2013 Preseason Award Projections: Hornung Award

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2013 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 this coming fall’s stars could be the headline players next April for the 2014 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 West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin.

Paul Hornung Award Winner:

De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon

Last year, I had Thomas winning this award and Austin as an honorable mention. With Austin in the NFL, Thomas is the closest thing to that kind of play-maker left in college football, so he looks like a perfect fit as a winner of the Hornung Award. Thomas should be the featured player in Oregon’s offense now that both LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner are in the NFL. The Ducks’ offense has been a point machine and Thomas has been a big part of that despite only getting limited touches. As the feature back, the junior could be poised for a huge season like Barner and James have produced the past three years.

The 5-foot-9, 173-pound Thomas is perhaps the fastest player in college football. That should help him to take over as the featured play-maker in Oregon’s high-powered offense.

Thomas received only 55 carries in 2011 as a backup to James and Barner, but Thomas averaged 10.8 yards per carry and totaled 595 yards with seven touchdowns. The freshman was also used as a wide receiver. He hauled in 46 passes for 605 yards and nine touchdowns. Thomas got in on kick returns as well, averaging 27 yards per return and taking two back for touchdowns.

Thomas ran for 701 yards (7.6 average) and 11 touchdowns last year. He also caught 45 passes for 455 yards and five scores. The sophomore averaged 24 yards per kick return and 17 yards per punt return as well. He took back both a kick and a punt touchdowns.

The junior has the speed and play-making ability to produce a massive stat line in 2013. Thomas’ size and speed is similar to former West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin. The highlight-reel plays that Thomas provides should help him to get noticed for the 2014 NFL Draft and the postseason awards. The Ducks figure to be leaning on him to produce a lot of yards and points. Thus, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Thomas wins the Paul Hornung Award.

Paul Hornung Award Runner-Up:

Duke Johnson, Miami

Johnson was one of the best freshman in college football last year. He led Miami on the ground and racked up a ton of all-purpose yards. Johnson averaged 6.8 yards per carry while running for 947 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also caught 27 passes for 221 yards and another score. The freshman was phenomenal on special teams. Johnson was second in the nation in kick returns with an average of 33 yards per return. He brought back two kicks for touchdowns.

The 5-foot-9, 194-pounder should be the workhorse of the Hurricanes’ offense in 2013. He has good speed and could be even better as a sophomore. Miami will probably get the ball to Johnson more in 2013. Last year, Mike James led the team with 147 carries, but he’s in the NFL now. Johnson should see his carries exceed 200 this fall.

It wouldn’t be surprising if Johnson ends up winning the Hornung Award this year for his work as a runner, receiver and returner due to his versatility and play-making ability.

Paul Hornung Award Dark Horse:

Marqise Lee, USC

While everyone focuses on Lee’s ability as a receiver, his skills on special teams are neglected. He finished eighth in the nation last year on kick returns. Lee averaged 28.5 yards per return with a 100-yard touchdown in the 2012 season opener. He averaged 28.5 yards per return with one touchdown in 2011.

In a team that had recruited a lot of elite talent at wide receiver, Lee stood out as being the best of the best. He was extremely impressive as a freshman. Lee had the luxury of USC quarterback Matt Barkley having the best season of his collegiate career and Barkley did a good job of working the ball to Lee. He earned a starting spot across from stand out receiver Robert Woods, and the duo combined for massive production in 2011. Lee hauled in 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns in a fabulous debut season.

Lee took over as Barkley’s No. 1 receiver last year and had such a prolific season, he was a serious candidate for the Heisman Trophy. Lee put up astounding totals with 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. The sophomore was truly magnificent and won the Biletnikoff Award.

Considering how important Lee is to the Trojans, it wouldn’t be surprising be if they try and protect him and spare him some kickoffs. At the same time, Lee is USC’s best player and getting the ball in his hands as much as possible helps produce points. Lee could definitely contend for the Hornung Award this year.

Honorable Mentions: Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, Washington running back Bishop Sankey and Mississippi State running back Ladarius Perkins.

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