Christian McCaffrey may be a long-shot in the Heisman field, but he’s a favorite for another prestigious honor.
The running back Thursday was announced as one of four finalists for the sixth annual Paul Hornung Award, presented annually to the most versatile player in college football. Interestingly, McCaffrey is the only finalist that plays primarily on offense; the other three finalists — USC cornerback Adoree Jackson, Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, Michigan safety Jabril Peppers — play mainly on the other side of the ball but not exclusively.
McCaffrey leads the nation in all-purpose yards, and has scored touchdowns rushing, receiving and passing. Jackson, who may pose the biggest threat to McCaffrey, not only starts at corner for the Trojans, but is second on the team in receptions and receiving yards — 24 for 382 — as well as serving as the team’s punt and kick returner.
Nkemdiche is the first-ever defensive lineman finalist, while Peppers has lined up at a whopping 10 different positions in his standout sophomore season.
“There is a lot to like about this group of finalists for our award and I want to congratulate them,” Paul Hornung himself said in a statement. “They look like a tough lot and have demonstrated a willingness to play any position on the field to help their teams win. That’s how I played the game.”
The 2014 winner was Washington linebacker/running back Shaq Thompson. Below is a quick look at each finalist’s credentials:
Adoree’ Jackson, Southern California. Soph. 5-11, 185. CB/ WR/ KOR / PR — Jackson has blazing speed and is a triple-threat for the Trojans, playing big roles on offense, defense and special teams. Primarily a defensive back, he is second on the team in all-purpose yards with 109.4 and has scored three touchdowns this season – two on offense, one on defense. On offense, he has done the most damage as a wide receiver catching 24 passes for 382 yards and two touchdowns. He is the Trojans’ primary kickoff and punt returner, with 19 punt returns for 159 yards and 22 kickoff returns for 499 yards. On defense, Jackson has 19 total tackles, one forced fumble, two pass deflections and returned his only interception of the year 46 yards for a touchdown against California in a crucial 27-21 conference win. He is the only player nationally with at least 300 yards receiving, 400 yards in kickoff returns, 100 yards in punt returns and 10 tackles.
Christian McCaffrey, Stanford. Soph. 6-0, 201. RB / Slot / KOR / PR — McCaffrey leads the nation in all-purpose yards with 242 per game and has touched the ball 258 times. Primarily a tailback, he also plays slot, wildcat QB, wide receiver, handles punt / kickoff returns and threw a touchdown pass. Of the nine 300 all-purpose yards performances this season, three belong to McCaffrey. Seven times he has exceeded 200 all-purpose yards per game, and he has shown the ability to be a workhorse running back: carried the ball 25 times for a school record 263 yards and four touchdowns against UCLA, and already has set school records with eight consecutive 100-yard rushing games and 2,418 all-purpose yards on the season. McCaffrey is a solid receiver with 28 catches for 325 yards and two touchdowns. He is fearless fair catching the ball on punts and averages 28 yards per KO return. He is blessed with outstanding speed and great hands.
Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss. Jr. 6-4, 296. DL / RB / TE — A stalwart, active and often bruising defensive tackle, Nkemdiche earned the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll twice early in the season by scoring three touchdowns at running back and tight end. He helped the Rebels to a hard-fought, 27-16 win over Vanderbilt with four tackles, including one for a loss, one QB hit on defense and a one-yard touchdown plunge on offense in what proved to be the winning score. Outstanding athlete who has recorded 22 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks sack, one pass break up, seven quarterback hurries and one blocked kick. Nkemdiche was a dominant defensive force against the highly touted Alabama offensive line in the Rebels’ 43-37 win over the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. He is the first defensive lineman selected as a Paul Hornung Award finalist and is one of the top-rated college defensive linemen by NFL draft prognosticators.
Jabrill Peppers, Michigan. Soph. 6-1, 205. Safety / RB / PR / KOR — A three-way player, Peppers has lined up at 10 different positions this season for the resurgent Wolverines. He started the year at safety, saw time at corner, nickel back and linebacker while handling punt and KO returns. Peppers made his offensive debut against Michigan State at wide receiver then had a breakout game in Michigan’s hard fought, 29-23 road win against Minnesota: logged 92 snaps at safety, receiver, wildcat QB, running back and return man; recorded four carries for 16 yards and a touchdown; returned a KO 43 yards and a punt 41 yards that set up short touchdown drives; recorded three tackles and two PBUs. Peppers’ leads the team in punt and KO return yards, fifth in all-purpose yards, fifth in tackles and tackles for loss and second in PBUs. He has played a total of 809 snaps so far this season, an average of more than 80 per game, with 635 snaps on defense, 150 on special teams and 24 on offense.