Voting happens after the regular season, so the playoffs aren’t taken into consideration. Voters vote for their Top 5 out of a pool of candidates.
Now at the midway point of the season, here is how I’d currently vote for the Walter Payton Award, given to the best FCS offensive player:
1. UIW QB Lindsey Scott Jr.
The Nicholls transfer had big shoes to fill when Cameron Ward transferred to Washington State. But Scott has filled those shoes and then some. He’s been on an absolute tear through six games, going 143/193 passing for 2,179 yards, 27 TDs, and two interceptions. Scott also has 44 carries for 170 yards and five TDs, plus one catch for six yards for the hell of it.
He isn’t just torching mediocre teams either. Against Southern Illinois, one of the hottest teams in the FCS right now with four straight wins and a victory against P5 Northwestern, Scott threw for 391 yards and six TDs. The next week against FBS Nevada, Scott had 435 yards passing and four TDs. This past weekend against Lamar, granted it’s a struggling program, Scott threw seven TDs … in the first half.
Scott not only is putting up massive numbers that voters like, he’s proving it against two of UIW’s better opponents. UIW’s strength of schedule, per Massey, through games played is 39th, which is two spots higher than NDSU.
2. NDSU FB Hunter Luepke
To me, this award should go beyond who just puts up the best numbers or who is most valuable to their team. Because how often have we seen a QB put up ridiculous regular-season stats only to fall flat when facing a competent defense in the playoffs? Luepke is arguably the most dominant offensive player in the FCS when asked to be. His touches are limited, though.
Still, he’s a one-of-a-kind 6-foot-1, 236-pound fullback who has huge NFL buzz. Luepke can line up at FB/RB/TE, block, run over defenders, outrun defenders, and catch toe-dragging back-shoulder fades. Through six games, including only having seven combined rushes in the first two, Luepke has 73 carries for 482 yards (6.6 YPC) and eight TDs, plus 11 catches for 135 yards and two scores. Against Arizona, he ran for 115 yards and 2 TDs while recording 65 receiving yards and one TD.
3. Fordham QB Tim DeMorat
DeMorat is emerging as a legit NFL prospect with his size (6-4, 220 pounds) and arm talent. The two-time Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year is at it again, putting up crazy numbers through six games. DeMorat is 159/236 passing for 2,652 yards, 30 TDs, and four interceptions, plus two rushing scores. He has yet to throw for less than 345 yards or four TDs in a game.
While the opponents haven’t been great (Fordham’s strength of schedule is 87th), he did slice through FBS Ohio’s defense for 503 passing yards and six TDs. His talent is evident, and we should see DeMorat sign an NFL contract next spring.
4. Jackson State QB Shedeur Sanders
Head coach Deion Sanders wants his starting QB and son to be considered for the Heisman Trophy. While Shedeur is having a fantastic year and is a terrific player (a preseason All-American for us at HERO), you have to put up stupidly-good numbers at the FCS level to even sniff Heisman consideration. If Sanders is considered for the Heisman, then Scott and DeMorat (putting up better numbers against better competition) should be too. And the FCS just isn’t going to have three, let alone one Heisman candidate.
Sanders is still a worthy Payton candidate after winning the Jerry Rice Award last year as the top FCS freshman. While some may question Jackson State’s opponents (strength of schedule is 115th in the FCS), Sanders’ evident talent when watching him should trump that. The four-star high school recruit is legit, and most FCS schools would love to have him. Through five games, he is 151/208 passing for 1,726 yards, 17 touchdowns, and two interceptions, plus two rushing TDs. Keep in mind he’s just two years into his college career. The future is very bright.
5. Monmouth RB Jaden Shirden
Monmouth’s run of standout RBs is continuing with Shirden, who has burst onto the scene as a sophomore after rushing for 497 yards last year. The 5-foot-9, 185-pounder is flat out explosive. He is averaging an absurd 9.6 yards per carry. Through six games, Shirden already has 932 yards rushing and seven TDs.
He’s busted off runs of 95, 67, and 75 yards as no defense has been able to contain him. Monmouth’s strength of schedule through games played is 77th. In a win against ranked Villanova, last year’s CAA co-champ and who has allowed 21 or fewer points against its other FCS opponents this season, Shirden ran for 211 yards and two TDs on 22 carries.
This has been a quarterback-friendly award. Since 2004, a QB has won the Walter Payton Award every year except for EWU WR Cooper Kupp in 2015. But Shirden is making his case for RB consideration.
A few others I considered are ETSU RB Jacob Saylors, Fordham WR Fotis Kokosioulis, and Montana State QB Sean Chambers.