2016 Preseason Award Projections: Maxwell 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 April 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 Maxwell Award is given to the best player in college football. We predicted Trevone Boykin would win it last year, but Alabama running back Derrick Henry won the Maxwell Award.

Maxwell Award Winner:

Deshaun Watson, Clemson

The Maxwell Award typically goes to a quarterback. Since 2000, there have only been three times that the Maxwell Award has not gone to a quarterback: Larry Johnson (2002), Manti Te’o (2012) and Derrick Henry (2015). Thus, I’m going with a signal-caller, which made for an easy choice. Last year, Watson almost won a National Championship for Clemson as he completed 68 percent of his passes for 4,104 yards with 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. On the ground, he averaged 5.3 yards per carry for 1,105 yards with 12 scores. There is no reason to think that Watson won’t be just as good in 2016.

Clemson has recruited a lot of talent around Watson, plus he gets wide receiver Mike Williams back. Williams is a big, fast wideout with early round talent who was going to be Watson’s No. 1 receiver last season. However, Williams went out for the year in only Week 1 after suffering a neck injury from falling into the goal post after catching a touchdown. With other good talent at tight end, running back and in the offensive line, Watson should lead a prolific offense this fall.

Playing in the ACC, Watson will have plenty of easy opponents to cruise over. There are a few good teams, however, that will test Watson with a lot of NFL talent. On the road at Florida State on October 29th is the toughest game on Clemson’s schedule. Opening the season at Auburn won’t be easy either, and South Carolina could be a quality test to close out the season, but Watson should be in store for another season of video-game-like statistics. He already is adored by the media and college voters, so it would be a shock if he isn’t selected for some postseason awards. He could easily bring home the Maxwell.

Maxwell Award Runner-Up:

J.T. Barrett, Ohio State

This was a tough choice because I think other quarterbacks like Pat Mahomes and Luke Faulk will produce huge stat lines playing in their college offenses. However, I went with Barrett because in Ohio State’s offense with the talent around him, he should have a huge season. In 2014, Barrett was the Buckeyes starter for the majority of the season and completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,834 yards with 34 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also ran for 938 yards and 11 touchdowns. Barrett is a perfect fit in the Buckeyes’ read-option spread offense, and I think he could produce or surpass his 2014 totals. With Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller in the NFL, Barrett should be the leader of Ohio State’s offense and put together a massive season. The media and voters also pay closer attention to Ohio State than Texas Tech and Washington State. Thus, I think Barrett could easily get some postseason awards like the Maxwell Award.

Maxwell Award Dark Horse:

Josh Rosen, UCLA

Rosen was a star recruit, and he validated the hype during an impressive freshman season, completing 60 percent of his passes for 3,670 yards with 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Rosen (6-4, 210) made an excellent early impression on NFL evaluators, and in talking with numerous league sources, Rosen is discussed as having the most potential to be a “top of the draft,” franchise quarterback-type prospect. Rosen lost some talent around him from last season, so he will have that to overcome, but he could be even better now that he has some experience. Rosen could definitely win a lot of postseason awards for his sophomore season.

Honorable Mentions: Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes, Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly, Miami’s Brad Kaaya, Washington State’s Luke Faulk, Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs, Boston College’s Patrick Towles, Cinncinati’s Gunner Kiel and BYU’s Taysom Hill.