2017 Preseason Award Projections: Biletnikoff Award

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2017 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 April for the 2018 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.” All that being said, the award always goes to a wide receiver. Last year’s winner was Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook.

Biletnikoff Award Winner:

Calvin Ridley, Alabama

The 6-foot-1, 188-pound Ridley is a fast receiver with quality size and big-time play-making potential. His phenomenal freshman season saw him notch 89 receptions for 1,045 yards and seven touchdowns as the replacement for Amari Cooper. As a sophomore last year, Ridley made 72 catches for 769 yards with seven touchdowns. Oddly enough, Amari Cooper and Julio Jones also had less production as sophomores compared to their freshman seasons, but ended up having superb junior years before declaring early for the NFL. As a junior, Cooper won the Biletnikoff Award.

Alabama’s offense lost passing weapons to the NFL in the form of wide receiver ArDarius Stewart and tight end O.J. Howard over the offseason. Thus, the Crimson Tide could lean heavier on Ridley in 2017. I think Ridley will have a big year and has as good a shot as anyone to win the Biletnikoff Award.

Biletnikoff Runner-Up:

Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

Going back to the start of his freshman season, Kirk was a standout even though there were other future NFL wideouts that who older and star recruits in their own rights. Still, Kirk was very impressive as a freshman, and from the beginning, he was impossible to ignore. Some scouting sources told me that during his freshman season, Kirk immediately jumped out to them as being a special player and their nickname for Kirk was “Baby Beckham” in reference to Odell Beckham Jr.

Kirk caught 80 passes as a freshman for 1,009 yards with seven touchdowns. He averaged 24.4 yards per punt return with two touchdowns as well. Last year, Kirk played well despite inconsistent quarterback play that also stemmed from the offensive line struggling to pass protect. Texas A&M spread the ball around as well, using wide receiver Josh Reynolds, and didn’t give Kirk the number of targets that he should have had. Still, Kirk totaled 83 receptions for 928 yards with nine touchdowns.

Kirk should be the feature player of the Aggies’ offense in 2017. With his tremendous skill set, highlighted by his game-breaking speed, the junio should be in store for a massive year that earns him a lot of postseason honors, and he definitely has a shot at the Biletnikoff Award.

Biletnikoff Dark Horse:

James Washington, Oklahoma State

Over the past few seasons, Washington has been a big-play threat for the Cowboys. He totaled 71 receptions in 2016 for 1,380 yards and 10 touchdowns, including a record-setting game against Pittsburgh (9-296-2) and a domination of Colorado cornerback Chidobe Awuzie in the bowl game (9-171-1). As a sophomore, Washington snagged 53 passes for 1,087 yards with 10 scores.

Washington has decent size and can stretch teams vertically with speed. Given the Cowboys’ spread offense, the senior should produce a huge 2017 season with quarterback Mason Rudolph also returning. Washington could easily end up impressing enough to take home the Biletnikoff Award this year.

Honorable Mentions: SMU’s Courtland Sutton, Clemson’s Dain Cain, Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown, Florida’s Antonio Callaway, Ohio State’s Parris Campbell, LSU’s D.J. Chark, Tennessee’s Jauan Jennings, Indiana’s Simmie Cobbs Jr., Washington’s Dante Pettis, USC’s Deontay Burnett, South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel, Pittsburgh’s Jester Weah, Colorado State’s Michael Gallup, Memphis’ Anthony Miller, Middle Tennessee’s Richie James, Toledo’s Cody Thompson, Southern Miss’ Allenzae Staggers, Indiana’s Nick Westbrook and Bowling Green’s Scott Miller.

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