It’s not quite as prestigious as the Piesman Trophy, but it’ll do.
Quarterback: Brandon Allen, Arkansas
I bet if I asked you to list off the most successful passing teams, it’d take about 25 guesses to find Arkansas. Yet, per S&P+, they had the best passing offense in the NCAA. You would expect a run-focused team to have high efficiency numbers in passing because of the play-action pass. Arkansas was first in Passing Down S&P+ offense as well.
Allen’s standard numbers are great, but ho-hum for a great quarterback: 29 touchdowns, seven interceptions. But his low sack rate and 65.1 percent completion rate are solid and his 8.6 yards per attempt is nice, and on par with some of the well-known quarterbacks like Cal’s Jared Goff. But Arkansas didn’t have an explosive offense, which makes that number look anecdotally better.
Running Back: Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Alabama’s Derrick Henry produced more actual value than any running back this year. If not on efficiency, then based on the sheer amount of carries he had. But it’s hard to find a better back than Cook. Florida State finished ninth in S&P+ and third in RushingIsoPPP.
But the real key here is the insane amount of yardage Cook generated on his own. One stat Bill Connelly calls “Highlight Yards,” aims to figure out how much success belongs only to the running back. Cook averaged a ridiculous 10.2 per opportunity. And oh, by the way, he toted 217 of the 372 FSU carries, scored 17 touchdowns, and averaged 7.7 yards per carry.
Wideouts: Will Fuller, Notre Dame | Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky | Roger Lewis, Bowling Green
Apologies to Baylor’s Corey Coleman and Ole Miss’s LaQuan Treadwell. They’re both great receivers who became almost too much of a focal point of their offenses to perform well in their metrics. They’ll be great NFL players. Fuller, Taylor and Lewis are great college players.
All three of these teams finished in the top 10 in Passing Downs S&P+ and top 25 in Passing S&P+. Fuller, the ultimate deep threat, averaged 20.5 yards per catch and caught 11 touchdowns. This is despite Notre Dame targeting him 26.4 percent of the time — a high number in its own right. Taylor caught a ridiculous 75.2 percent of passes thrown to him despite 108 targets. He adds in 17 touchdowns of his own. Lewis was the star of quarterback Matt Johnson’s aerial attack, averaging 18 yards per catch and reeling in 15 touchdowns.
Tight End: Hunter Henry, Arkansas
This blatant glorification of the Hogs wasn’t intentional, but here we are. Henry leads all NCAA tight ends in receiving yardage and is one of just 13 tight ends with more than 40 catches. Henry isn’t asked to do much work as a blocker, lining up in the slot more often than not. But he won the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end for a reason.
Henry averaged 15 yards per catch and had a 69.1 percent catch rate despite receiving over 20 percent of Arkansas’s total targets. He’s a good name to look out for as NFL draft season starts. In fact, given the longevity of most good NFL tight ends, he’s a good bet to stick in the league for a long time.
Offensive Linemen: Jared Kaster, Texas Tech | Joshua Garnett, Stanford | E.K. Binns, Navy | Spencer Drango, Baylor | Jason Spriggs, Indiana
Kaster started every game at center, paving the way for the best rushing success rate in the NCAA. Tech finished in the top 3 in Adjusted Line Yards, Power Success Rate and Stuff Rate (all explained in more detail here). Garnett’s Cardinal are top 40 in all offensive line categories tracked by S&P+. Stanford’s rushing success rate was fifth in the nation. Navy’s option attack was one of the best success stories of the season. Binns has a fascinating backstory all on his own, immigrating from Jamaica and losing his father shortly after coming to America. Navy led the NCAA in Adjusted Line Yards and Stuff Rate.
Drango, a top NFL prospect, helped lead the Bears to top 25 ratings in all S&P+ offensive line categories. Bears quarterbacks also took just 14 sacks in 347 dropbacks. That number would have been even lower had Seth Russell stayed healthy. Despite pretty poor offensive line advanced stats, Indiana was able to pass-protect. They finished with the ninth-best adjusted sack rate and starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld took just nine of them. Spriggs, covering Sudfeld’s blind side, was the main reason why.
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