Every year, we count down the days until football kicks off; and every year, college football rewards us by racing through the first pole of their season's slate. I feel like we just cracked open fall's activities, including but not limited to watching Saturday football, and already the pied piper is on the horizon.
That said, I wanted to give out five custom-built awards to some prospects who have mattered a great deal over this first half of college football, and have especially changed the perspective around them in the eyes of the media as we turn towards the NFL next season. This isn't my Heisman list or my Biletnikoff semifinal candidates: it's those guys who are sticking out for Draft-heads like us.
Let's see who's bringing home the gold! (There is no gold.)
He Is Who We Thought He Was Award
Chase Young, EDGE, Ohio State
How could it be anyone but Young, who spend all of last season as another dominant EDGE for the Ohio State factory; this offseason as a potential top selection and most talented non-QB in the class? No player has so squarely hit and even exceeded the school's expectations as Young has this year, as he paces the Big 10 in both TFLs and sacks.
Young could have so easily slipped in national prominence this year, given the reputation he garnered as even a situational player in the 2018 season. Even just a few strong wins against top opponents could have kept him a viable first-round player -- but now, Young has another year of experience under his belt; experience that includes truly game-changing performances. Young is exactly who we thought he was, and will likely be drafted early in 2020 as a result.
Honorable Mention: Andrew Thomas, OT, Georgia
Throw Out The 2018 Film Award
Joe Burrow, QB, LSU
It just has to be Burrow on this one -- I simply cannot remember a redshirt junior QB such as Burrow was in 2018 making such physical and psychological strides in one offseason into a new system (though I haven't been doing this for that long). Burrow's film was by no means bad, but it left arm strength questions on throw deep and outside the numbers; mental processing concerns on throws beyond his first read; and a big gaping hole in the realm of "Will this dude attack coverage, or will he settle?"
Now Burrow is an attacker, with clear arm strength and solid comfort beyond his first read for a still college-level QB. So pile the 2018 film into the fire pit and douse it in kerosene -- time to forget Burrow was ever a gun-shy point guard under center. Who he is for LSU now is who he'll be for the NFL for sure.
Honorable Mention: Neville Gallimore, iDL, Oklahoma
Outta Nowhere Award
Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State
I didn't want to include a second Ohio State on this list, but by golly, if Shaun Wade didn't come outta nowhere. A nickelback/safety hybrid who the coaching staff was unsure of how to get on the field in the beginning of the season, Wade has thrived in the slot with his brand of physical, instinctive play. Of course, Wade was a strong DB recruit out of high school and was next in line for attention in Ohio State's NFL CB factory, but he came out of nowhere with this developed play in his redshirt sophomore year.
Wade is unlikely to declare (almost gave him the Please, Oh Please Declare Award) given the talent ahead of him in the Buckeye secondary, and the national spotlight (and top draft selection caliber) he could garner as an outside starter in Columbus. But NFL radars won't lose sight for him as long as he continues to attend school, as he'll be a coveted defensive chess piece whenever he declares
Honorable Mention: Sage Surratt, WR, Wake Forest
Oh Shoot You're Legit Award
Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
This is an interesting one -- just by virtue of the various awards we've already enjoyed and the talent pool of the group, this is as bad of a wide open entrance/exit as a coaching staff he'd like to impress. So what's the sitch?
Justin Jefferson leads the charge among player who were rightfully drafted at a discount, even though they trailed with holstered opinions to find out why. Jefferson was a Day 3 WR prospect in a super thick class; I've never seen a player with such at speed and fluidity at the position be so easily overlooked coming into the next year of college football. Imagine my surprise when Oregon team leaders thought all of this effort was a waste of time.
Justin Jefferson is as legit as any other WR in this group, as evidenced by his relative placement in the WR rankings on our consensus board. Just because it took a bit for us to get around doesn't mean we aren't fully a member of his hive moving forward.
Honorable Mention: Marvin Wilson, iDL, Florida State
Please, Oh Please Declare Award
Hamsah Nasirildeen, SAF, Florida State
Why should Nasirildeen declare. The answer is threefold. Firstly: he's ready to. Nasirildeen is an active and aware zone defender with the requisite length and explosiveness to win as an underneath defenders, as well as the speed and ball skills to play a deep half or even middle of the field. In the box, Nasirildeen is a plus fill defender among safeties who is willing and able to take on and shed contact to make tackles in the third level.
Secondly: he benefits from a strong class. Only Grant Delpit and Xavier McKinney are clearly better at the safety position than he is, if you're measuring Clemson's Isaiah Simmons as a linebacker, which you should be. And even if you measure Hamsah as a LB as well, that class is also weak. Nasirildeen's measurables alone at either spot make him a Top-50 candidate.
Thirdly: you gotta get out of the program, man. Taggart's captaining a sinking ship.
Honorable Mention: K.J Hamler, WR, Penn State