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5 Favorites for the 2018 Walter Payton Award in FCS College Football


Steve McNair, Tony Romo, Jimmy Garoppolo, Brian Westbrook and Cooper Kupp are some of the esteemed winners of the Walter Payton Award, which honors the offensive player of the year in FCS college football.


Running backs won nine of the first 17 Paytons, but as football has changed, quarterbacks have come to dominate the award, claiming 13 of the last 14.

The Payton -- the so-called Heisman of the FCS -- will be awarded for the 32nd time in the 2018 season. Here are Athlon Sports' top five candidates for the award.

-- Compiled by Craig Haley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Haley has covered the FCS level since 1999 and is the national writer for He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.

Davion Davis, Sam Houston State

WR/RS, Sr., 5-11, 180

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2017 Statistics: 78 receptions, 1,206 yards, 17 TDs; 21 total TDs

The 2017 Southland Offensive Player of the Year took his play to an even higher level by dominating on returns, including a 21.6-yard average with two touchdowns on punt returns. His superb speed makes him difficult to cover in one-on-one matchups. Plus, he’s a threat on reverses.

(Photo courtesy of Sam Houston State Athletics)

Keelan Doss, UC Davis

WR, Sr., 6-3, 210

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2017 Statistics: 115 receptions, 1,499 yards, 7 TDs

Doss finished third in voting for the 2017 Walter Payton Award, leading all of Division I with 10.5 receptions per game. The Big Sky Offensive Player of Year and everybody’s All-American has the size and speed to be one of the leading 2019 NFL Draft candidates coming out of the FCS.

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(Photo courtesy of UC Davis Athletics)

Gage Gubrud, Eastern Washington

QB, Sr., 6-2, 205

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2017 Statistics: 261 of 422 (61.8 percent), 3,342 yards, 26 TDs, 12 INTs, 143.02 passing efficiency; 5 rushing TDs

As a junior, Gubrud still ranked second in the FCS in total offense (357.8) even though it was considered a down season from his remarkable 2016 campaign, when he passed for an FCS single-season record 5,160 passing yards as well as 48 touchdowns. With Eastern Washington left out of the playoffs last year, Gubrud leads a motivated team.

(Photo courtesy of Eastern Washington Athletics)

Devlin Hodges, Samford

QB, Sr., 6-1, 205

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2017 Statistics: 347 of 528 (65.7 percent), 3,983 yards, 31 TDs, 11 INTs, 144.29 passing efficiency

Already a two-time Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Hodges hopes to rise from his fourth-place finish in last year’s Walter Payton Award voting. With his quick release, he set school records for both passing yards (4,088) and touchdowns (36) in 2016, and followed that up with another 3,983 yards and 31 scoring strikes last season.

(Photo courtesy of Samford Athletics)

Easton Stick, North Dakota State

QB, Sr., 6-2, 221

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2017 Statistics: 164 of 264 (62.1 percent), 2,466 yards, 28 TDs, 8 INTs, 169.5 passing efficiency; 663 rushing yards, 12 TDs

In being voted the most outstanding player of the 2017 FCS Championship Game, Stick earned his ninth career playoff win and the 34th of his career. The expectation is NDSU will get back to the 2018 title game behind Stick. He’s third in school history in career passing attempts (699), completions (423), yards (5,941) and TD passes (60), with another 1,846 yards and 24 TDs on the ground.

(Photo courtesy of North Dakota State Athletics)