During Monday Night Countdown, five finalists were announced for the Heisman Trophy ceremony which takes place in New York this Saturday evening live on ESPN. They are (in alphabetical order):
– Lamar Jackson (QB, Louisville)
– Baker Mayfield (QB, Oklahoma)
– Jabrill Peppers (LB/S, Michigan)
– Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson)
– Dede Westbrook (WR, Oklahoma)
Whether these players deserve to be finalists or not is for another time, but the voters consider this cohort to be the most outstanding players in college football this season. But who deserves to win the Heisman? I break down each finalist and rank them in order of how I think they should place in the Heisman race.
5) Baker Mayfield (QB, Oklahoma)
2016 STATS: 3,669 pass yards / 38 pass TDs / 8 INTS / 143 rush yards / 5 rush TDs
For those who have read my Heisman rankings over the season, you would have noticed that neither Baker Mayfield or his top receiving threat Dede Westbrook were included at any point in my lists. One of the main reasons for this is the slow start Oklahoma had to the year, losing two of their biggest fixtures of the year against Houston and Ohio State. Those two games also happened to be his worst games in terms of QBR (72.0 and 51.4 adjusted QBR respectively). Ohio State was also the only top-10 defense he faced all season, which is not a good look for Mayfield when you consider the lack of defensive play he takes on in the Big 12. The inability to lead Oklahoma to those major victories already puts him down on this list, but his play improved when going up against Big 12 opponents (it’s not saying much), which just so happened to increase his Heisman hopes. Mayfield led the Sooners to a 9-game winning streak to end the season, including conference-clinching wins over West Virginia and Oklahoma State. His best outing of the season was a 545-yard, 7-touchdown performance against a terrible Texas Tech defense. But why is Mayfield really a finalist? Well, he’s the most accurate (71.2% completion) and efficient (197.75 QBR) quarterback in the nation. Also, considering last season he was snubbed a spot at the Heisman ceremony, his stats have improved rapidly compared to last year’s finalists, who have struggled statistically (Derrick Henry being the exception). He deserves to be a finalist, however, the other finalists have put up great Heisman campaigns that are tough to argue against, which leaves him 5th on my rankings.
4) Dede Westbrook (WR, Oklahoma)
2016 STATS: 74 rec / 1,465 yards / 16 TD / 1 punt return TD
Looks like Russell isn’t the only Westbrook in Oklahoma having a big year. Baker Mayfield may not have become a Heisman Trophy finalist without Dede Westbrook, who became the number one receiving threat for the Sooners following Sterling Shepard’s departure to the NFL. Like his quarterback, Westbrook had a slow start to the year due to a hamstring injury, which may have contributed to Oklahoma’s defeats to Houston and Ohio State, but since the TCU game on October 1st, he’s been dominating Big 12 defenses along with his partner in crime (again, not saying much since it’s the Big 12). Since that win over TCU, Westbrook has recorded at least a touchdown in every game and at least 100 receiving yards in every game except one. Westbrook is more than likely going to win the Biletnikoff Award for the most outstanding wide receiver in the nation and when comparing his stats to last year’s winner, Corey Coleman, Westbrook had more receiving yards and yards per catch in 2016 than the former Baylor Bear last season. However, Coleman did have four more scores than Westbrook. The Sooners’ wideout has also excited fans with his special teams play, and is credited with having a punt returned for a touchdown this season. Unfortunately, history beckons against Westbrook, as the last receiver to win the Heisman Trophy was Desmond Howard back in 1991. Another obstacle is his own quarterback, who could steal votes from him and vice versa. There’s no doubt however, that these two have been the best offensive duo in the country.
3) Jabrill Peppers (LB/S, Michigan)
2016 STATS: 72 tackles / 16 TFL / 4 sacks / 1 INT / 1 FF / 751 all-purpose yards / 3 rushing TDs / 1 punt return TD
Peppers is the most compelling case out of the finalists. But here we go. Versatility alone is why this man deserves to be in the Heisman conversation. Peppers arrived at Ann Arbor as a five-star cornerback and transcended into a linebacker. On offense, he’s lined up as a wide receiver, running back and quarterback. Oh, and he plays a bit of special teams here and there as well. According to Michigan, Peppers has played at 15 different positions this season. Don’t worry about making sure there are actually 15 positions in football, if that isn’t versatile, I don’t know what is! Peppers’ stats may not stand out compared to his fellow Heisman contenders, but the fact that he contributes at a high level in all three different facets of the game speaks volumes of how key he was for the Wolverines this season. He leads the Wolverines with 16 tackles for loss, is tied for 2nd on the team with 72 total tackles and ranks 3rd with 751 all-purpose yards. Now there’s a big argument as to why Peppers shouldn’t be a Heisman candidate. He only had one interception this season against Ohio State, which just so happens to be the only pick of his career. There’s argument that Peppers isn’t even the best defender on his team, with guys like Jourdan Lewis and Taco Carlton being factors on a top-ranked defense. Peppers’ year has many comparing him to 1997 Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, who is also the last primary defender to win the award. Peppers had four touchdowns this season, the same amount Woodson had in his Heisman-winning year. Peppers isn’t getting enough love for his versatility and I feel as though he should. It’s already tough for a defender to be considered for the Heisman unless they have an outstanding year (Ndamukong Suh, Tyrann Mathieu and Manti Te’o are the only defenders over the past decade to be in the top 5 of Heisman voting) and to me, Peppers has had that outstanding year. Every touch of the ball is an addition to his highlight reel. It’s not easy playing one position, let alone fifteen, and Peppers should be commended for his versatile play this year. Unfortunately, Michigan not making the playoff has hindered Peppers’ hopes of winning the Heisman but he certainly deserves to be in New York.
2) Deshaun Watson (QB, Clemson)
2016 STATS: 3,914 pass yards / 37 pass TDs / 15 INTS / 529 rush yards / 6 rush TD
Deshaun Watson is the only other alternative for the Heisman if Lamar Jackson somehow doesn’t win. Off the field, he’s about the graduate in two and a half years and is a contributor for Habitats for Humanity. On the field, he’s one of the most clutch players in college football. While Lamar Jackson lost three games this season, Deshaun’s lost three games in his entire collegiate career. Despite a slow start from the star Clemson quarterback, Watson managed to string together his two best performances of the season at a crucial moment when Lamar Jackson’s Louisville Cardinals lost their last two games of the regular season. Watson is the only finalist heading to New York for a second time and he’s also the only finalist taking part in the College Football playoffs. He led Clemson to a 12-1 record, which included wins over Auburn, Florida State and the Lamar Jackson-led Louisville. In his last two games, he threw for 6 TDs against South Carolina and accounted for 5 total TDs in the ACC Championship win over Virginia Tech. Watson has amassed 4,443 total yards this season – 4th most in the nation. His numbers are eerily similar to a year ago when he placed third in the Heisman voting. In 2015, he had 35 TD, 13 INT on 67.8% completion. In 2016, he had 37 TD, 15 INT on 67.6% completion. His rushing numbers have almost halved this season, but he’s still been effective in clutch situations when the game is on the line. He’s the same player as he was last year – Heisman-worthy. On any given year, the resume Watson has would earn him the Heisman Trophy, but not in 2016, which is why Watson will once again fall short of winning the Heisman this season.
1) Lamar Jackson (QB, Louisville)
2016 STATS: 3,390 pass yards / 30 pass TDs / 9 INTs / 1,538 rush yards / 21 rush TDs
4,928 total yards. 51 total TDs. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2016 Heisman Trophy winner. Surprisingly, his total yardage was only second in the nation (Patrick Mahomes) but at least he didn’t have to face Big 12 defenses. He accounted for 51 total TDs without having to play a conference game. If he has a big bowl game against LSU, he could equal Marcus Mariota’s 57-TD mark in 2014. Jackson enthralled audiences with an 8 TD performance against Charlotte – all eight just happened to be scored in the first half before being taken out of the game. National audiences didn’t take Jackson’s campaign seriously until Week 3 when he led Louisville to a 63-20 win over Florida State. He almost single-handedly beat Clemson in Death Valley, going down 42-36. He’s been my number-ranked player for most of the season and that continues to be the case today. Let’s take into account Jackson’s rushing numbers this season. He had more yards per carry than Tim Tebow, Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry in their Heisman-winning seasons. If Jackson was a running back, he would be 9th in the nation in rushing yards per game and 3rd in total rushing TDs. He had more total TDs, yards per carry and total yardage than Cam Newton in his 2010 Heisman campaign. Let’s look at his Heisman moments – dominating Florida State, hurdling a Syracuse defender, a game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds left against Virginia. Hell, he even had a potential Heisman-clinching moment on an incomplete pass against Clemson! Simply put, despite his team losing to Houston and Kentucky in consecutive weeks and the rise of Deshaun Watson in the same time period, Jackson had too much of a lead in the Heisman race and has done enough to secure the Heisman Trophy. What’s impressive is if he wins this year, he can go for it again in 2017. It’s scary how good this guy is. If his number don’t impress you, then try and find someone who’s been more exciting with the football this season. He’s already beaten Deshaun Watson for the ACC Offensive Player of the Year Award. Why can’t he beat him for the Heisman as well?