2019 Preseason Award Projections: Doak Walker Award

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2019 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 2020 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, we predicted that Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor would win the award, and he did end up winning the Doak Walker Award in 2018.

Doak Walker Award Winner:

Eno Benjamin, Arizona State

The Doak Walker Award has a tendency to favor runners with one of the highest rushing totals. That makes it really hard to pick a winner, but with Benjamin’s talent level, he is definitely capable of producing a massive season. I considered Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins and Alabama’s Najee Harris, but those teams have rotational backfields with other talented backs who often keep one player from compiling a huge stat line. Ditto for D’Andre Swift in Georgia. Thus, my choice came down to Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Benjamin, who both topped 1,600 yards last year. I chose Benjamin because Clemson has quarterback Trevor Lawrence and a talented group of receivers who will eat up production and keep attempts from Etienne. Additionally, the defending national champions will probably blow out a lot of their opponents and Etienne will miss a lot of playing time in the second half of games as the Tigers empty the bench. Therefore, Benjamin is my prediction to win the Doak Walker Award.

Multiple team sources have have told me that Benjamin jumped out at them last season and they’re excited to see him in 2019. In 2018, he took on a big work load of 300 carries, which he turned into 1,642 yards – 5.5 average- with 16 touchdowns. He also caught 35 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns. Benjamin isn’t the biggest of backs, but he held up well with his huge workload in 2018. The 5-foot-10, 201-pounder is the workhorse of the Sun Devils’ offense, so he should produce another big season that earns him a lot of postseason honors. He definitely could win the Doak Walker Award at the end of the year.

Doak Walker Award Runner-Up:

Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

It would not surprise me if Taylor rips off a third straight season in which he tops 1,900 yards rushing. However, the Doak Walker Award has only had two repeat winners, and the last time that happened was 2006 and 2007 with Arkansas’ Darren McFadden. The previous time that happened was in the late ’90s with Ricky Williams. Thus, I think Taylor is unlikely to win the award again even if he turns in a big season.

Taylor should produce a huge 2019 season and could easily be the most productive running back in college football. As usual, Wisconsin has an offensive line that should open holes and a very easy schedule of opponents for Taylor to have his way with even when they know the run is coming. With the Badgers’ ground-based offense, Taylor is sure to get many rushing opportunities, and it would not be surprising to me if Taylor puts his name in the Badgers’ all-time record book with a prolific year similar to Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball, and Ron Dayne.

As a sophomore, Taylor averaged 7.1 yards per carry for 2,194 yards with 16 touchdowns. In 2017, Taylor broke out, averaging 6.6 yards per carry for 1,977 yards with 13 touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 216-pounder showed an overwhelming combination of size, quickness, and natural running skills.

Doak Walker Award Dark Horse:

Travis Etienne, Clemson

As mentioned above, Etienne should produce a big year playing for a loaded team that has a tremendous passing attack that will keep teams from stacking the box. Etienne (5-10, 200) is a fast back who is a threat to score anytime he touches the ball. In 2018, Etienne averaged 8.1 yards per carry for 1,658 yards with 24 touchdowns. He has the skill set to win the Doak Walker Award, but he may not have the opportunities.

Honorable Mentions: Georgia’s D’Andre Swift, Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins, Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill, Alabama’s Najee Harris, Florida State’s Cam Akers, Boston College’s A.J. Dillon, Missouri’s Larry Roundtree, Louisiana’s Trey Ragas, Louisiana’s Raymond Calais, and Florida’s Lamical Perine.