Earlier this week on The Dan Patrick Show, Patrick was asked if he could name the last three Heisman winners that were number one draft picks and members of the NFL Hall of Fame. Neither he nor his Danettes could do so. The reason they were unable to name one? They couldn’t get past the fact the Heisman was once an award given to players other than the quarterback and the sure fact that a Heisman rarely correlates to NFL success. As an aside, the answer to that question: Earl Campbell, Paul Hornung, and OJ Simpson. .
Over the past fifteen years, the Heisman Trophy has yielded very little in the form of NFL success. Tim Tebow, Matt Leinart, Eric Crouch, Chris Weinke, Jason White, Troy Smith, and Sam Bradford all were Heisman Trophy winners from 2000 to now, and all have been little of anything in the NFL. Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, and if you disregard RGIII’s abysmal season this year, are the only recent Heisman Trophy winners of relevance.
No argument is necessary when you list the most impactful players in the NFL over the course of the last fifteen years are not Heisman winners. Think of Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson, Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, and Peyton Manning. Many will argue that it’s a result of numbers. One Heisman winner per year against seven rounds worth of draft picks. But Heisman winners aren’t just another draft pick. They are special. In a class so esteemed and proud, the Heisman voters have lost sight of what the best football player in college football really is.
If there is anything we can learn from the last decade and a half, it’s that the Heisman trophy has become as much about glamour and style points as it is about football ability and performance. Last year Johnny Manziel captured the heart of the country. He was the only one to best Alabama, and his signature moment, a spin out of the pocket, ball pops up in the air, collects and delivers a touchdown to Ryan Swope in Tuscaloosa has been immortalized. Sitting here I’m even taken back to the very moment I was watching that game. His numbers this year make last season look modest, but he couldn’t beat Alabama, Texas A & M wasn’t in their first season as members of the SEC, and his off season antics have really dampened the glitz and glitter that his name brought to the table. Manziel will get a trip to New York at best.
Jameis Winston, the phenom from Florida State is the notarized front runner. Florida State has risen from the ashes and returned to the status they enjoy through the 90s. They embarrassed an over-rated Clemson, and continue to win in style; often fashioning 40-plus point victories. Winston’s duel-threat capabilities are eerily similar to Manziel, and he too is what Dick Vitale would coin a “diaper dandy.” But Winston is facing legal difficulties off the field. It is unlikely his legal troubles will be settled before the Heisman vote in two weeks, and what’s more, I anticipate despite the law’s findings, Winston will find himself starting for the ‘Noles in the BCS Title game. Mind you that would mean a change to FSU’s current policy that if a student-athlete is charged, and that’s charged not convicted, of a felony, they are suspended from all athletic participation. But do we really expect Florida State to bench their Heisman hopeful before the biggest game in Seminole history? (laughingly, not a chance).
Meanwhile AJ McCarron, who has lost only two games in his career to date, won three BCS national championships, and two SEC Championships garners an afterthought for Heisman consideration. Does he throw for 400 yards and 4 TDs? No. Does he have highlight scrambles on third-and-twenty to capture the attention of a nation? No. He just wins football games.
Or what about Andre Williams, the Boston College running back who at 6 feet tall and 230 pounds has rushed for 2,073 yards and 16 TDs. Until yesterday, I doubt many knew who Williams was. Or maybe Derek Carr who will get Fresno State into a BCS bowl game and will do so having completed 70% of his passes and throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and 39 TDs on the West Coast. Or even Braxton Miller who has had the Ohio State Buckeyes undefeated for two straight seasons, been one of the most dynamic offensive players in the nation, but gets lost in discussion because he plays in the Big Ten.
The argument is made that the Heisman Trophy winner is the player who performs exceptionally and proves to be the most valuable to his team. I guarantee Alabama’s Nick Saban would tell you they wouldn’t be nearly as successful without McCarron. Or BC without Williams. Fresno would likely not be crashing the BCS party without Carr. And O-H-I-O wouldn’t be putting together two undefeated seasons without Braxton Miller.
Blame ESPN for the disillusioned Heisman race. They latch onto a player and ride that name into the sunset. They did with Tim Tebow. They did it with RGIII. They did it with Johnny Football. This year, it’s the Winston train. Which is why the Heisman, even despite the legal troubles Winston finds himself in, will likely go to the Florida State freshman. And one more reason the Heisman doesn’t mean what it once used to. Maybe that’s why NFL teams will continue to dismiss the fact a player has won the Heisman in their collegiate career. Look at quarterbacks who have won recent Super Bowls: Flacco, Eli, Rodgers, Brees, Big Ben, Eli, Peyton, Big Ben, and Brady. Zero Heisman’s between them, but plenty of Lombardi’s. Sometimes the proof really is in the pudding.