(STATS) – First Villanova’s John Robertson. Then North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz. Now James Madison’s Vad Lee.
Injuries to the most high-profile quarterbacks in the FCS have strengthened the possibility of the nation’s offensive player of the year award being won by a player at another position.
Since Colgate running back Jamaal Branch won in 2003, quarterbacks have claimed the FCS honor in 11 straight seasons. That trend also reflects what’s been happening on the FBS level, where a quarterback has captured the Heisman Trophy 13 times in the last 15 years.
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Robertson was named the FCS offensive player of the year last year and Lee finished fourth in the voting, but both have suffered season-ending injuries. Wentz was named the most outstanding player of the 2014 national championship game and is considered one of the top FCS candidates for next year’s NFL Draft, but he won’t play again until at least December – if NDSU is still playing then – because of a wrist injury.
Even with those losses, there are still plenty of other outstanding quarterbacks on the STATS Watch List for offensive player of the year: Kade Bell of Jacksonville, John Gibbs Jr. of Alcorn State, Jacob Huesman of Chattanooga, Eli Jenkins of Jacksonville State, Troy Mitchell of Western Carolina, Dakota Prukop of Montana State, Tre Roberson of Illinois State, Alex Ross of Coastal Carolina, Jordan West of Eastern Washington and Dalyn Williams of Dartmouth.
But with only four full weekends remaining in the regular season before the national awards voting takes place, running backs Chase Edmonds of Fordham and Kade Harrington of Lamar and wide receiver Cooper Kupp of Eastern Washington appear to be racing ahead of the competition.
"The loss of those marquee quarterbacks is no doubt a major storyline which will be exacerbated as the season progresses and the playoffs get underway," said Brian Orefice, STATS’ news director and a voter in the FCS Top 25 poll. "But from an individual performance basis, even if those quarterbacks were healthy, the numbers we’re seeing from players like Kupp and Edmonds up to this point would make them impossible to ignore – not only as player of the year candidates, but outright favorites to be finalists."
Edmonds, a sophomore, and Harrington, a junior, rank 1-2 in the FCS in rushing yards with 1,393 and 1,358, respectively, with no other player having reached 1,000 yards.
Harrington leads the FCS in rushing yards per game (194) and all-purpose yards per game (222.3), while Edmonds ranks second in rushing yards per game (174.1) and third in all-purpose yards per game (216.8).
Kupp, a junior, has substantial leads nationally in receptions (84), receiving yards (1,216) and receiving yards per game (173.7). He’s fifth in all-purpose yards per game (186.9).
The three standouts, who seem to set school or conference records by the week, sit atop the national scoring chart with Edmonds at 23 touchdowns and Harrington and Kupp at 16 each. The next-highest total is 12.
The trio also owns the season’s biggest single-game performances in rushing yards (Edmonds and Harrington at 347 each), receiving yards (Kupp, 275) and all-purpose yards (Edmonds, 402).
In addition, Edmonds and Kupp have helped their nationally ranked teams move into first place in their respective conferences and both players had an eye-popping performance against FBS competition: Edmonds tallied 266 combined yards and three TDs in an opening-week win over Army and Kupp torched the Oregon secondary for 246 receiving yards and three scores in a Week 1 loss at Autzen Stadium.
The Watch List is varied as it also features running backs Tarik Cohen of North Carolina A&T, Marshaun Coprich of Illinois State, Khairi Dickson of Saint Francis, Johnta’ Hebert of Prairie View A&M, De’Angelo Henderson of Coastal Carolina, Dy’Shawn Mobley of Eastern Kentucky and Darius Victor of Towson, and wide receivers Tyler Dube of Sacred Heart, Ed Eagan of Northwestern State, Darrin Peterson of Liberty and Jake Wieneke of South Dakota State.
Defensive players have had a difficult time catching up to Edmonds, Harrington and Kupp. The other players on the Offensive Watch List hope to do so over the closing weeks of the regular season.