2017 Preseason Award Projections: Hornung 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 Paul Hornung Award is given to the most versatile player in college football. Last year’s winner was Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, who we predicted in August of 2016 would win the Award.

Paul Hornung Award Winner:

Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

In all of college football, Kirk is probably the most dangerous player with the ball in his hands. Thus, I would expect the Aggies to get the ball to him as much as possible in what will probably be his final collegiate season. Kirk played well as a receiver in 2016 despite inconsistent quarterback play from the Aggies. He had 83 receptions for 928 yards with nine touchdowns while splitting targets with wideouts like Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones. As a returner, Kirk took three punts for touchdowns last year with two punt return touchdowns as a freshman.

Kirk also could work as a kick returner. He returned 22 kickoffs as a freshman and six as a sophomore, but with the Aggies’ offense losing a lot of talent to the NFL and having to break in a new quarterback this year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them get the Kirk the ball as much as possible. He does have 19 carries as a running back over his first two seasons, so Texas A&M could mix in some rushing attempts for him as well. If Kirk is used a lot on special teams, he looks like a top candidate for the Paul Hornung Award.

Paul Hornung Award Runner-Up:

Antonio Callaway, Florida

The 5-foot-11, 197-pound Callaway is a lightning fast play-maker and one of the most dangerous players in college football. He can burn defenses with his receiving skills, but also is a dynamic punt returner. Callaway has averaged 12 yards per punt return over his first two seasons with two returned for touchdowns. This is a huge year for Callaway to produce as a wide receiver and returner if he wants to be a first-round pick. The Gators are optimistic that their offense will be better this year, and getting Callaway the ball will help them deliver. He definitely could end up being a top contender for the Hornung Award.

Paul Hornung Award Dark Horse:

Evan Berry, Tennessee

If Berry were just a decent starter on defense, he could be the favorite for the Hornung Award. He is the active leader in kickoff-return average with a tremendous 34.2 yards per return. Berry figures to continue to dominate on special teams as a senior, but he needs to play on defense in order to be a true candidate for the Hornung Award. Since Berry hasn’t been a starting safety for Tennessee, he is a dark horse for the Hornung Award.

Honorable Mentions: Pittsburgh wide receiver Quadree Henderson, San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny, Nebraska wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El and Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis.

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