2016 Preseason Award Projections: Biletnikoff Award

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2016 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation’s leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and the next fall’s stars could be the headline players next May for the 2017 NFL Draft. We also will project the winners of the postseason awards that are given out to the best of college football.

The Biletnikoff Award is given to the most outstanding receiver in college football. The Biletnikoff Award’s committee states, “Any player, regardless of position – wide receiver, tight end, slot back and running back – who catches a pass is eligible for the award.” Last year’s winner was Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman.

Biletnikoff Award Winner:

Mike Williams, Clemson

Last year, I had Williams as the dark horse, but his season was spirited away after he fractured his neck in the season opener. Williams made a leaping touchdown catch in that contest before crashing into the goal posts. I think Williams is going to have a massive year in 2016. He plays in a powerful offense with one of the best quarterbacks in the nation with Deshaun Watson. In 2014, Williams caught 57 passes for 1,030 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore.

Williams has a nice combination of size and speed with the ability to make plays vertically. He could produce a huge season for the Tigers as they lost some receivers to the NFL. Williams and Watson should produce a huge year going against some weak ACC defenses.

Biletnikoff Runner-Up:

JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC

After a solid debut freshman season (54-724-5), Smith-Schuster took his game to another level as a sophomore, totaling 89 receptions for 1,453 yards and 10 touchdowns. In 2015, Smith-Schuster (6-2, 215) made a lot of plays downfield. He got the better of defenses vertically and had enough speed to get separation. Smith-Schuster was tremendous with his run-after-the-catch skills. He is a physical runner who runs through tackles and has a vicious stiff arm. Smith-Schuster also has burst in the open field to rip off yards in chunks, and his second gear takes defenders by surprise. Additionally, he has a real nose for the end zone with a knack to finish his receptions for six.

I would have Smith-Schuster rated first if it weren’t for the quarterback advantage that Williams has. Smith-Schuster lost Cody Kessler to the NFL, while Williams has the perhaps the best quarterback in college football to work with. Thus, I think Smith-Schuster is more likely to see his numbers decline with lots of double coverage and a new quarterback to break in.

Biletnikoff Dark Horse:

Gabe Marks, Washington State

Marks was a productive receiver last year with 104 receptions for 1,192 yards with 15 touchdowns. There is no reason to think he won’t have a big 2016 season as a senior with quarterback Luke Faulk returning and them playing in Mike Leach’s air raid offense, which puts up staggering passing numbers. I would be surprised if Marks isn’t one of the most productive wideouts in the nation. Even though he isn’t all that well-known, it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s a serious contender for the Biletnikoff or if he ended up winning the award.

Honorable Mentions: Virginia Tech’s Isaiah Ford, Western Michigan’s Corey Davis, Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk, Miami’s Stacy Coley, Florida’s Antonio Callaway, Miami’s Stacy Coley, Oregon’s Darren Carrington, Michigan’s Jehu Chesson, LSU’s Travin Dural, LSU’s Malachi Dupre, Texas A&M’s Ricky Seals-Jones, Texas A&M’s Speedy Noil, Middle Tennessee’s Richie James, Boise State’s Thomas Sperbeck, Baylor’s K.D. Cannon, Mississippi State’s Fred Ross and Florida State’s Travis Rudolph.

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