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Is Texas DE Cedric Reed poised to become nation's best defensive end?

High expectations accompany the senior into his final season at Texas.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

For defensive players, it's almost impossible to win Heisman trophies and not much easier to earn top billing like the cover of a preview magazine, as Texas Longhorns senior defensive end Cedric Reed did when Lindy's put him on the cover of 2014 In The Huddle - Texas, which is now available in stores and online.

But the honor was a deserved one and on Tuesday, Reed was named to the Ted Hendricks Watch List. The award is given to the nation's best defensive end and was won by former Horns Brian Orakpo in 2008 and Jackson Jeffcoat in 2013.

While there are a number of names on the watch list -- 31, in fact -- the acknowledgement of Reed's breakout season last year raises the question of whether or not he can actually win the award.

Reed tied for No. 16 in total sacks last season with 10.0 and five of the players in front of him were juniors -- Clemson's Vic Beasley (13.0), Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha (12.5),  Kansas State's Ryan Mueller (11.5), Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence (10.5), and Memphis' Martin Ifedi.

Those players likely represent his major competition, along with potential breakout stars like Missouri's Markus Golden, Arkansas' Trey Flowers, and Georgia's Ray Drew.

Of course, Reed provided more value than merely his ability to get to the quarterback, as he finished with 77 total tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, five fumbles forced, and four passes defensed. The total tackle for Reed eclipsed those of each of the five players who recorded more sacks in 2013.

Rated as the top defensive end in the senior class by ESPN's Mel Kiper in June, Reed has added strength in the offseason under new strength and conditioning coach Pat Moorer, climbing to over 270 pounds from around 260, which should allow him to further raise his level of play at the point of attack against opposing run games.

Further developing his pass-rushing moves could benefit him tremendously, as he generally gets by right now by using his long arms to keep offensive tackles out of his body. Not known for his quickness off the ball, either, if he's improved his athleticism as he he's added muscle mass, he stands a strong chance of increasing his sack numbers from 2013, even though he won't have Jeffcoat attracting attention on the other end of the line of scrimmage.

When head coach Charlie Strong watched tape of Reed when the Cleveland product came to talk to him about leaving for the NFL, he gave his unvarnished opinion -- he didn't think Reed was ready and told him as much, suggesting that the 6'6, 271-pounder return for his senior season.

So there's still some room for improvement left for Reed, whose frame has always hinted at a tremendous potential for growth there that he has now achieved.

The likely impending departure of TCU defensive end Devonte Fields reduces the competition for Reed in the race to win the Hendricks Award, leaving the Texas star as one of the early favorites, though he still faces stiff competition in the Big 12 from Mueller.

The rangy, high-effort Reed really started to maximize his talent in 2013 and if he takes even a modest step forward in 2014 could become the third Texas defensive end to bring the Hendricks back to Austin.