Last year at this time, nobody was talking about Lamar Jackson in potential Heisman winners. Deshaun Watson was the leader on most early charts, or Christian McCaffrey who many felt should have won in 2015.
With that in mind, maybe somebody will rise and jump right in the middle of the Heisman race. But, for the moment, these are the guys that look good.
1. Sam Darnold – USC QB: When the Trojans are good, they are the media darlings and USC had had 7 Heisman winners if you count Reggie Bush. During a 4 year period, under Pete Carroll, the Trojans won 3 Heisman Trophies with Carson Palmer, Matt Leinert and Reggie Bush. Some are already saying that Darnold could be better than both Palmer and Lienert and he does possess that potential. At the moment, Darnold looks like an almost sure fire Heisman winner and a first round draft pick. He can legally declare for the NFL Draft after the 2017 season if he so desires.
2. Lamar Jackson – Louisville QB: Last year’s Heisman winner seemed to fall apart at the end of the season and the Cardinals lost their last 3 games while finishing a once promising season with a 9-4 record. Only 1 guy in the history of college football has repeated as Heisman winner and that was Archie Griffin of Ohio State in 1974 and 1975. I don’t see Jackson breaking into that category and I am not sure he deserved it this past season over Deshaun Watson. He is an incredible athlete, with a howitzer attached to his shoulder and he can run like the best Running Backs.
3. Baker Mayfield – Oklahoma QB: The talented former Walk-on an 2 time winner of the Brandon Burlsworth Trophy awarded to the nation’s best Walk-on player. Early losses to Houston and Ohio State probably kept him from receiving more Heisman votes in 2016. But, Mayfield came on strong and the Sooners won the Big 12 and the Sugar Bowl. Mayfield has everything but the ideal size, but he makes up for that by his competitiveness. He has a great arm and excellent feet and scrambling ability and can make plays with his arm while scrambling. His game is not built around running like Lamar Jackson, but Mayfield can run when needed. In 2016, he threw for 3,965 yards and 40 yards and that was while having two 1,000 yard rushers on the team. With Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon leaving for the NFL, Mayfield may have to pass for more yardage in 2017.
4. Saquon Barkley – Penn State RB: Barkley is a spectacular Running Back with size, speed and shiftiness. At 5-11, 225, Barkley is supposed to possess sub 4.4 speed in the 40. If you watched the last Rose Bowl, you would have seen Barkley’s sensational 79 yard Touchdown run against USC where he juked past the USC defense and then outran them. He finished 4 yards short of 1,500 rushing yards in 2016 with better days laying in wait as the Penn State Offensive Line continues to mature and improve. Barkley has the knack for the well timed hurdle of defenders. Barkley is also a
good receiver out of the backfield.
5. Mason Rudolph – Oklahoma State QB: It was clearly evident back at the end of the 2014 season that Rudolph possessed a lot of talent. But, Rudolph is now looking like one of the very best Quarterbacks in the country. Rudolph is 6-5, 235 and he’s not going to remind anyone of Barkley while running the ball, but he is athletic enough to escape the pass rush. In the 2016 season, Rudolph threw for 4,091 yards. Coming back for his senior season, he has 8,714 yards and 55 Touchdowns. He plays well enough to be a Heisman candidate and also a top NFL Draft choice in 2018.
6. Jake Browning – Washington QB: As a sophomore in 2015, Browning was a Heisman candidate for much of the year. Browning helped lead the Washington Huskies to the Pac 12 Championship and to the college football playoffs. Washington was over matched by Alabama, but that takes nothing away from Browning and his abilities. Browning is a member of that magnificent Quarterback recruiting class of 2015. This past season, Browning threw for 3,430 yards and 43 Touchdowns against 9 Interceptions. 4 of those picks came in their only losses to USC and Alabama. Browning will be back for his junior season with a more experienced Offensive Line and Running Backs. If he lived in the East, his chances would be much better, but he’s still a talent.
7. Nick Chubb – Georgia RB: Surprisingly, at least to me, Chubb decide to return for his senior season. Chubb was a member of the outstanding 2014 Running Back class and quickly established himself as one of the best. Chubb is 5-10, 225 with almost shocking speed for a power back. As a true freshman, Chubb ran for 1,547 yards with Todd Gurley also on the roster. Gurley suffered a gruesome injury to his knee in 2015 at Tennessee an only had 747 yards rushing. He rehabbed the knee and split time with classmate Sony Michel in 2016. Chubb ran for 1,140 yards and Michel ran for 840 yards. Both are back for the 2017 season and they should be the best backfield in the country.
8. Derrius Guice – LSU RB: Guice will be Leonard Fournette’s replacement and some, including Guice
myself, wonder if he might actually be better than the future 1st round draft pick. Guice hits the hole about as hard as possible and almost refuses to go down when hit by defenders. Sometimes it takes several players to bring him down and he keeps those feet moving as a great Running Back should. Fournette struggled with injuries during his junior season and then he sat out his team’s bowl game to prepare for the NFL Combine, and Draft. No problem for LSU and Guice as they chewed up Louisville. As a sophomore, Guice ran for 1,387 yards and 15 Touchdowns while starter Fournette only ran for 843 yards with his bad ankles. Guice is a fun guy to watch and I wrote about him here:
9. Bo Scarbrough – Alabama RB: As Scarbrough was ripping through an excellent Washington defense in the playoffs for 180 yards, the commentators said he looked like Eddie Lacy running for a Touchdown. Uh, not even close. Scarbrough looked just like another Derrick Henry with the same running style and hair sticking out of the back of his helmet. He’s not quite as big, or as fast, but the 6-2, 230 Scarbrough came on late in the season and ran for 812 yards and 11 Touchdowns. He is going to compete with Damian Harris, Josh Jacobs, BJ Emmons and incoming 5 star freshman Najee Harris from California for playing time.
10. Deondre Francois – Florida State QB: Francois took his lumps last season as a redshirt freshman, but he kept plugging away. At the end of the season, he also used his speed to pick up valuable yardage. Francois replaced returning senior Quarterback Sean Maguire and he did show his youth and inexperience at times. But, he also demonstrated toughness, a good arm, and great running ability. He threw for 3,350 yards and 20 Touchdowns. He ran for only 196 yards, but he was sacked about as often as any Quarterback in the nation and kept getting up. Francois and his Florida State teammates enter the 2017 season as the 2nd ranked team behind Alabama and it could be a huge season for the Seminoles. We will know early on as they play the Crimson Tide in their first game and they will have one of the most difficult schedules in the nation.
11. JT Barrett – Ohio State QB: 2016 was something of a disappointing season for Barrett, but the Buckeyes still earned a playoff berth. They were blasted by Clemson and their offense was awful. Urban Meyer made some changes in his offense bringing in former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson as his Offensive Line coach and Offensive Coordinator. This should help the Buckeye offense tremendously and hopefully, JT Barrett as well. Last season, Barrett threw for 2,555 yards and 24
Touchdowns. He also ran for 845 yards and 9 Touchdowns. At 6-2, 225, Barrett is built more like a Fullback.
12. Jalen Hurts – Alabama QB: Hurts was an outstanding true freshman Quarterback for the Crimson Tide in 2016. The promising qualities of his game are great physical strength, an extremely cool demeanor, and tremendous running ability. Hurts was the second leading rusher on the team with 954 yards and 13 Touchdowns on the ground. Through the air, Hurts completed 240 passes out of 382 attempts which gained 2,780 yards and 23 Touchdowns. His strength is definitely running and making throws off the run. With all of the love that ESPN gives Nick Saban and Alabama, Hurts’ chances are good in the Heisman race.
13. Mark Walton – Miami RB: The Hurricanes had a talented Running Back in Joseph Yearby who was a sophomore in 2015 as true freshman Mark Walton came in and took his position. Yearby still rushed for 1,002 yards in 2015 with Walton only chugging along for 461 yards. But, this season, Walton ran for 1,117 yards and 14 Touchdowns. Yearby ran for for 608 yards and declared for the NFL Draft. Miami has another talent at Running Back in Gus Edwards who has graduated with one year left of eligibility and is talking of transferring. Not sure why the Hurricanes didn’t use Gus the Bus Edwards more because he is big, strong and talented. But, in 2017, Walton may have the backfield to himself and it could be his season to get noticed.
14. Trace McSorley – Penn State QB: While Saquon Barkley is the most talented Nittany Lion, McSorley is the reason for the turnaround in their program. Simply put, McSorley is just a winner. He is a gutsy, smallish Quarterback that does nothing but win. He won in high school and he wins at Penn State. His arm is adequate and so are his legs as he helped lead the Penn State Nittany Lions to a shocking 11-3 record and a Big 10 championship. They lost in the Rose Bowl on a game ending Field Goal by USC, but McSorley was a primary reason they were there. After Penn State head coach James Franklin’s back to back 7-6 seasons, 11-3 was a welcome change for the Lions. McSorley is a
player and never was highly recruited at 6-0, 200. Penn State may not return to the Rose Bowl in 2017, but they will be competitive again.
15. Brandon Wimbush – Notre Dame QB: The Fighting Irish have had 7 Heisman Trophy winners and they are either loved, or hated. Wimbush has barely played in games, but all reports have him being a talent. DeShone Kizer, last year’s starter, has declared for the NFL Draft and Malik Zaire has announced his plans to transfer. That leaves the starting job in the hands of Wimbush unless some unforeseen issue arises. Wimbush played in 2 games in 2015 and not at all in 2016. Wimbush is a former highly recruited player from Hackensack, New Jersey. He is a long shot at best, but at Notre Dame and a great season, he does have something of a shot.
16. Nick Fitzgerald – Mississippi State QB: Bulldog head coach Dan Mullen was Tim Tebow’s Quarterback coach and Offensive Coordinator at Florida an he was NFL sensation Dak Presoctt’s ead coach at Mississippi State. The man does knowhow to coach the Quarterback position. Nick Fitzgerald is his latest prospect. While a player from Mississippi State is highly unlikely to ever win the Heisman, Fitzgerald is something of a prodigy at Quarterback. Here is a 6-5, 230 guy that should be a classic drop back passer, but Fitzgerald is blessed with exceptional speed. In 2016, Fitzgerald ran for an amazing1,375 yards and 16 Touchdowns. When he was able to get through the line of scrimmage, several times this past season he just ran off and left much smaller Defensive Backs to the End Zone and they were not at any point picking up ground on him. As a passer, he has work to do, but he did throw for 2,423 yards and 21 Touchdowns.
17. Quinton Flowers – South Florida QB: To describe Flowers, the first thing that comes to mind is just an amazing athlete. Flowers is a 6-0, 210 senior from Miami can run and throw extremely well. This past season, Flowers threw for 2,812 yards and 24 Touchdowns while running for 1,530 yards and 18 Touchdowns. Seriously, nobody from South Florida has a legitimate shot at the Heisman Trophy,. but Flowers is outstanding. He has such quick feet. Flowers is a lot of fun to watch.
18. Josh Rosen – UCLA QB: Rosen was one of the better freshmen Quarterbacks we’ve seen in
forever, but he was injured as a sophomore and Jake Browning passed him by and then Sam Darnold as well. As a true freshman, Rosen was super impressive throwing for 3,669 yards and 23 Touchdowns while helping lead his team to an 8-5 record. As a sophomore, Rosen only played in 6 games before being lost for the season. In those 6 games, Rosen threw for 1,915 yards and the Bruins posted a 3-3 record. After he went down, the Bruins slumped to 4-8 on the season.
19. Jaylen Samuels – North Carolina State TE/HB: Samuels is a special player. Listed as a Tight End, Samuels plays all over. He caught 55 passes last season for 565 yards and 7 Touchdowns. He also ran for 189 yards and 6 more Touchdowns. Samuels is 5-11, 225 with excellent quickness and power.
20. Kamryn Pettway – Auburn RB: Pettway is one of my favorites because of my enjoyment of big backs with speed and power. He is 6-0, 240 and he ran for 1,224 yards and 7 Touchdowns while averaging nearly 6 yards per carry. Pettway