PFF's picks for 2016's biggest college football awards
With the regular season and college championship games in the books, it’s time to take a look at which players deserve recognition for this season’s body of work. Based on PFF data, Steve Palazzolo, Jeff Dooley and Josh Liskiewitz share our top picks for the biggest awards in college football:
Make sure to check out our top 10 picks for the Heisman Trophy as well.
Maxwell Award: Outstanding Player; Walter Camp Award: Player of the Year
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The most dynamic player in college football, Jackson dominated in the run game with a 97.8 grade that led all quarterbacks as he ran for 1,793 yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging 9.1 yards per carry. Jackson’s improvement as a passer made him even more dangerous as he threw for 30 touchdowns while averaging 8.9 yards per attempt. Jackson’s domination in the designed run game opened up the passing attack to lead to his gaudy numbers in a breakout sophomore campaign.
Home Depot Award: Coach of the Year
Nick Saban, Alabama
While this award is often reserved for a coach who overachieved, Saban’s ability to simply meet expectations earns him the award. Since college coaches shop for the groceries and make the dinner, Saban’s loading up a roster with five-stars is a part of the evaluation process, followed by Alabama’s trek to an undefeated season and the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff. Saban played a true freshman at quarterback in Jalen Hurts and no one would even know with the way the Crimson Tide dominated their competition on a weekly basis.
Doak Walker Award: National Running Back Award
Dalvin Cook, Florida State
After a slow start, Cook reminded the nation why he was a top Heisman candidate coming into the season. He finished the year with 79 missed tackles forced to lead the nation while averaging 3.9 yards after contact per rush, both numbers leading to a 112.9 elusive rating that led all runners with at least 150 carries. Cook also did damage in the passing game with 426 yards on 30 receptions as the nation’s best big-play running back contributed in a number of ways this season.
Davey O’Brien: National Quarterback Award
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
While Lamar Jackson was the best overall player, Mayfield was the best passer and we’re giving him the nod here. He was one of the nation’s most efficient passers, rarely missing throws and finishing second in the country with an adjusted completion percentage of 79.6 percent. Mayfield led the way on adjusted completion percentage on deep (20-plus yard) passes at 62.1 percent and he was cool under pressure with the top passer rating in the land when under heat. No matter which way it’s sliced, Mayfield was the nation’s top passer this season.
Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award: Outstanding Senior Quarterback
Greg Ward Jr., Houston
One of the nation’s best dual-threats, Ward ranked fifth overall among quarterbacks with an 89.4 grade including a No. 5 mark as a runner at 89.8 and the No. 10 passing grade at 78.4. He was much more runner than passer last season, but Ward made great strides throwing the ball this season as he cut down on his turnover-worthy throws and negatively-graded passes while finishing 18th in the country with and adjusted completion percentage of 73.8 percent.
Fred Biletnikoff Award: Outstanding Receiver
Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma
After a slow start, Westbrook was uncoverable the last two-plus months of the season, finishing with 1,465 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns while averaging 19.8 yards per reception. Perhaps most impressive is his catch percentage as he caught 75.5 percent of his targets, a number that was not reached by any receiving with a yards per reception average higher than 12.4. Westbrook caught 60.9 percent of his deep targets to lead all Power-5 receivers and he also led with 695 yards and 11 scores on deep passes. Whether getting down the field or creating after the catch, Westbrook did it all this season.
John Mackey Award: Outstanding Tight End
O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
The nation’s most balanced tight end, Howard led the way with an 82.0 grade as a run blocker to go with a strong 78.6 grade as a receiver. He caught all but one of his 38 catchable targets while averaging 7.2 yards after the catch per reception. Alabama fans may still be waiting for Howard to be unleashed in the passing game but his weekly contribution in all phases does not go unnoticed.
Outland Trophy: Outstanding Interior Lineman
Jonathan Allen, DI, Alabama
Alabama’s defense is flirting with all-time great status and Allen is the most disruptive defensive player on the team. He leads all interior defensive linemen with 56 pressures, including 11 QB hits. His 93.3 pass rush grade leads all interior defensive linemen and he’s one of the nation’s best against the run at 85.7. Allen’s interior disruption sets the tone for an elite Alabama defense and it has him in the running for many of the nation’s top awards.
Vince Lombardi/Rotary Award: Outstanding Lineman
Jordan Willis, Edge, Kansas State
Willis seems an unlikely candidate among so many big names and top performers, but his 94.6 overall grade was the best in the country for edge players. His pass rush grade of 94.2 is also the best mark in FBS, and his 88.1 run defense grade puts him fifth. He finished the year with 14 sacks and 73 total pressures, along with 31 total defensive stops. He notched at least six pressures in six different games, topping out with a ridiculous 15 against rival Kansas.
Chuck Bednarik Award: Defensive Player of the Year
Jonathan Allen, DI, Alabama
We put Allen in the top three of our Heisman candidates list – that’s how highly we think of his performance for the undefeated Crimson Tide this year. He translated impressive grades in a part-time role a year ago into outstanding production in a full-time role this season, finishing the regular season ranked second in PFF’s interior defender grades at 91.7. He was great as a run defender, but even better against the pass, producing 56 total QB pressures, including nine sacks. Both numbers are No. 1 among interior D-linemen this year.
Dick Butkus Award Outstanding Linebacker
Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Another excellent performer on the Crimson Tide’s shutdown defense, Foster finished the regular season ranked No. 1 among all Power-5 linebackers in PFF grades, at 92.5. He performed well as a pass-rusher (three sacks, 10 hits, four hurries) and as a coverage defender (passer rating allowed of just 79.2), but his best work came against the run. He earned an outstanding run-stop rate of 15.5 percent – also best in the Power-5 – and only missed four tackles all season long.
Jim Thorpe Award: Outstanding Defensive Back
Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson
Tankersley rose to the top of an outstanding class of cornerbacks and safeties, grading at 89.7 overall. He was targeted 56 times, allowing only 25 catches (44.6 percent) while intercepting three passes and breaking up seven.
Ted Hendricks Award: Defensive End of the Year Award
Myles Garrett, Edge, Texas A&M
Injuries hampered Garrett somewhat this season, but he was still one of the most destructive forces in the nation. He ranked second among all edge defenders in PFF grades, at 92.0, and was for the third-straight season one of college football’s best edge rushers, producing nine sacks, 15 hits and 27 hurries for an outstanding 51 total QB pressures. But perhaps most impressive was the improvement he made as a run defender. He appears primed for a top-five selection in the 2017 NFL draft, and is our pick for the best defensive end in the country.
Paul Hornung Award: Most Versatile Player
Jabrill Peppers, LB/RB/PR, Michigan
Peppers was listed as a linebacker at Michigan this year, but the reality is he was the very definition of a hybrid player. He saw snaps at every back seven position on defense, running back, punt returner and kick returner. On defense he contributed 17 QB pressures (including three sacks) and 30 total stops. On offense he was a wildcat QB, and gained 166 yards on 26 touches, scoring three touchdowns and forcing eight missed tackles. He was at his very best as a punt returner, however, as he averaged 14.6 yards per return. He returned one punt for a touchdown, returned another for a score that was called back for a penalty away from the play and took another inside the 10-yard line.
Lou Groza Award: Best Kicker
Zane Gonzalez, Arizona State
Gonzalez was the nation’s top kicker this year, showcasing his booming leg on both kickoffs and field goals. Accurate on every kick inside 50 yards, and going seven-for-nine on kicks from beyond 50, he boomed 59 touchbacks from 81 kickoffs.
Ray Guy Award: Best Punter
Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah
Wishnowsky was the top punter in the nation, grading far better than any of his peers at the position. With a long of 66, Wishnowsky led the nation with a net yard average of 44.6, and with 36 of his 60 punts landing inside the opposing 20 yard line.