FCS Awards candidates from outside the box

(STATS) – Major awards tend to go to big stars in prominent positions, and in that regard, the top honors in the FCS are like most others.

Steve McNair, Brian Westbrook and Tony Romo are among the offensive standouts who have hoisted the Walter Payton Award since its inception in 1987, and Dexter Coakley and Jared Allen are among the big-play defenders who have carried off the Buck Buchanan Award since it came on the scene in 1995.

The Payton used to feature running backs and now it’s dominated by quarterbacks – 13 of the past 14 winners were signal callers – while the past 15 Buchanan winners have been defensive ends or linebackers. An offensive lineman has never won the Payton and there’s been only two at wide receiver, while the Buchanan has only had one winner at both defensive back (a cornerback) and defensive tackle.

The status quo may remain after next season, but let’s step outside the box for some candidates from the mostly barren positions.

WALTER PAYTON AWARD

Daniel Cooney, LT, San Diego – A gentle off-field personality doesn’t belie the mountain of a man (6-foot-8, 315 pounds) with a growing nasty streak on the field. The 2019 NFL prospect dominates for the Pioneer Football League power Toreros, using long arms and quick feet to allow few pass rushers to get past him.

Nathan Stewart, WR, Sam Houston State – With UC Davis standout Keelan Doss finishing third in the 2017 voting, here’s perhaps the next-best wide receiver candidate. Stewart caught 72 passes and 14 touchdowns in the Bearkats’ pass-heavy offense and used their playoff run to surpass Doss with an FCS-high 1,648 receiving yards. In two seasons, Stewart has averaged 21.4 yards per reception.

BUCK BUCHANAN AWARD

Marlon Bridges, FS, Jacksonville State – In his first two seasons, Bridges has been a big-time playmaker for a star-studded defense, recording seven interceptions. Already a two-time All-Ohio Valley Conference first-team selection, he brings physicality to the Jacksonville State secondary.

Andrew Clyde, DT, Richmond – While cementing the middle of the Spiders‘ defensive line, Clyde tied for the CAA Football high with nine sacks. The big senior mauler also is durable, having started all 39 games of his career.

Robbie Grimsley, SS, North Dakota State – Grimsley is a winner, having played for two state high school champions in Minnesota before starting for the last two NDSU national champions (2015 and ’17). He has 13 takeaways in his career, including six as a junior.

Rob Rolle, FS, Villanova – Rolle was on the Buchanan watch list entering last season, but his season ended early with an ACL tear and he took a medical redshirt. His seven interceptions in 2016 tied for the FCS high.