This year, perhaps moreso than in past few seasons, had some very tough decisions to make at key positions — the skills positions were particularly hard calls. And, with the emergence of some guys, others saw their production dip despite the fact that players like Jerry Jeudy are still guaranteed Top 5 picks and fearsome opponents. That said, this is reflective of 2019 only...and it isn’t about NFL potential.
Bearing that in mind, here’s the ballot we submitted for the 2019 Football Writers Association of America.
QB: Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama). A transcendent talent. The best college QB since Peyton Manning...and you can’t ignore that 11:1 TD:Int ratio, which absolutely sets him apart from his competitors.
Runners-up Jake Burrow (LSU), Jalen Hurts (OU)
RB: Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis), Chuba Hubbard (Oklahoma State)
Runner-up Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin — sorry, you have to come up big in your biggest game, and Taylor fell flat against the Buckeyes. Though, I fully concede he feasted on Iowa and Michigan.)
WR: Devonta Smith (Alabama), Justin Jefferson (LSU). The burner that turned into a dynamite and surprisingly-powerful, complete route-runner. And the bruiser with sure hands who’s as lethal blocking on the edge as he is with the ball in his hand. Don’t overlook that deceptive speed.
Runners-up CeeDee Lamb (OU), Ja’Marr Chase (LSU)
TE: Giovanni Ricci (Western Michigan)
OL: Penei Sewell (Oregon), Wyatt Davis (Ohio State), John Simpson (Clemson), Andrew Thomas (Georgia)
Runners-up Calvin Throckmorton (Oregon), Jedrick Wills (Alabama)
C: Tyler Biadasz (Wisconsin)
DL: Chase Young (Ohio State), Derrick Brown (Auburn), James Lynch (Baylor), Jaylen Twyman (Pittsburgh)
Runner-up A.J. Epenesa (Iowa, it would have been nice to see him healthy all season)
LB: Cale Garrett (Missouri), Isaiah Simmons (Clemson), Evan Weaver (California) You have to feel for Garrett and Weaver, standout talents on some under-performing, invisible teams.
DB: Antoine Winfield (Minnesota), Jeffrey Okudah (Ohio State), CJ Henderson (Florida), Jordan Fuller (Ohio State)
Runners-up were numerous, and included (for various reasons) Caleb Fairley (Virginia Tech), Luq Barcoo (San Diego State), Trevon Diggs (Alabama), Darryl Stingley (LSU).
Luq Barcoo is the best player you’ve never seen, and Caleb Fairley is the player you’ll go “Huh? Who’s that?” when his name is called during the NFL draft.
Why no Stingley and Diggs on the first team? They got destroyed by their opposite numbers in the Game of the Century, showing that Jeudy, Smith, Chase, Jefferson et al. are still well ahead of them when it counts the most.
Punter: Max Duffy (Kentucky)
Runner-up Joseph Charlton (South Carolina) Bad offenses rely on good punters. Who knew?!
Placekicker: Logan Justus (Indiana)
Runners-up were far too numerous to list. There were several good college placekickers this year...except, well...you know.
Return Specialist: Jaylen Waddle (Alabama) The most electric all-around player since Percy Harvin.
Jaylen Twyman (Pittsburgh)
Runners-up Matt Hennessy (Temple), Derrick Brown (Auburn), Curtis Weaver (Boise State)
Bronco Nagurski Trophy:
Chase Young (Ohio State) If this isn’t a no-brainer, nothing is.
Runners-up Jaylen Twyman (Pitt), Curtis Weaver (Boise State)
Eddie Robinson COTY:
Jim McElwain (Central Michigan) — From worst-to-first in Mount Pleasant. A year ago, this team had little talent, was in disarray, and then brought in a tarnished hire that seemingly did not excite the roster or the fans. On top of that, the new guy was hired just 10 days before the early signing period and inherited a team that went winless in the MAC. (Do you know how hard it is to not win a game in the MAC?)
But, 12 months later, what do we see: The Chippewas now sit at 7-4, are undefeated at home, and are tied for first in the MAC West. McElwain improved their conference defense from 7th to 4th. and the offense from dead-last to 3rd, With a Western loss this weekend (and a CMU victory), Coach Mac’s team will play in the MAC Championship Game. It’s gonna be damn hard to top that coaching job. He won’t win nationally, but I’m acknowledging him with this vote.
Runners-up: PJ Fleck (Minnesota), Scott Satterfield (Louisville)