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Stan Becton | NCAA.com | November 28, 2021

FCS football awards: Breaking down the 2021 FCS Jerry Rice Award finalists

FCS bracket predictions: Every playoff game picked, through the national championship

The 2021 FCS Award finalists have been named, with 23 players making the final cut for the Jerry Rice Award. The Jerry Rice Award is given each year to the most outstanding freshman in FCS football. The award is in its 11th season and the winner will be announced on December 13.

Before the announcement of the winner of the 2021 Jerry Rice Award, take a look at 10 notable finalists and their case for hoisting the trophy.

2021 Jerry Rice Award finalists

Zevi Eckhaus | QB | Bryant

Quarterback Zevi Eckhaus led Bryant to the top offense in the NEC in his first year at the helm. The California native won NEC Offensive Rookie of the Year and is the first player in Bryant history to be nominated for the Jerry Rice Award. Eckhaus ended the season on a hot streak, completing 73 percent of his passes for 673 yards and six touchdowns over his final two games.

Statistics: 233 of 371 (62.8 percent), 2,392 pass yards, 21 pass TDs, 3 INTs, 242 rush yards, 2 rush TDs
Best Game: 36-29 win over Brown | 35 of 49 (71.4 percent), 335 pass yards, 3 pass TDs, 1 rush TD

AWARD HISTORY: Complete history of the Jerry Rice Award

Shedeur Sanders | QB | Jackson State

As one of the most highly-touted recruits in Jackson State history, quarterback Shedeur Sanders entered his freshman season with immense expectations. Sanders lived up to the hype, leading Jackson State to the SWAC championship game. Sanders led the conference in completion percentage and sits sixth in the FCS for passing efficiency. With the potential to win the Celebration Bowl as a freshman, Sanders has been phenomenal in his first collegiate season.

Statistics: 248 of 361 (68.7 percent), 2,971 pass yards, 28 pass TDs, 5 INTs, 3 rush TDs 
Best Game: 61-15 win over Alabama A&M | 17 of 24 (70.8 percent), 249 yards, 4 pass TDs, 58 rush yards, 1 rush TD

HBCU: Keep up with scores and updates from the HBCU football season

Collin Guggenheim | RB | Nicholls

In a run-heavy offense, running back Collin Guggenheim finished second in rushing yards at Nicholls, but led the team in rushing touchdowns. Guggenheim averaged 103.3 rushing yards per game, but his most remarkable stat from this season is that he lost just three rushing yards on 145 carries.

Statistics: 145 carries, 930 rush yards, 10 rush TDs; 6 receptions, 33 rec yards
Best Game: 45-42 win over Southeastern Louisiana | 29 carries, 266 rush yards, 3 rush TDs

MORE: Walter Payton Award watchlist | Buck Buchanan Award watchlist

Darius Hale | RB | Central Arkansas

Central Arkansas running back Darius Hale led all running backs with 17 rushing touchdowns. Hale’s one of 13 running backs to rush for 1,000 yards this season. He added a counterattack to a Central Arkansas offense that featured two All-American wide receivers on the outside. Now, Hale might earn national accolades of his own as a Jerry Rice Award finalist. 

Statistics: 198 carries, 1,015 rush yards, 17 rush TDs, 15 receptions, 111 rec yards, 1 rec TD
Best Game: 49-38 win over Lamar | 22 carries, 253 rush yards, 4 TDs

Jalyn Witcher | WR | Presbyterian

Only a true freshman, wide receiver Jalyn Witcher has a legitimate argument as the best receiver in the nation. He sits near the top of every receiving category this season, helping Presbyterian to become the top passing offense in the FCS. Witcher finished the season with six 100-yard receiving games, breaking every single-season receiving record in Blue Hose history.

Statistics: 80 receptions, 1,120 rec yards, 12 rec TDs
Best Game: 38-30 loss to Morehead State | 12 receptions, 178 rec yards, 2 rec TDs

Jacari Carter | WR | Merrimack

Thanks to the NCAA’s four-game redshirt rule, Merrimack wide receiver Jacari Carter remains eligible for the Jerry Rice Award as a redshirt freshman. Regardless, Carter turned out a fantastic 2021 season. His 89 catches are the third-most in the country, and he led the NEC in receiving yards. Carter also showed an ability to impact games on special teams, scoring on a punt return against Wagner.

Statistics: 89 receptions, 713 rec yards, 8 rec TDs, 17 punt returns, 257 return yards, 1 return TD
Best Game: 31-26 loss to Maine | 18 receptions, 131 rec yards, 2 rec TDs

PREDICTIONS: Predictions, picks for every FCS playoff game and round

Josiah Silver | DE | New Hampshire

New Hampshire defensive end Josiah Silver was a force off the edge this fall. Nationally, his six forced fumbles are tied for second-most, while his 12.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss are the fourth-most in the country. Silver stuffed the stat sheet, highlighted by his performance against Rhode Island.

Statistics: 80 tackles (42 solo), 20.5 TFL, 12.5 sacks, 6 FF, 1 FR
Best Game: 28-3 loss to Rhode Island | 11 tackles (7 solo), 5 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 FF

James Conway | LB | Fordham

Early in the season, Fordham linebacker James Conway was overshadowed at his position by teammate Ryan Greenghagen. However, a season-ending injury to Greenhagen forced Conway to fill his role and fill his role he did. Conway finished the regular season second in the FCS in total tackles, leading all freshmen. Conway made 10 or more tackles in eight out of his 11 games.

Statistics: 131 tackles (61 solo), 6 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 4 FF, 1 FR
Best Game: 35-28 win over Lehigh | 21 tackles (9 solo), 0.5 TFL, 2 FF

Rodney Dansby | LB | Houston Baptist

While Houston Baptist might have finished the season 0-11, a bright spot came from freshman linebacker Rodney Dansby. Dansby finished third in the nation for tackles, in the process becoming the sixth-straight Houston Baptist linebacker to lead the Southland conference in tackles. Moreover, Dansby’s best performance came against the top two teams in the conference; he finished with 19, 17 and 18 tackles against Southeastern Louisiana and in two games against UIW, respectively.

Statistics: 130 tackles (52 solo), 3.5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 QBH, 1 FF, 1 FR
Best Game: 49-21 loss to UIW | 17 tackles (14 solo), 1 TFL, 1 FR, 1 PBU

Andreas Keaton | S | Western Carolina

Andreas Keaton made an impact from day one at Western Carolina, making eight tackles in his first career start. Keaton went on to start every game this fall, earning SoCon Freshman of the Year honors for his performance. His three interceptions led Western Carolina, snatching two picks from Walter Payton Award finalist Liam Welch.

Statistics: 45 tackles (29 solo), 3 INTs, 6 PBU
Best Game: 42-37 loss to Samford | 2 tackles (1 solo), 2 INTs, 1 PBU

Here are the other players to make the Jerry Rice Award finalist list:

  • Andrew Body | QB | Texas Southern                                                
  • Demeatric Crenshaw | QB | Youngstown State
  • RJ Martinez | QB | Northern Arizona
  • Elijah Burris | RB | Hampton
  • Sy’Veon Wilkerson | RB | Delaware State
  • Tyson Thompson | WR | Houston Baptist
  • Nate Bennett | WR | Portland State
  • Thor Griffith | DT | Harvard)
  • Tyler King | LB | Stony Brook
  • C.J. Tillman | LB | Campbell
  • Bryce Norman | LB | Southeast Missouri
  • Dominick Poole | CB | The Citadel
  • Drae McCray | WR | Austin Peay 

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