When a football team goes 2-10 it is hard to find an MVP. In this day and age, where teams can basically schedule four wins in their non-conference, it is hard to reach double-digit losses as a Power Five conference team. There are 64 Power Five teams in America, and only Purdue, Kansas, and Oregon State lost as many as 10 games. Still, we did have one player that was consistently excellent throughout the season, even if the coaching staff was dumb enough to not give him the ball more. That player is true freshman Markell Jones, and the staff of Hammer & Rails has named him the Purdue football MVP for 2015.
By now you know the story of how he set nearly every single-season high school rushing record in the state of Indiana in 2014, and he nearly ran for 8,000 yards in his career. He continued that record pace in 2015 during his true freshman season.
Purdue rated just 112th nationally out of 128 teams in rushing, a huge step back from 2014. Still, Jones was the bright spot there. He established a new freshman record with 875 yards rushing. His best day came at Michigan State, only one of the best teams in America. He had 157 yards and two touchdowns as he almost single-handedly pulled Purdue back into it before the Boilers fell 24-21. Also, for a team lacking explosive plays he had two runs of 60 yards or more, with the longest being a 68 yard TD at MSU. His 10 rushing touchdowns tied him for 15th on the single-season list, and it also tied Kory Sheets in 2005 for the most by a freshman.
Jones was not one-dimensional, either. He also caught 34 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown, giving him 11 total touchdowns and a good head start on catching Sheets' all-time mark of 54 touchdowns. Sheets also had 11 as a freshman, with 10 on the ground and one as a blocked punt he returned for a score.
What's more impressive is that Jones rarely lost yardage when given the ball. He lost a total of only 7 yards among his 168 rushing attempts. That meant he touched the football over 200 times and only lost yardage three times at most. For a team that was offensively challenged that was impressive. Jones established himself as a punishing runner, and more than once the player foolish enough to tackle him one-on-one was the one not getting up after contact.
Markell was, by far, Purdue's best rusher, and he eventually took the starting job from D.J. Knox. He also ranked third on the team in receptions behind only Danny Anthrop and Deangelo Yancey. Since he is only a freshman he has a chance to go down as one of the greatest players of all-time at Purdue. At the very least he is a solid piece to build around as Purdue tries to dig out of the cellar.
I would say the minimal expectation for 2016 is a 1,000 yard season, something that has only happened eight times in Purdue history and none since Sheets' senior year in 2008. That alone would put Markell in the top 15 all-time in rushing at Purdue, and he would be about halfway to the career mark of 3,635 yards established by Mike Alstott in 1995.
So, in all, great job, Markell! Thank you for being a major bright spot and something to look forward to each Saturday.