EAST HARTFORD, CT - AUGUST 30: Yawin Smallwood #33 of the Univeristy of Connecticut Huskies celebrates with teammates Jesse Joseph #91 and Sio Moore #3 following his sack of Mike Wegzyn #11 of the University of Massachusetts Minutemen during the game on August 30, 2012 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Add another preseason honor to Yawin Smallwood's resume. The rising junior, who was arguably the team's best player a year ago, has been named to College Football Performance Awards Defensive Watch List, according to the New Haven Register's Jim Fuller.
Smallwood, who played alongside NFL draftees Sio Moore, Trevardo Williams, Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson last season, racked up 120 tackles -- 15 coming behind the line of scrimmage -- and four sacks.
In addition to the national preseason recognition, Smallwood has also shown up on the radar of those in the NFL scouting community. ESPN's Mel Kiper ranks him as one of college's best inside linebackers, and SI.com's Tony Pauline thinks Smallwood has just scratched the surface on his NFL potential.
We wrote Tuesday that the defensive line has to be one of the few bright spots for the Huskies heading into 2014, and that's primarily because it has so much depth. But Smallwood will be the heart and soul of this defense that will have few familiar faces. In addition to Smallwood, veteran linebacker Jory Johnson, cornerback Byron Jones, and defensive lineman Jesse Joseph will need to have big seasons for the Huskies to approach the success they've had in recent years.