(STATS) - As the 2015 recipient of the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year award, Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp headlines the preseason watch list of candidates, announced Wednesday.
Kupp figures to end his senior season as the most decorated wide receiver in FCS history.
But he has a lot of company for this year's top honor.
Six of the top seven vote-getters in last year's national balloting return this season. Overall, 11 of the 22 players on the watch list were finalists a season ago.
Kupp, a three-time first-team All-American, is coming off a 2015 season in which he led the nation in five categories - receptions (114, a Big Sky Conference record), receptions per game (10.4, another conference mark), receiving yards (1,642), receiving yards per game (149.3) and touchdown receptions (19).
This season, the NFL prospect will try to join former Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards as the only two-time FCS offensive player of the year. Edwards won in 2008 and '09.
Also returning to the watch list is Lamar senior running back Kade Harrington, the runner-up for last year's award and the FCS rushing champion.
There's also Fordham running back Chase Edmonds (fourth place) and quarterbacks Case Cookus (fifth place) of Northern Arizona, Eli Jenkins (sixth) of Jacksonville State and KD Humphries (seventh) of Murray State as well as Coastal Carolina running back De'Angelo Henderson (10th), South Dakota State wide receiver Jake Wieneke (14th), William & Mary running back Kendell Anderson (tie for 15th), North Carolina A&T running back Tarik Cohen (18th) and Morehead State quarterback Austin Gahafer (tie for 19th).
Also named to the watch list were quarterbacks Aaron Bailey of Northern Iowa, Kyle Lauletta of Richmond, RJ Noel of Sacred Heart and Peter Pujals of Holy Cross; running backs Derrick Craine of Chattanooga, Darius Hammond of Charleston Southern, John Santiago of North Dakota, Lenard Tillery of Southern and Darius Victor of Towson; and Emmanuel Butler of Northern Arizona and Justin Watson of Penn.
The breakdown by position for the watch list: 10 running backs, eight quarterbacks and four wide receivers. All 13 FCS conferences had at least one nominee, with the most coming from the Big Sky with four followed by CAA Football with three.
The STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Watch List can undergo revision during the 2016 season. A national panel of over 150 sports information and media relations directors, broadcasters, writers and other dignitaries will vote on the winner following the regular season.
Also this season, STATS will honor the outstanding defensive player in the FCS, a freshman player of the year, a coach of the year and the Eddie & Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
2016 STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year Award Watch List=
Kendell Anderson, William & Mary, RB, Sr., 5-9, 200
The Tribe team captain sets the tone with his playing style: while using high energy and toughness, he runs over opposing players. Difficult to stop in the backfield, he adds deceptive speed to his punishing assault … Following an ankle injury to 2014 All-CAA first-team running back Mikal Abdul-Saboor, Anderson hit the ground running - literally - as the team's new starting running back in 2015. Anderson finished with 1,418 yards and 16 touchdowns on 240 carries, including six consecutive 100-yard games and seven overall. … Earned first-team All-CAA honors and finished tied for 15th for STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year.
Aaron Bailey, Northern Iowa, QB, Sr., 6-2, 226=
As a junior in 2015, Bailey led all FCS quarterbacks with 1,334 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns - both Missouri Valley Football Conference records by a quarterback. He also threw for 1,656 yards and 13 touchdowns while earning the conference's newcomer of the year award. … Played two seasons at Illinois, appearing in 14 games, before transferring to UNI. … Strong upper body allows Bailey to sustain punishment. He logged 257 rushing attempts, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. … Helped the Panthers reach the FCS quarterfinals in his first season in Cedar Falls. … Bailey's biological father is former NFL wide receiver Aaron Bailey.
Emmanuel Butler, Northern Arizona, WR, Jr., 6-3, 210=
Butler's breakout 2015 season coincided with Case Cookus taking over the quarterback duties at NAU. Butler became a big-play receiver, totaling 64 receptions for a school single-season record 1,208 yards (18.9 yards per catch) and 15 touchdowns, which tied a school single-season mark. … His background in basketball pays off as Butler has a physical style with good size and hands, and even better leaping ability to snatch receptions over defensive players. … The All-Big Sky first-team selection caught four touchdowns in a win over Northern Colorado as well as three scores and a career-high 216 yards in a road victory against Stephen F. Austin.
Tarik Cohen, North Carolina A&T, RB, Sr., 5-6, 173=
Superb in open space, Cohen has been clocked at 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He also runs hard between the tackles and sheds defenders. ... Cohen enters his senior season with 4,031 rushing yards and seeks his fourth straight 1,000-yard season. Has rushed for 38 touchdowns and scored 40 overall. … Was named the most valuable player of the inaugural Celebration Bowl, rushing for 295 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over Alcorn State. … A three-time Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference first-teamer, he also captured the offensive player of the year award, led the conference in rushing and helped N.C. A&T to a share of the conference title in both 2014 and '15. ... Finished 18th in voting for the 2015 STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year award.
Case Cookus, Northern Arizona, QB, So., 6-4, 200=
Cookus was named the 2015 STATS FCS Freshman Player of the Year after setting a rookie record with 37 touchdown passes. He ranked second in the FCS in both touchdown passes and passing efficiency (184.9), and was third in completion percentage (68.9). He passed for 3,111 yards. … Threw seven touchdowns against Northern Colorado and six against Sacramento State. … Stands tall in the pocket at 6-4, 200 pounds, and has excellent mechanics and downfield ability. … Also finished fifth in the voting for the 2015 STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year. … Spent time at Ventura Junior College but didn't play because of injury and then enrolled at NAU in 2015.
Derrick Craine, Chattanooga, RB, Sr., 5-10, 205=
Craine became Chattanooga's starting running back in 2015 and excelled in the role. He established Mocs single-season records with 1,251 rushing yards and 230 carries. He also tied for the Southern Conference high with 13 rushing touchdowns. … Figures to be called on even more as a senior after the Mocs graduated quarterback Jacob Huesman, also a 1,000-yard rusher for their third consecutive SoCon championship squad. … Craine is shifty with a smart running style, but he is willing to get the tough yards between the tackles. … A versatile player who is a good blocker and an excellent pass catcher.
Chase Edmonds, Fordham, RB, Jr., 5-9, 196=
In his first two seasons, Edmonds has dominated the FCS ranks, totaling 3,486 rushing yards, 4,504 all-purpose yards and 43 rushing touchdowns. … He uses a fast and deceptively punishing style to get past defenders. … Edmonds followed up winning the national freshman of the year award in 2014 with the 2015 Patriot League offensive player of the year award. He also made the STATS FCS All-America first team and finished fourth for national offensive player of the year. … Racked up a Patriot League-record 402 all-purpose yards (347 rushing, 55 receiving) in a victory over Lehigh as a sophomore.
Austin Gahafer, Morehead State, QB, Sr., 6-0, 187=
A fourth-year starter, Gahafer begins his final season with the most passing yards (8,514) among active FCS quarterbacks. … He has improved with each season, topped by a 2015 campaign in which he completed 291 of 510 passes for 3,244 yards and 24 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He became the first Morehead State player to be named the Pioneer Football League's offensive player of the year and finished tied for 19th for the STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year award. … Will sling passes all over the field out of the Eagles' fast-paced spread offense. He worked on his speed in the offseason. … He is on pace to become the PFL's all-time leader in passing yardage.
Darius Hammond, Charleston Southern, RB, Sr., 5-10, 192=
Hammond has been a special-teams standout throughout his career, but he became one of the better all-around threats in the FCS as a junior. … Made the 2015 Big South first team as a punt returner and the second team as a running back while Charleston Southern swept its way to the conference title and its first FCS playoff appearance. … Ranked 17th nationally with 1,865 all-purpose yards, averaging 143.5 per game, leading the Buccaneers with 856 rushing yards and averaging 25.1 yards per kickoff return and 15.5 yards per punt return. Scored nine total touchdowns. … Set the school's single-game record with 295 kickoff return yards in a playoff loss to Jacksonville State - gaining 67 and 84 yards on two of the returns.
Kade Harrington, Lamar, RB, Sr., 5-9, 190=
Having finished second to Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp in voting for the 2015 STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year award, Harrington will try to take the next step in his final season. … As a junior, the Southland Conference player of the year surpassed the magical mark of 2,000 rushing yards - needing only 10 games to do it. He went on to lead the FCS in rushing yards (2,092), rushing yards per game (190.2), rushing touchdowns (21) and all-purpose yards per game (213.4). … The STATS FCS All-American is a quick runner who eats up yards with a north-south style. He also is particularly productive as a pass catcher. ... Led Lamar to one of the program's biggest wins - a road upset of national power Sam Houston State on Sept. 19, 2015 - by totaling 230 rushing yards, 83 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
De'Angelo Henderson, Coastal Carolina, RB, Grad. Sr., 5-8, 205=
"Hop," as Henderson is called by his teammates, set both Big South Conference and FCS records by scoring at least one touchdown in 26 straight games. … As a senior, Coastal Carolina will compete as an FCS independent program while transitioning toward the FBS in 2017. … Henderson's game-breaking speed and ability to find the end zone stand out. He's averaged over six yards per carry in each of his first three seasons and enters his final campaign with 3,479 rushing yards, 4,210 all-purpose yards and 46 touchdowns (42 rushing). … He uses quickness to power past defenders. Runs with a balanced style and will catch passes out of the backfield (33 as a sophomore and 40 as a junior). … Finished 10th in voting for the 2015 STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year award.
KD Humphries, Murray State, QB, Sr., 6-3, 225=
Humphries led the FCS in completions per game in both 2014 (26.5) and '15 (30). He also racked up 3,778 passing yards - the national high - as a junior. … Humphries works under quarterbacks coach Casey Brockman, a Murray State finalist for the national offensive player of the year in 2012. As a junior, Humphries was seventh for the STATS award. … Murray State coach Mitch Stewart describes Humphries as a blue-collar player who leads by example. He's improved his decision making, which reflects how he threw only seven interceptions in 532 attempts as a junior (down from 12 picks in 473 attempts in 2014). … Given name is KeDarius.
Eli Jenkins, Jacksonville State, QB, Sr., 6-2, 205=
The individual honors flowed for Jenkins in 2015, but his excellence reflected the most in Jacksonville State reaching the No. 1 ranking and the FCS championship game for the first time. … Jenkins finished sixth in voting for STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year and was named the Ohio Valley Conference offensive player of the year, leading the Gamecocks to a second straight unbeaten season in conference play. He finished his banner campaign with 2,788 passing yards and 1,161 rushing yards. … With a school-record 8,357 total yards of offense in his career, Jenkins is a dual-threat who is best on rollouts, capable of finding receivers or running room. … It was revealed after his junior season that Jenkins played the campaign with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. He had surgery in the offseason.
Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington, WR, Sr., 6-2, 210=
The 2015 STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year will try to win the award in back-to-back years. He could hold almost all the major receiving records in the FCS by season's end. … While gaining top national honors as junior, he led the nation in five categories - receptions (114, a Big Sky Conference record), receptions per game (10.4, another conference mark), receiving yards (1,642), receiving yards per game (149.3) and touchdown receptions (19). … He ranks fourth in FCS history in receptions (311, 84 behind the record), second in reception yards (4,764, 486 behind the record) and second in TD receptions (56, two behind the record). He holds 17 Eastern Washington records, eight Big Sky marks and seven FCS records. … The two-time first-team All-American has excellent hands and understands opposing defenses, working his release from different spots on the line of scrimmage. … Kupp's father, Craig, was a former NFL quarterback and grandfather Jake had a long NFL career as an offensive guard.
Kyle Lauletta, Richmond, QB, Jr., 6-3, 208=
It was hard to tell Lauletta was coming off a redshirt season in 2015. With two fifth-year seniors ahead of him a year earlier, Richmond saved a year for its future, but Lauletta paid a quick dividend. He led the Spiders to a share of the CAA Football title and to their first national semifinal playoff appearance since the 2008 squad won the FCS title. … He grabs hold of the Richmond offense through excellent leadership and command. … Lauletta finished his redshirt sophomore season with 3,598 passing yards - second-most in the nation - and ranked 15th nationally in passing efficiency (147.3). He threw for 19 touchdowns and rushed for seven more.
RJ Noel, Sacred Heart, QB, Sr., 6-1, 190=
This is the year of the quarterback in the Northeast Conference, but Noel has had a head start. He's been named the All-NEC quarterback in each of his first three seasons. He also won the conference's rookie of the year award in 2013. … A New Englander through and through, Noel helped Sacred Heart win conference titles and reach the FCS playoffs in both 2013 and '14. … He has thrown for 7,111 career yards. As a junior, he threw for 2,431 yards and 19 touchdowns while adding another six scores on the ground. … While playing with a composed demeanor, Noel is a mobile quarterback who looks to exploit matchups with his receivers.
Peter Pujals, Holy Cross, QB, Sr., 6-2, 213=
Pujals has been dominating in the Patriot League for three seasons. The poised, confident signal caller was the league's rookie of the year in 2013, the second-team all-league quarterback in 2014 and the first-team selection in 2015. … Lanky and mobile, Pujals led the league with 3,195 passing yards and 3,514 yards of total offense as a junior, pushing his career totals to 7,809 and 9,307, respectively. He enters his final season with 722 career completions and 72 total touchdowns (57 passing, 15 rushing). … His coaches laud Pujals for being able to place his passes in catchable spots.
John Santiago, North Dakota, RB, So., 5-9, 170=
Santiago was the runner-up for the 2015 STATS FCS Freshman Player of the Year award, earning second-team All-America honors. … He set the North Dakota Division I records for rushing yards (1,459) and all-purpose yards (2,159), scoring 16 touchdowns. … Also surpassed 100 rushing yards in all of his Big Sky Conference games and tied for the national high with nine 100-yard games. … A small-town player who went under the recruiting radar, Santiago was originally expected to be a wide receiver at UND because of his 5-foot-9, 170-pound size. But he is quick and has excellent lower-body speed and upper-body strength.
Lenard Tillery, Southern, RB, Sr., 5-10, 186=
Tillery already is Southern's all-time leading rusher heading into his final season. The former walk-on runs as if he has something to prove, according to Jaguars coach Dawson Odums. …. Tillery has been Southern's leading rusher for three straight seasons and was the Southwestern Athletic Conference rushing champion as a junior, collecting 1,211 yards. His 15 total touchdowns also tied for the conference high and he made the all-conference first team. … Tillery reads his blocks well and has a versatile running style.
Darius Victor, Towson, RB, Sr., 5-8, 227=
Nagging ankle and back injuries didn't stop Victor from posting a second straight 1,000-yard season as a junior. He ranked third in CAA Football in rushing, gaining 1,021 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground. … As a sophomore in 2014, Victor totaled a conference-high 1,305 rushing yards as well as 12 touchdowns on 250 carries. … He is a physical back who stays balanced and looks for contact while running downhill between the tackles. … Was the CAA's offensive rookie of the year, despite playing behind national rushing leader Terrance West, on the 2013 Towson squad which reached the FCS championship game. … Nominated to the 2016 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.
Justin Watson, Penn, WR, Jr., 6-3, 210=
Consistency is as important as explosiveness for Watson. He had multiple receptions in every Penn game during his first two seasons. … Watson's signature performance came against Harvard in 2015 when Penn stopped the Crimson's 22-game winning streak. He rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown and caught seven passes for 149 yards and a touchdown. … Watson went on to lead the Ivy League in receptions (74), receiving yards (1,082) and touchdown receptions (nine). He finished as the runner-up for the league's offensive player of the year award. … Set Penn freshman records with 42 receptions and 497 receiving yards in 2014.
Jake Wieneke, South Dakota State, WR, Jr., 6-4, 210=
The STATS All-America first-teamer has been both great and consistent over his first two seasons at South Dakota State. As a freshman in 2014, he caught 73 passes for 1,404 yards and a school-record 16 touchdowns. As a sophomore, he had 72 receptions for 1,472 yards and 11 touchdowns. ... Physically gifted at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Wieneke use his body to overwhelm defenders. He has big hands and a crafty ball-catching technique. ... Was the runner-up for the 2014 national freshman of the year award. Finished 14th in voting for the 2015 STATS FCS Offensive Player of the Year. ... Younger brother Clark also plays for the Jackrabbits as a running back.