The 2016 season is fast approaching, which means it’s time to start previewing players who could be in the discussion for college football’s most prestigious awards when the season is all said and done.
The preseason watch list for the Paul Hornung Award (given to the nation’s most versatile player) was revealed on Friday and a handful of Big Ten players made the list.
Here’s a look at the Big Ten players who were named to the Hornung Award preseason watch list, along with a preview of what to expect from them this season.
Janarion Grant, Rutgers: Grant is technically listed as a wide receiver, but is mainly a jack of all trades. He caught 35 passes for 352 yards and a touchdown last season, but that’s only scraping the surface of what Grant did for the Scarlet Knights. He ran for 80 yards on eight rushing attempts and racked up more than 1,000 yards on kickoff and punt returns combined. Grant even through a five-yard touchdown pass during a 31-14 loss to Nebraska.
There isn’t much this guy can’t do and he will be an important player in Chris Ash’s first year at the helm.
Desmond King, Iowa: King is primarily known for being one of the nation’s best cover cornerbacks. His coverage skills will likely be what merit him as a first-round pick in next year’s NFL draft. But King’s return skills shouldn’t be ignored either.
The Thorpe Award winner returned 17 punts for 241 yards and also returned 29 kickoffs for 708 yards. King is a talented special teams player, which gives him even more value at the next level. He’s also been named to the Chuck Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Award, Thorpe Award and Walter Camp Award watch lists.
William Likely, Maryland: Here’s the first player on this list who played both sides of the ball last season. Starting with his defensive stats, Likely recorded 44 total tackles, four tackles for loss and 11 pass breakups as Maryland’s top cornerback. But that’s not all. Likely also rushed for 93 yards on 11 attempts and caught five passes for 17 yards playing on the other side of the ball.
Of course, Likely is also a special teams star. He took back two punt returns for touchdowns, had one kickoff return touchdown and netted 1,208 total return yards last season.
Likely has also been recognized on the Bednarik Award and Thorpe Award watch lists.
Jabrill Peppers, Michigan: Peppers might be the favorite to win this award. He recorded 45 total tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and broke up 10 passes as a defensive back for the Wolverines. He also carried the ball 18 times for 72 yards and two touchdowns while catching eight passes for 79 yards.
Peppers also made an impact as a return man. He racked up 194 yards on 17 punt returns and 223 yards on eight kickoff returns. Even in a small sample size, Peppers was certainly a dynamic returner.
Peppers is expected to play a role as a linebacker this season in new defensive coordinator Don Brown’s scheme. Moving positions won’t be easy, but Peppers has proven that he can do just about anything on the field during his career.
Peppers was also named to the Bednarik Award, Nagurski Trophy and Walter Camp Award watch lists.
R.J. Shelton, Michigan State: Shelton was a versatile playmaker for Michigan State’s offense last season. He caught 43 passes for 503 yards and four touchdowns last season and also rushed 24 times for 127 yards.
Shelton also got in the mix on special teams, primarily as a kickoff returner. He returned 19 kickoffs for 415 yards and returned three punts for six yards.
The Spartans might need Shelton to emerge as a wide receiver, as last year’s top two leading pass catchers have departed.
Dontre Wilson, Ohio State: Wilson didn’t have a big role with the Buckeyes during his junior season, but showed enough diversity in his skill set to make it on the list. Wilson caught seven passes for 63 yards and returned seven kickoffs for 167 yards last season.
Wilson should see a larger role within Ohio State’s offense and could get some more reps as a return man this season.