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Big Ten Football: Breaking Down the Paul Hornung Award Candidates
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17 Jul 2017 04:26 PM EST

-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Ohio State’s Parris Campbell runs in the Fiesta Bowl. (Image Source: Norm Hall/Getty Images)

On Monday, the Louisville Sports Commission released the Paul Hornung preseason watch list, which included five players from the Big Ten. Here’s how they breakdown:

WR/H-Back/KR Parris Campbell, Ohio State: Coming off a quiet sophomore season (13 receptions), Parris Campbell is primed for a breakout year as the Buckeyes look to replace their top three receivers from last season. The speedy Campbell is expected to play H-Back this season, taking over for Curtis Samuel, which means an opportunity to put up some big-time numbers in OSU’s offense. He could emerge as Ohio State’s top pass catcher and expect him to get more touches running the football (54 yards on four carries last season). He’s also a dynamic kick returner who averaged an impressive 27.8 yards per return, including a 91-yarder.

WR/KR/PR Janarion Grant, Rutgers: Easily the most explosive player on Rutgers, Janarion Grant is a highlight waiting to happen and a legitimate candidate for the Hornung Award. As fun to watch as any player in the Big Ten with the football in his hands, Grant played in just four games in 2016 before he suffered a season-ending injury but still managed to score on a kickoff and a punt return. He also found the painted area three times on just 16 rushes and picked up 8.6 yards per pop. It would behoove Chris Ash to get the ball to Grant as much as possible. His eight kick return touchdowns (5 KR, 3 PR) is tied for the NCAA career record.

Preseason Watch Lists: Bednarik | Butkus | Mackey | Maxwell | Nagurski | Thorpe |

WR/KR D.J. Moore, Maryland: The leading returning receiver, D.J. Moore is ready for bigger and better things if the Terps can get their throw game together. He averaged 15.5 yards per catch despite the fact starting quarterback Perry Hills averaged just 12 yards per completion and Moore’s 15.3 yards per play led the Big Ten last season, as he enters his junior year with a 21-game reception streak. Moore is chasing Torrey Smith’s 30-game streak and his nine touchdowns through two seasons has him in the class with previous all-purpose talents like Stefon Diggs and Jermaine Lewis. As a sophomore, Moore got 11 carries, was Maryland’s primary kick returner (22.3 yards per KR), and even attempted two passes.

WR/PR De’Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska: A dynamic receiver, who also contributes as a return specialist—are you sensing a theme?—De’Mornay Pierson-El could finally play up to his potential in his final season in Lincoln. With six of Nebraska’s top eight receivers from last season gone, he will have a chance to emerge as one of the primary targets in 2017 as the Huskers hand over the passing attack to transfer Tanner Lee. As a true freshman, Pierson-El led the nation with 596 total punt return yards and three touchdowns (tied), with his 17.5 yards per return good for second in the country. He also started six games at receiver and set a Nebraska bowl record with eight catches against USC. He was expected to become a star in 2015; however, major leg injuries have slowed down his development over the past two seasons. If healthy, Pierson-El could emerge as one of the B1G’s top game breakers.

RB/KR Devonte Williams, Indiana: The sophomore is the most surprising among the B1G candidates but that isn’t because he’s not a receiver. As a freshman, Devonte Williams rushed for 167 yards (fifth on IU) and averaged only 3.5 yards per carry. The Hoosiers have had a 1,000-yard rusher for three-straight years but if they make it four in a row, it’s doubtful that Williams will be the guy. The slashing runner has some game-breaking ability and pass-catching potential but will have to fight for touches in a crowded Indiana backfield. Where he will make the biggest impact is as a return specialist. Williams is coming off a season in which he picked up 784 yards as a kick returner, although he will have to average more than 20.1 yards per return to get national attention.

Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards. You can reach him via email: danmogollon@gmail.com.

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