PFF’s picks for every 2015 player award

Kevin Connaghan shares preseason favorites for the Maxwell Award, Davey O'Brien Award and more.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

PFF’s picks for every 2015 player award

We’ve already posted our preseason favorites for the Heisman Trophy and made our preseason choice for the newly created Joe Moore Award. Now, it’s time to take a look at our preseason picks for the rest of the player awards.

These picks are based largely on their performances in 2014, but with some consideration of the player’s situation and profile ahead of the 2015 season.

Maxwell Award (college player of the year) and Davey O’Brien Award (nation’s best quarterback)

Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU

The Davey O’Brien award for the nation’s best quarterback has favored mobile quarterbacks in recent years, giving the edge to a dual-threat passer like Boykin. A solid passer and terrific runner, Boykin is at his most dangerous when the play breaks down and he takes off, averaging 8.4 yards per successful scramble last season. A finalist for the Davey O’Brien award in 2014, Boykin has the skill set, profile and team support to claim the award in 2015. If TCU forces their way into the College Football Playoff this year, Boykin will be a strong contender to take home the Maxwell Award.

Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award (nation’s outstanding senior quarterback)

Cody Kessler, QB, USC

As a pure passer, Kessler was the best quarterback in college football last season, earning him a 98.1 passing grade. His 80.3 accuracy percentage was the nation’s top mark, and he enters 2015 as the established star on a talented team. If he can propel USC into College Football Playoff contention, Kessler could be primed to take home a number of awards.

Biletnikoff Award (nation’s top receiver) 

Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State

The award for the most outstanding receiver in college football went to a deserving Amari Cooper in 2014. However, fellow finalist Rashard Higgins was right there alongside Cooper as a contender and is our highest-ranked returning wide receiver with a 93.7 overall grade. Higgins averaged a staggering 4.54 yards per route run last season, making him the nation’s most productive receiver on a per-snap basis.

Doak Walker Award (nation’s top running back)

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

While the race to be the premier running back in college football in 2015 will be hotly contested, there are two front-runners — Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott. Both enjoyed terrific 2014 season’s and should be among the most productive players in the nation this time around. It’s difficult to choose between them, but Elliott’s 91.6 rushing grade led the nation, earning him the nod.

John Mackey Award (most outstanding tight end) 

Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas

All three 2014 finalists to be named the outstanding tight end in college football have left for the NFL, which means some new names will be called this time around. Henry’s well-rounded skill set makes him a strong contender. He earned a 91.8 receiving grade and an 80.5 run blocking grade as a sophomore, and looks set to be an even bigger part of the Arkansas offense in 2015.

Outland Trophy (nation’s best interior lineman)  

Sheldon Rankins, DT, Louisville

The award for the best interior lineman in the nation has often went to offensive linemen, but not always. Rankins deserves recognition for his terrific run defense and ability to consistently be a disruptive force. Rankins led all interior defensive linemen with a 93.0 run defense grade in 2014, while also recording nine sacks and 39 total pressures.

Rimington Trophy (most outstanding center) 

Joey Hunt, C, TCU

The award for the premier center in college football could well find its way to Waco in 2015. Excellent as both a run blocker and pass protector Hunt might be the most versatile center in college football. His 86.2 pass-protection grade, and 86 run-blocking grade both rank among the top seven centers. He also did well against the best opponents he faced in 2014, and a repeat performance in 2015 should lead to recognition.

Walter Camp Award (player of the year), Bednarik Award (defensive player of the year), Bronko Nagurski Trophy (defensive player) and Ted Hendricks Award (nation’s top defensive end)

Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State

We rated Bosa as the top player in the nation, making him a strong contender to win a hatful of awards. The Walter Camp award typically ends up in the hands of an offensive player, but every now and then a defensive player — such as Bosa — is impactful and influential enough that they force their way into consideration.

The Bednarik Award and Bronco Nagurski Trophy both acknowledge the best defensive player in football, while the Ted Hendricks Award recognizes the best defensive end — from a preseason perspective at least, Joey Bosa projects as the leading candidate for all three. Bosa had 13 sacks and 75 total pressures in 2014 on his way to a 90.5 overall grade — the best in the nation for an edge defender.

Rotary Lombardi Award (best lineman or linebacker)

Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona

Winner of the award in 2014, Wright should once again be the favorite to pick up the Rotary Lombardi Award this season. He was second in the nation with 61 run stops in 2014, on his way to a 90.6 run defense grade, while his 14 sacks and 48 total pressures earned him an 85.0 pass rush grade. The Rotary Lombardi Award recognizes the best down lineman or linebacker in football, and Wright certainly has those credentials.

Butkus Award (top linebacker) 

Myles Jack, LB, UCLA

The Butkus award recognizes the top linebacker in college football, and while Wright has a strong claim to that title, so too does his conference rival Jack. Jack first came to prominence as an exciting two-way star, but it’s his work as a linebacker that stands out most. Jack is a sure tackler, missing just one in every 18.6 attempts, eighth in the country, and excels in coverage – his 91.5 coverage grade led all linebackers.

Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back)

Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida

Hargreaves was superb in 2014, earning a nation-leading 97.5 coverage grade, and holding opposing quarterbacks to a 41.6 passer rating when targeting his coverage. Only 29 from 66 passes thrown his way were completed, he had two interceptions and broke up seven passes. Now a junior, Hargreaves has the profile, and an SEC platform to star in 2015 season, and is a strong candidate to be named the nation’s best defensive back.

Lott Trophy (defensive IMPACT player of the year)

Su’a Cravens, LB, USC

Although named for an all-time great safety Ronnie Lott, no safety has won this award and it’s easy to see that trend continuing. However, Cravens is a former-safety, and a strong contender for greater recognition in 2015. Cravens divides his time between a traditional linebacker role and covering the slot, and does both with distinction. As a run defender in 2014 he had 25 stops and a 91.3 grade. While in coverage he had three picks, five further passes defensed and allowed just 57.6 percent of throws into his coverage to be completed.

Paul Hornung Award (most versatile player) 

Adoree’ Jackson, CB/WR/Returner, USC

The Paul Hornung award prizes versatility, looking for two-way players and dynamic return men; Jackson meets all three criteria. Jackson made an immediate impact as a true freshman in 2014, quickly carving out a place in the corner rotation, allowing just a 53.9 percent completion rate into his coverage and earning a team-leading 83.1 coverage grade. Jackson was used sparingly on offense, but with dramatic impact, averaging 10.6 yards after the catch. He was also our tenth-highest graded kick returner, averaging 30.1 yards.

Lou Groza Award (best placekicker) 

Brad Craddock, K, Maryland

Craddock took home the Lou Groza award for the nation’s top place-kicker in 2014, and we have no argument with that. Craddock was our highest-graded place kicker, finishing the season with a 94.7 percent accuracy and making two 50+ yard kicks. If equal weight were given to kickoffs, Utah’s Andy Phillips would be a strong candidate.

Ray Guy Award (top punter) 

Austin Rehkow, P, Idaho

Tom Hackett is the reigning Ray Guy Award winner, and at the forefront of the movement towards rugby-style punting. He should be in contention once again, but if the committee wish to consider the merits of a more tradiional punter, they need look no further than Idaho’s Rehkow. With an average hang time of 5.26 seconds, Rehkow’s punts give his coverage team plenty of time to get downfield to discourage any return, making him our highest-graded punter in 2014.

| Analyst

Kevin has been an analyst at Pro Football Focus since 2014, with a particular focus on college football.

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