The Heisman Trophy, awarded to college football’s best player, is the most prestigious award in college football. Here are our preseason picks for the Heisman Trophy for this season:
Co-Favorite: Leonard Fournette (Running Back), LSU Tigers
Fournette was the heavy favorite to win the Heisman Trophy last season before an abysmal performance (19 carries for 31 yards) against the top defense in the nation, the Alabama Crimson Tide. While that game may have tarnished his Heisman resume, Fournette was simply spectacular last season with the exception of that game; it was the only game where he had less than 100 yards from scrimmage and averaged less than 4.3 yards per carry.
Over the course of the season, Fournette averaged an electric 6.5 yards per rush attempt. In fact, Fournette was so good last season that he was only 1 of 7 running backs (Division I) with at least 200 carries to average 6.5 yards or more per carry. While Fournette’s 22 rushing touchdowns largely powered his performance, he averaged about 0.07 TD’s per carry, which is only a tad high. However, we could attribute his size and athleticism to that. This means that he likely won’t experience regression this year, which is quite good for his outlook.
Fournette’s kryptonite will likely be his offensive line, as LSU only managed to hold onto 3 of their starters. While LSU’s offensive line is likely the weakest part of their offense, Les Miles, LSU’s coach, has consistently had one of the best offensive lines, despite losing key starters to the NFL Draft every year.
Co-Favorite: Deshaun Watson (Quarterback), Clemson Tigers
Watson was simply spectacular last year, finishing as both one of the best passing and running quarterbacks in the nation. Watson ran a remarkably efficient offense last season, despite missing his best receiver, Mike Williams. Watson finished 9th in passing yards, 24th in yards per attempt, and 5th in completion percentage last season. In addition, Watson finished 13th in passing efficiency and 8th in passing touchdowns, even with an extremely low touchdown rate that is sure to regress next season.
Watson was quite efficient on the ground as well last season. Watson finished 44th in rushing yards among all players, while also finishing 94th in yards per carry. Additionally, Watson finished 37th in rushing touchdowns among all players, while experiencing a horribly low touchdown rate. Next season, Watson’s touchdown rate is sure to regress and should result in a much higher rate (and likely more touchdowns).
Watson only has room to improve this season, as he retained all of his top rushers, receivers, and lineman from last season. As mentioned earlier, Watson was without his best receiver, Mike Williams, who will likely be a 1st-round pick in this year’s draft and will surely boost Watson’s production next year.
Don’t count him out: Christian McCaffrey (Running Back), Stanford Cardinals
McCaffrey was easily the best all-around player last year, and possibly of all-time. Last season, McCaffrey recorded 2,664 yards from scrimmage, which ranked top in the nation and 5th all-time behind Smith, Gordon, Sanders, and Allen. In addition to that, McCaffrey broke Sanders’ record for all purpose yards by recording 3,496 all purpose yards last season. To put this into perspective, the next closest player in the country last season only had 2,410 all purpose yards.
In addition to his spectacular play on offense, McCaffrey was among the best in the nation on special teams. McCaffrey had the 5th highest kick-off return average (min 20) and 67th highest punt return average among all returners last season. McCaffrey was much better at punt returns than his numbers would suggest, as many of the leaders only had a few returns last season.
Despite his stellar performance in terms of yards, McCaffrey only scored 13 touchdowns last season (8 rushing, 5 receiving), which is far below that of his peers. McCaffrey’s shockingly low touchdown rate last season is sure to regress in this following one. On the other hand, yards do not typically regress, so next season we can expect McCaffrey to maintain his performance in terms of yards and increase his performance in terms of touchdowns. One concern regarding McCaffrey’s low touchdown rate is that his size played a factor, but he more than makes up for that with his speed and quickness.
* Our projected Heisman Trophy winner *
Dark Horse: Dalvin Cook (Running Back), Florida State Seminoles
Cook was one of the best running backs in college football last season, but went largely unnoticed for most of the season, despite his stellar play. Cook was one of the most dynamic running backs in the country last season, as he was 4th in yards per rushing attempt. Out of the 3 players ahead of him, only one of them had 200+ rushes (Cook had 229 rushing attempts last season).
Cook was so spectacular last season that he only had one game where he played poorly (against Boston College in Week 3). That game was his only one of the season when he had under 100 yards from scrimmage and did not record a touchdown. Last season, Cook had the 8th most rushing touchdowns, largely fueled by his week to week consistency. Despite scoring so many touchdowns, his touchdown rate was not very high, which suggests that it should not regress this next season. Cook now has a solid starting quarterback in Deondre Francois, who should only help Cook’s performance next season.
Cook should look for even more success this season, as Florida State hardly lost any important players. In fact, it was Florida State’s weakest draft class in years, as the only crucial player they lost was Jalen Ramsey, who should not impact Cook’s performance at all. A strong recruiting class and a great returning group of starters should equate to even more success for Cook this season.
While Fournette, Watson, McCaffrey, and Cook are run-away favorites to win the Heisman Trophy this year, there are some other major contenders for the award listed below (listed in order of likelihood of winning the award):
Nick Chubb (Running Back), Georgia Bulldogs
Baker Mayfield (Quarterback), Oklahoma Sooners
Royce Freeman (Running Back), Oregon Ducks
Jabrill Peppers (LB / S / CB / RB / WR / KR / PR), Michigan Wolverines
Adoree’ Jackson (WR / CB / KR / PR), USC Trojans
Data courtesy of ESPN, CBS Sports, heismanwatch.com, Fox Sports, cfbstats.com, and Football Reference. Thanks for reading!
Written by Jason Platkin
Photo Credits: heismanwatch.com, Derick E. Hingle / USA TODAY Sports, USATSI, Tony Avelar / AP, Taylor Wilder/Emerald