Do the awards in College Football actually matter? Well, yes, of course they do. They are given out to only the most deserving players and coaches in College Football. What then does my question mean, and why would I even ask it? My actual question is not if they matter to the player, but if they matter in providing a roadmap for who will and will not be a successful player.
There are many awards given out each year, which is why I have split the awards into Offense and Defense. Beginning with Offense, we will explore the winners of these awards over the past 10 years, how they faired in the NFL and if there is a concrete way of predicting how a player will do in the hardest league in sport.
The awards I will look at will be all the awards given to players on the Offensive side of the ball. Except the Heisman Trophy, which requires its own article as it is the biggest award in the College Football Season. I also will not be looking at the Walter Camp Trophy and the Maxwell Award. These are given to Best Player in College Football, which mostly coincides with the Heisman Trophy. If this is not the case in that year, then it will be addressed. The Defensive player awards will get their own article too. What then are the awards we will look at?
The College Football Offensive Awards
The Davy O’Brien Award – Best Quarterback
The Fred Biletnikoff Award – Best Wide Receiver
The Doak Walker Award – Best Running Back
The John Mackey Award – Best Tight End
The Outland Trophy – Best Interior Lineman
The Dave Rimington Trophy – Best Centre
The Lou Groza Award – Best Kicker
These are the awards that we will look at, including the award for the nation’s best Placekicker, (Punter will be in with the defense). So, let’s assess then who won these awards, how they did in the NFL and if there is any correlation between award winners and successful professional football players.
Based on the winners from 2010 all the way to 2019, we will rank these awards on which is the most likely to produce the most successful players, and which of these awards becomes somewhat meaningless at the next level.
We look at the best player and the worst player and then we predict what this means for the greatest league in the world. I am not for a second taking away what these awards mean to the individuals. These are awards that players work incredibly hard for and therefore should be extremely proud to win them. But that does not translate to success in the National Football League.
The Davy O’Brien Award
2020 winner – Mac Jones
This years Davy O’Brien award was presented to the National Champion winner Quarterback, Mac Jones and the numbers definitely say he deserves it. Question is based on previous winners of this award, how likely is he to find success in the NFL.
Best – DeShaun Watson
Watson went back-to-back in 2015 and 2016 winning the award twice and since then he has taken the league by storm. In the 2020 playoffs, 4 of the top 5 Quarterbacks in the season were present in the conference finals. The only one not there was DeShaun Watson.
Since he entered the league, he has not really missed a step. Watson has thrown for over 4000 yards twice in his four years in the league, leading the NFL this year. He was a touchdown/turnover differential of +68, having only thrown 36 interceptions to his 104 Touchdowns. He has also been to the Playoffs twice in 4 years and would likely have cracked 4000 yards in his only other full season under centre had he played 16 games in 2019.
Worst – Johnny Manziel
There are tiers in this game, especially at Quarterback, where each player fits have always been open to interpretation. You always have the Elite, the Great, the Good, the Average, the Awful and then you have Johnny Manziel. The Texas A&M product showed us that college skill does not translate to the professional leagues. Whether that is the NFL, the Spring League, the CFL or the AAF. In his career in these 4 leagues he threw a total of 12 Touchdowns while throwing 16 interceptions. His hype leaving college was huge, however anyone with eyes could see he was a disaster waiting to happen.
So, what are the chances of a player winning this award and being a success in the NFL? Based on the 10 previous winners, before this year and Mac Jones, most of the Quarterbacks have had strong NFL careers. Outside of a catastrophic injury to Robert Griffin III, and inconsistent play from both Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota everyone else has a starting job in the NFL. Manziel is the outlier, but every award has at least one.
The Fred Biletnikoff Award
2020 Winner – DeVonta Smith
Winner of the Fred Biletnikoff award to go alone with his Heisman trophy, DeVonta ‘The Slim Reaper’ has some big hype coming into the league. A reigning national champion, he looks primed for success in the league, but what of his predecessors? How did the former award winners do when entering the league?
Best – Amari Cooper
This fellow Alabama Alumnus is a true number 1 receiver and has been since he entered the league with the Raiders in 2015. In his 4 seasons when he did not miss a game, he broke over a 1000 yards in each of these season, catching 38 touchdowns in his 7 years in the league. Since arriving in Dallas has become the go to guy and is starting to make waves in a Dallas offense that was missing big pieces last year.
Worst – Justin Blackmon
Now let me say this right away Justin Blackmon is not the worst of the award winners, he just had the worst career. He had so much potential, however trouble with the league and with the law cut his career short to just two years. When you go fifth overall, you have to be ready to contribute, and his maturity just was not there. Players like Marqise Lee and Corey Coleman probably have had worse careers, but neither had the hype that Blackmon arrived with.
Right so the problem with Wide Receivers is that they are becoming a bit of non-factor. If you have a true number one, then this is enormous for a team. Players like Stefon Diggs, Devante Adams and Deandre Hopkins show how good they can be.
Thing is you do not have to be the greatest to ever play the game to be a success. However basing it solely on the award winners and their careers, we have to judge them.
The Doak Walker Award
2020 Winner – Najee Harris
Next up we have the Running Backs and this position for a while had fallen to the depths of anyone will do territory. Running Back by committee was the in thing and so the position became completely devalued. This was in part due to different players working in different situations, but I personally think it can be traced back to a school and the players leaving the school for the NFL, spoiler alert, its Alabama (again).
Best – Derrick Henry
We start with the reigning, rushing leader and 8th member of the legendary 2000-yard club, Derrick Henry. Derrick has been a powerful runner since he arrived from Alabama and the offense down in Tennessee is built around him. He has surpassed 1000 yards three times in the last three seasons, although technically four after his 2000 yards this year. He is adding 500 yards a season, is it 2500 next year?
Worst – Trent Richardson
Another Alabama Alumnus Richardson, similar to Blackmon was all hype leaving Bama and he was supposed to light up the league with his powerful running style. He was selected 3rd overall to Cleveland and from their it went downhill. His career high season yardage was 950, which was in his Rookie year, after that he barely cracked 500 once and was out of the league 4 years after his arrival.
Running Backs are back, you heard it here first, Jonathan Taylor showed this in 2020 and with offenses moving forward with studs all over the offense a number one runner is key to a successful offense. Problem is, it isn’t always a hit and miss game with Running Backs. Najee Harris fits the mould of the current NFL trend, which is power backs, which also works in his favour.
The John Mackey Award
2020 Winner – Kyle Pitts
Tight Ends for a long time were a bit of a nothing position, teams used them as extra blockers who would occasionally catch a ball. Then arrived the Gronkasaurus and the age of the Tight End began. Now Gronk does not make our list because he did not actually win this award, his teammate who led a very different life did. Now Tight End is must for young Quarterbacks needing a safety to fight for the ball over the middle.
Best – Hunter Henry
This was a toss-up between him and Mark Andrews, the reason Henry takes this is because of the upside he has with reigning Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert. Both Tight Ends have surpassed 500 yards in at least three seasons, and both have shown that they can be an asset to young dynamic Quarterbacks.
Worst – Tyler Eifert
This one was difficult because it depends how you value a Tight End to if they do well in the NFL. The reason Eifert gets nod here is because he was a first rounder. When you spend a pick on a player, especially in the first round, they have to make an impact. Eifert just has not really done that. In the 8 years in the league he has only passed 500 yards once and he just cannot stay healthy.
This award has somewhat less value based on how the league feels about Tight Ends. Kyle Pitts won this year, and he is seen as the best Tight End to ever leave college. Is it hyperbole, absolutely it is, but it is draft season therefore we have to make these ridiculous claims?
The Outland Trophy
2020 Winner – Alex Leatherwood
This trophy is given every year to the best interior lineman, which importantly can be a Offensive or a Defensive player. This year it went to an Offensive Tackle, therefore we have to account for this. What that means is that we cannot analyse the Defensive contributors in how well Leatherwood may do in the NFL, but we can definitely that the best player to win this award, maybe ever, was in 2013 when Aaron Donald took it home. Three-time Defensive player of the year gives him that distinction.
Best – Brandon Scherff
The four-time pro bowler easily takes this, once you remove the Defensive players and while he is far behind Aaron Donald, he is probably the second-best player to win the award in the last 10 years. Since arriving in the NFL and transitioning to Guard he has been a rock on a good Washington offensive line and is still contributing to a very high level.
Worst – Barrett Jones
Honestly, the rest of the Offensive player have been bit part contributors, big time picks who did not really work out, but Jones is just about the worst of the bunch. He managed two full seasons with the Rams and was then waived after only playing ten games. Others were picked higher in the draft, but Jones barely played in a league desperate for Linemen.
Alex Leatherwood has the deck stacked somewhat against him here, he predecessor for the award is Penei Sewell, who is expected to be one of the best Offensive Line prospects ever and comes out in the same draft as he does. I do not think Leatherwood is locked in to be in the top 5 Offensive Linemen in the draft. Recent history also does not favour him.
The Dave Rimington Trophy
2020 Winner – Landon Dickerson
This Trophy is awarded to the best Centre in the country which is different from the Outland Trophy as that one is Interior Linemen on both sides of the ball. Centre are eligible for both awards though and Barrett Jones was actually the recipient of both in 2012.
Best – Ryan Kelly
Kelly gets the nod here over Garrett Bradbury based on starts alone, but naturally he would have more as he has been in the league longer. Kelly has 66 starts, whereas Bradbury has 32. Now both have locked down the Centre job for the Colts and Vikings respectively and are two of the better Centre in the league.
Worst – Reese Dismukes
Over his 4-year career in the NFL, Dismukes did not really have a chance to play. He managed to have his name attached to 3 teams and he did not play for any of them. Centres in the league are a premium but most can play along the line too. So it is damning that he could not get a job aware on the line.
With Centre being such a premium position, teams try to pick carefully. More so in the later years, these players are more versatile and therefore have been bigger hits at either Centre or moving over to Guard. This very much works in Dickerson’s favour.
The Lou Groza Award
2020 Winner – Jose Borregales
The Kicker on any football team is the unsung hero of the team and will never get the respect they deserve. The are seen as special teams’ players only when countless win games for their teams, very important games, see the start of the Patriots Dynasty. So, why do they not get the respect, well it is because for every kick you score only 3 points and therefore teams see them as replaceable, however a good kicker is incredibly hard to find.
Best – Dan Bailey
There are some bigger names and some better kicker in the league, but based on field goal percentage, Dan Bailey is the best kicker to win this award. While Rodrigo Blankenship has a higher percentage, it is after one year in the league, whereas Bailey has been around for 10 years. Sitting at 85.9% for his field goal conversion shows his worth and I can guarantee that his kicks have been the catalysts for victories.
Worst – Roberto Aguayo
The unfortunate tale of Roberto Aguayo adds to the reason for teams paying less attention to these incredible players. He was drafted in the Second Round of the 2016 NFL Draft by Tampa Bay and was seen as the best prospect ever coming out of college. It went down hill almost immediately. He has a 71% conversion rate on 22 field goals and has been on 5 teams since entering the league.
Most kickers that end up drafted are brought in for either competition or due to a need, Jose Borregales will likely get the same treatment. This of course means that they can see an easier route to success without the same level of scrutiny.