Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston winning the Walter Camp Award as college football's player of the year and the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s top quarterback isn’t exactly shocking. The Heisman favorite has had an outstanding season and led the Seminoles to the national championship game in the process.
Although the not-draft-eligible Winston casts a wide awards shadow, several 2014 draft-eligible prospects have taken home their own hardware. Here are evaluations of the notable award winners; as always, draft-eligible nonseniors are denoted with an asterisk.
Maxwell Award -- Nation’s Most Outstanding Player
Alabama QB AJ McCarron (6-foot-3⅜, 204; Scouts Inc. Grade: 81)
Average arm strength and inconsistent downfield touch are two of the bigger knocks on McCarron, who is the sixth-ranked quarterback on our board.
Fair enough, but his résumé is unlike any other quarterback’s in the country. He’s a three-year starter who has won two national championships and has a 36-3 record in that role. Don’t make the mistake of attributing all that success to a strong supporting cast. While that played a part, McCarron is an accurate short-to-intermediate passer who makes sound decisions and deserves credit for the way he prepares. In addition, he’s an underrated athlete who keeps his eyes downfield as he moves around in the pocket.
Doak Walker Award -- Nation’s Outstanding Running Back
Boston College RB Andre Williams (5-11½, 224; Scouts Inc. Grade: 73)
No FBS back has rushed for more yards than Williams, who surpassed the 2,000-yard milestone (2,102) and led the FBS in carries (329) this year. He’s a powerful downhill runner who has the size and brute strength to pick up yards after contact, even though he runs high at times.
He has the foot speed to exploit cutback lanes and bounce runs outside, and he can make defenders pay for underestimating his deceptive top-end speed. The biggest concern is his ability to contribute to the passing game. He has 10 career catches, none this season, and he needs to improve his ability to pick up pressure in pass protection.
Biletnikoff Award -- Nation’s Outstanding Receiver
Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks* (5-10, 186; Scouts Inc. Grade: N/A)
Cooks is a junior who has not declared for the draft at this point and we have not yet given him a grade, but there’s little question that he would strengthen the 2014 receiver class if he decides to leave school.
He is an above-average route-runner with the burst and savvy to separate. While he doesn’t have great size, he’s built like Carolina’s Steve Smith, and like Smith, he’s more of a threat to come down with 50-50 balls than you’d think. He tracks the ball well, has good body control and is aggressive. He’s at his best after the catch, when he can make defenders miss and run away from pursuit.
John Mackey Award -- Outstanding Tight End
Washington TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins* (6-6, 266; Scouts Inc. Grade: 87)
Seferian-Jenkins is another junior who has not declared at this point, but we have given him a second-round grade and he could move into the first-round conversation if he were to declare. There’s little he can’t do when he’s at his best. He is a big target with above-average hands, the speed to work the seam and the athletic ability to produce after the catch. Plus he’s an effective in-line blocker who flashes above-average power.
As talented as he is, Seferian-Jenkins isn’t the top-ranked tight end on our board. His dip in production, inconsistent effort and a DUI charge stemming from a March incident are all reasons for concerns. North Carolina’s Eric Ebron has been more consistent, aggressive and productive. In fact, based on the tape, it’s hard not to feel Ebron was snubbed. Ebron, also an underclassman, has declared for the draft.
Bednarik Award -- Defensive Player of the Year Award
Outland Trophy Award -- Outstanding Interior Lineman
Pitt DT Aaron Donald (6-0½, 281; Scouts Inc. Grade: 82)
No player has more tackles for loss this season than Donald, who is the most disruptive defender in the country and deserving of both awards.
His explosive first step and quick feet are impressive on tape. But they are not the only reasons he’s lived in opponents’ backfields. He has the violent hands to shed much bigger blockers, whether he’s rushing the passer or defending the run.
Why doesn’t he project as a first-round pick? His diminutive frame raises a red flag and teams that like to play two-gap won’t value him as much as attacking one-gap defenses.
Jim Thorpe Award -- Nation’s Top Defensive Back
Michigan State DC Darqueze Dennard (5-11¾, 189; Scouts Inc. Grade: 88)
Even though I liked Florida State’s Lamarcus Joyner for this award, and the other finalist, Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, is the top-ranked corner on our board, all three have had great seasons and Dennard is a legit prospect in his own right.
He has above-average man-to-man cover skills, he does an excellent job of diagnosing plays and he’s a playmaker who makes quarterbacks pay for testing him. There’s also a lot to like about his willingness to step up in run support and sacrifice his body to make plays.