Warner, BYU

Tre' Williams, Auburn

Chris Worley, Ohio State

Trevon Young, Louisville

Kenny Young, UCLA

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter @ChaseGoodbread.

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