2016 Preseason Award Projections: Doak Walker 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 Doak Walker Award is given to the best running back in college football. Last year’s winner was Alabama’s Derrick Henry, our preseason dark horse pick.

Doak Walker Award Winner:

Dalvin Cook, Florida State

The Doak Walker Award has a tendency to favor the runners with one of the highest totals. Thus, that makes it really hard to pick a winner among the group of Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and Nick Chubb. All four of them have weak quarterbacks, so defenses will be stacking the box to try and stop them. Cook was my selection because the ACC defenses are a lot worse than the SEC defenses and the Pac-12 defenses that McCaffrey will take on.

In 2015, Cook averaged 7.4 yards per carry for 1,691 yards with 19 touchdowns. He had 24 receptions for 244 yards and a score. Defenses knew that they were going to see a ton of handoffs to Cook, yet they were incapable of stopping him.

If he stays healthy, Cook should end up being at least a finalist for, if not the winner of, the Doak Walker Award. The ACC provides a lot of weak opponents for Cook to run over throughout the regular season. He also has a lot of offensive linemen returning, some good talent at wide receiver to help keep safeties honest, and a tough defense that should get him the ball quickly. Cook could produce a massive season and be a Heisman Trophy contender.

Doak Walker Award Runner-Up:

Leonard Fournette, LSU

Even though defenses will be selling out to stop him, Fournette’s talent level is that of a special NFL player playing at a college level. He should be in store for a big season even with teams selling out to stop him. The only thing that could hold Fournette back is injuries. Hopefully, he stays healthy and college football enjoys one more season from this rare superstar.

As a sophomore, Fournette took his game to another level and was one of the best players in college football. For 2015, Fournette averaged 6.5 yards per carry for 1,953 yards with 22 touchdowns. He caught 19 passes for 253 yards with a touchdown. Ths sophomore had a number of long gains called back as well. Plus, teams were selling out to stop Fournette given LSU’s poor quarterback play and defenses were still struggling to keep him in check. The junior is a top favorite to win the Doak Walker Award.

Doak Walker Award Dark Horse:

Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

In my opinion, McCaffrey should have won the Heisman Trophy last season. Obviously, Derrick Henry had a great year and was a worthy player to consider, but McCaffrey carried his team. Henry had a defense filled with NFL talent and a lot of good players around him on offense. McCaffrey’s supporting cast wasn’t nearly as talented, and Stanford was reliant on McCaffrey to produce points.

McCaffrey was unstoppable in the last half of the 2015 season. On the year, he averaged six yards per carry for 2,019 yards with eight touchdowns. McCaffrey also had 45 catches for 645 yards and five scores as a receiver. He saw some special teams action as well, averaging 29 yards per kick return, plus a touchdown, on 37 kick returns and averaging 8.7 yards per punt return, along with a touchdown. McCaffrey was a speedy play-maker who was threat to break off a long gain every time he touched the ball.

That won’t change this year, but it could be harder for McCaffrey to produce as much this season. Defenses will be selling out to stop him while the Cardinal is breaking in a new quarterback. He also has lost some offensive linemen from last season. Thus, I think McCaffrey is more of a dark horse for the Doak Walker Award.

Honorable Mentions: Georgia’s Nick Chubb, Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, Pittsburgh’s James Conner, Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd, Clemson’s Wayne Gallman, Oregon’s Royce Freeman, Wisconsin’s Corey Clement, Georgia’s Sony Michel, North Carolina’s Elijah Hood, Toledo’s Kareem Hunt, Notre Dame’s Tarean Folston, Michigan’s De’Veon Smith and Baylor’s Shock Linwood.

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