2017 Preseason Award Projections: Maxwell 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 Maxwell Award is given to the best player in college football. Last year we predicted Deshaun Watson, but Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson won the Award.

Maxwell Award Winner:

Sam Darnold, USC

The Maxwell Award typically goes to a quarterback. Since 2000, only three times has the award not gone to a quarterback with Larry Johnson (2002), Manti Te’o (2012) and Derrick Henry being the winners. Thus, I’m going with a signal-caller. I could go with Lamar Jackson to repeat, but since 1960, the only player to win the Maxwell Award in back-to-back years was Tim Tebow (2007-2008). Thus, I won’t take Jackson. Aside from Jackson, Darnold makes a ton of sense given his skill set and the talent the Trojans have around him.

Darnold was an extremely efficient passer last year that led the Trojans to a 10-3 record. After a 1-2 start to the season for USC, the redshirt freshman was made the starting quarterback. He lost his first start against a good Utah team, but after that he led his team to ripping off a nine-game win streak to close out the year, including impressive wins over Colorado, Washington, and a comeback Rose Bowl win over Penn State. Darnold completed 67 percent of his passes in 2016 for 3,086 yards with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions in his debut season. He should produce a big 2017 season and will have plenty of attention as perhaps the most high-profile player in college football. The Trojans have good receiving talent for Darnold to work with and has played at another level compared to the competition. There is no reason to think that Darnold won’t have a big season for USC and earn plenty of postseason honors.

Maxwell Award Runner-Up:

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Other quarterbacks are held in higher regard for the NFL, but Mayfield could end up getting more postseason accolades because he should produce a huge stat line. In 2016, Mayfield completed 71 percent of his passes for 3,965 yards with 40 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He picked up six rushing touchdowns as well. Mayfield should produce more as a runner in 2017 as Oklahoma lost both Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine to the NFL. Mayfield could easily end up winning a ton of honors like the Maxwell Award with a staggering amount of production in 2017.

Maxwell Award Dark Horse:

Josh Rosen, UCLA

Rosen was a star recruit, and he validated the hype during an impressive 2015 season. The freshman completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,670 yards with 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. As a sophomore, Rosen only played in six games before a shoulder injury ended his season. He completed 59 percent of his passes for 1,915 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2016. Rosen (6-4, 210) made an excellent early impression on NFL evaluators in terms of his skill set, but developed a bad reputation as a teammate. Rosen has huge passing talent and upside, so he is capable of producing a huge season to win the Maxwell Award.

Honorable Mentions: Louisville QB Lamar Jackson, Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph, Penn State RB Saquon Barkley, Washington State QB Luke Falk, Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald, Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham, Marshall QB Chase Litton, Memphis QB Riley Ferguson and Florida State QB Deondre Francois.

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