Quarterback Deondre Francois has been named to the 2018 Maxwell Award Watch List, the award given to the best college football player of the year. Florida State running back Cam Akers is also included on the list.
But Francois’ inclusion is the real notable one here. The honor is considerable, given that the upperclassman quarterback — named also to the 2017 Maxwell Award Watch List — may not start.
Francois is coming off a serious knee injury in a hard-fought loss against the eventual National Champion, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Surgery, required for a large tear or total rupture, was performed in late September to repair the patellar tendon in his left knee. Such an injury has been historically devastating for professional football players:
A study published in June by the American Journal of Sports Medicine, cataloging postoperative outcomes of orthopaedic procedures in NFL players, found only 50 percent of players returned after having surgery on torn patellar tendons. That’s particularly daunting considering that 79.4 percent of players returned to play after orthopaedic procedures in general, which makes patellar tendon repair an outlier.
And those numbers come in an environment of professional-grade recovery care in which players receive state-of-the-art, 24-hours-a-day treatment from a small army of medical professionals. And all without the perils of summer school and non-football coursework. Francois was not medically cleared to fully participate this past spring practice, while also struggling to maintain his focus off the field.
In addition to projecting Francois starting coming off a potentially career-ending injury, being named to the award watch list also projects Francois’ play as considerably improved. Our own Nolecast on Francois: “[the] capability to make the big throw, but will also misfire on the simple throws more often than people like.” To that point, Francois’ passing success rate on standard downs in 2016 was 49% (45th nationally), which was considerably low given that teams had to focus on the best running back in Florida State history in Dalvin Cook. To Francois’ credit, he took to Jimbo Fisher’s hard coaching, and his toughness is unquestioned.
Another hurdle for Francois to clear: James Blackman. The rising sophomore took the helm for the remainder of last season, and performed relatively well. Thrown into the fire with prom very near in the rearview mirror, the fall enrollee finished with the 56th highest passer rating in the nation quarterbacks; among true freshman QBs, he boasted the second highest (behind Jake Fromm, a 2017 early enrollee). Under Blackman, the FSU offense finished 30th nationally in passing S&P+, better than FSU’s 2015 passing offense under Everett Golson & Sean Maguire. The Francois-led offense in 2016 produced the 6th best passing offense, benefitting from the presence & production of Dalvin Cook. (Note: Blackman was not named to the Maxwell Award preseason watch list. In 2015, all three of Ohio State’s quarterbacks were.)