The watch list was compiled by a panel of college football experts based on a combination of 2016 statistics, career performance, SID recommendations and expectations heading into the 2017 season.
Mike McCray, the senior linebacker from OH, is one of 51 to have his name included in the Butkus Award watch list released Monday.
Thomas was previously named to the Bednarik Award watch list as the nation's top defensive player and is FSU's leading returning tackler with 77 in 2016.
South Korea seeks rare talks with North to ease military tensions
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Named after Louisville native Hornung, the award has been given annually to the most versatile player in college football since 2010. The award, given to the nation's best linebacker, is presented by the Butkus Foundation.
Alabama's Reuben Foster - a first-round selection of the San Francisco 49ers - won the award a year ago. Johnson (2003) and Sergio Kindle (2009) are the only other Longhorns to be named finalists.
Auburn's Rudy Ford was part of the 2016 Hornung Award preseason watch list for his versatility in the defensive backfield and on special teams. That included 11 tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. This will be The Paul Hornung Award's second year as an associate member of the prestigious National College Football Awards Association. In addition, he was a semifinalist for the Butkus Award. He finished the season with 51 total tackles (25 solo, 26 assisted), nine tackles for loss, and five sacks. The award was first presented in 1985.