Some of the better FCS prospects for the 2018 NFL Draft aren’t putting up eye-popping statistics, so the race for the Walter Payton Award has opened up this season.
South Dakota State’s dynamic receiving duo of Dallas Goedert and Jake Wieneke had stronger numbers last season, and Fordham running back Chase Edmonds has been set back by injuries, so none appears to be the FCS offensive player of the year.
The Payton Award, now in its 31st season, has come to be dominated by quarterbacks – 12 of the last 13 winners – so it’s not surprising to see the position offering the top candidates heading into the final month of the regular season.
1. Chris Streveler, QB, South Dakota
Last year’s Missouri Valley newcomer of the year is on his way to being the conference’s offensive player of the year. The Coyotes (6-1) already have two more wins than last season and Streveler ranks first nationally in total offense (397.4 ypg) and points responsible for (162 on 19 touchdown passes and eight scoring runs).
2. Gage Gubrud, QB, Eastern Washington
Third in the Payton Award voting last year, Gubrud (above, right) has been outstanding in overcoming the loss of last year’s three 1,000-yard wide receivers, including all-time FCS leader Cooper Kupp. Gubrud missed by one yard against Fordham from having a string of four straight 400-yard passing days, including a school-record 549 yards in a win at Montana. He ranks fourth in the FCS in total offense (353.1 ypg), fifth in passing yards per game (332.3) and second in points responsible for (158).
3. Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond
Back from an ACL tear last November, Lauletta opened his senior season by throwing for 546 yards and five touchdowns against Sam Houston State. He completed 26-of-29 passes with six TDs against Howard. Overall his dominance has added up to a 64 percent completion percentage and the nation’s No. 1 ranking in passing yards per game (377.6).
4. Devlin Hodges, QB, Samford
With Samford having a shaky run game, Hodges tends to carry the offense. He’s usually on the mark (a 69.4 career completion percentage), throwing for as many as 516 yards in a game this season. Overall, he ranks fourth in the FCS in passing yards per game (323.3), throwing 20 touchdowns against only five Interceptions.
5. Case Cookus, QB, Northern Arizona
The 2015 Jerry Rice Award winner – the FCS freshman of the year – has come back strong from a season-ending shoulder injury last year. During the Lumberjacks’ five-game winning streak, Cookus has thrown 16 touchdown passes against only one interception and scored two other times. He’s done this with a two-time 1,000-yard wide receiver, Emmanuel Butler, on the shelf.
6. Jeremiah Briscoe, QB, Sam Houston State
Briscoe won the 2016 Payton Award, but for him to be the second two-time winner, he is going to have to rally in the Bearkats’ final four games, and it won’t come against elite competition. If he hadn’t thrown for 315 completions, 4,602 yards and an FCS single-season record 57 touchdowns as a junior, then this year’s 2,506 yards and 22 TD tosses would look better.
7. Brandon Parker, LT, North Carolina A&T
Looking for a dark horse? Parker is often flawless for his 8-0 team, having won the MEAC offensive player of the week award five times. But the competition isn’t as high in his conference as the other top contenders.
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy South Dakota Athletics, Gage Gubrud photo courtesy of Eastern Washington Athletics)