CHICAGO -- The 30th annual Butkus Award honoring the nation’s best linebackers kicked off its selection process Monday by announcing its preseason watch list.

The watch list contains 51 candidates, honoring the retired professional jersey of Dick Butkus, who is regarded by NFL Films as the best defensive player in football history. The selection panel is comprised of 51 coaches, evaluators and journalists. Players who do not appear on the watch list are eligible for the award.

The 2014 watch list includes candidates from 40 universities, including returning 2013 semifinalist Denzel Perryman of Miami (Fla.). Two prior high school Butkus Award winners made the list, including Jordan Hicks of Texas and Jaylon Smith of Notre Dame.

Semifinalists will be named Oct. 27, finalists Nov. 24, and the winner will be notified on or before Dec. 9.

Related:
Complete Butkus Award watch list