The Walter Payton Award will have a new home after the 2018 season with two-time winner Jeremiah Briscoe done creating headaches for FCS defenses and now training for the NFL. There’s still some big-time names left chasing the award for best offensive player in the subdivision. A finalist from 2016 and a different finalist from 2017 are expected to have huge senior seasons and make the final vote an interesting one.
So like we did with the Buck Buchanan Award projection, let’s take a real early look at five offensive studs who should be in the running for the coveted award.
Chandler Burks, QB — Kennesaw State
The Owls are ready to make an even bigger splash onto the FCS scene after reaching the quarterfinals in their first playoff appearance. Burks will be at the forefront of that. He’s the engineer of the triple option offense and is a true dual-threat quarterback entering his third season as a starter.
In 2017, he led KSU with 1,103 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns on 255 rushes. Burks threw the ball 155 times for 1,307 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions.
Keelan Doss, WR — UC Davis
Doss had such a standout junior season that he had to release a video saying he wouldn’t declare for the NFL Draft early and will return for his senior year. That’s a rarity in the FCS, but the 6-foot-3 wide receiver is already being noticed by NFL scouts.
Doss, the 2017 Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year, was a Top 3 finalist for the Walter Payton Award. He ranked No. 1 in the nation among all FBS and FCS players with 1,499 receiving yards, 136.3 receiving yards per game and 10.5 receptions per game.
Lance Dunn, RB — North Dakota State
Dunn was on pace to be a finalist after scoring 12 rushing touchdowns (13 total) in the first five games of 2017. But two games later, he injured his hip and was sidelined until the national championship game.
Dunn was a near-1,000 yard rusher in 2016 and rushed for more than 100 yards in the first three games of 2017. He likely won’t be ranked No. 1 of FCS running backs in many statistical categories next season due to NDSU’s depth in the backfield. But his home-run ability makes him a top returning running back in the FCS.
Gubrud finished third in the Walter Payton Award voting in 2016. His numbers dipped last season after losing three 1,000-yard receivers in a 5,160-yard and 48-touchdown season as just a sophomore for the Eagles.
He was still terrific in 2017, throwing for 3,342 yards and 26 touchdowns in a new offensive system. Now a senior and in Year 2 with Aaron Best as head coach, expect those numbers to rise again.
A player from an HBCU conference hasn’t won the Walter Payton Award since Steve McNair did it with Alcorn State in 1994. In the award’s history since 1987, only two HBCU players have won it, with Grambling’s Walter Dean earning the honor in 1990.
Raynard has been electric throughout his career and capped off 2017 with the game-winning touchdown run in the Celebration Bowl to complete a 12-0 season. On the year, he passed for 2,932 yards and 27 touchdowns while rushing for four more.