The best offensive players in FCS college football are ready to strike a pose.
Only one, though, will claim the Walter Payton Award — known as the Heisman of the subdivision — in 2019.
Past winners include Steve McNair, Tony Romo, Jimmy Garoppolo, Brian Westbrook, and Cooper Kupp. Last year, Samford's Devlin Hodges, who set the FCS all-time record for passing yards, became the 14th quarterback to be named the national player of the year in the last 15 seasons.
The Payton will be awarded for the 33rd time in 2019. Following are Athlon Sports' top five favorites (listed alphabetically):
Eric Barriere, Eastern Washington
QB, R-Jr., 6-0, 200
2018 Statistics: 190-for-311 (61.1 percent), 2,450 yards, 24 TDs, 9 INTs; 99 carries, 613 yards, 8 TDs (14 games)
Barriere accounted for 31 touchdowns in 10 starts as a sophomore, leading Eastern Washington to the FCS championship game. He passed for a playoff-record seven touchdown passes in the semifinals. With the Eagles playing a manageable Big Sky schedule, Barriere should put up big numbers as a junior.
Tom Flacco, Towson
QB, R-Sr., 6-1, 208
2018 Statistics: 269-for-439 (61.3 percent), 3,251 yards, 28 TDs, 11 INTs; 168 carries, 742 yards, 4 TDs (12 games)
Joe Flacco's younger brother, the 2018 CAA Football offensive player of the year, had defensive coordinators turning in their sleep, ranking third in the FCS in total offensive yards per game (332.8). He finished fifth in last year's Payton Award voting. Towson is playing an attractive schedule, including a Sept. 28 visit to Florida, so Flacco will be in the spotlight.
A.J. Hines, Duquesne
RB, Sr., 5-11, 225
2018 Statistics: 266 carries, 1,520 yards, 15 TDs; 13 receptions, 236 yards, 2 TDs (12 games)
Hines ranks No. 1 among active FCS players in career rushing yards (3,849) and touchdowns (41). The 2018 first-team All-American and Northeast Conference offensive player of the year will build on 20 career 100-yard rushing performances.
Jake Maier, UC Davis
QB, R-Sr., 6-0, 200
2018 Statistics: 364-for-557 (65.4 percent), 34 TDs, 10 INTs; 3 rushing TDs (13 games)
The 2018 Big Sky offensive player of the year ranked No. 1 in the FCS in passing attempts (557), second in completions (364) and touchdown passes (34), and third in passing yards (3,931) while UC Davis posted its best FCS season. Non-conference games against Cal and North Dakota State can be huge for his Payton candidacy.
James Robinson, Illinois State
RB, Sr., 5-10, 220
2018 Statistics: 205 carries, 1,290 yards, 12 TDs; 21 receptions, 164 yards, 1 TD (11 games)
Last year’s Missouri Valley Football Conference rushing champ is a leading FCS prospect for the 2020 NFL Draft. He had one of his biggest games last season when Illinois State beat Colorado State, rushing for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
Other Leading Candidates: Tyrie Adams, QB, Western Carolina; Zerrick Cooper, QB, Jacksonville State; Chase Fourcade, QB, Nicholls
— Written 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 www.fcs.football. He appears frequently on radio shows and podcasts to discuss everything FCS. Follow him on Twitter @CraigHaley.
(Photo courtesy of ENP Photography/Towson Athletics)