PFF's 10 early favorites for the Heisman Trophy
With the season kicking off on Thursday, it’s time to take a look at our 10 early picks for the Heisman Trophy. It’s a tough list to create, as quite a few talented players — Connor Cook and Deshaun Watson, for example — will inevitably have to be left off.
Quarterbacks and running backs on contending teams have won the award every season since 1997, and that trend is reflected in our final list. Let us know in the comment section below what you think of our ranking — and if there’s a player that absolutely should have made the list.
1. Trevone Boykin | TCU Horned Frogs
The second-team All-American returns to TCU after finishing fourth in the Heisman voting a year ago. Boykin will be featured in the same high-powered offense that allowed him to rush for 707 yards and eight touchdowns and throw for 3903 yards and 33 touchdowns. He has his sights set on 4,500 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards for this season, but he’ll need to improve as a passer (-9.3) to have a chance to approach those numbers. He should be just fine in the rushing department as he finished the season with an 83.2 run rating.
2. Ezekiel Elliot | Ohio State Buckeyes
Elliot returns to the Buckeyes after rushing for 1,878 yards and a gaudy 6.9 yards per carry average last season. Elliott could lose out on some touches to J.T. Barrett, Braxton Miller, and Cardale Jones on a stacked OSU offense, but even with the competition on his own roster, I still expect him to be the heart of the offense as the season wears on. His 91.6 run rating topped our rankings and he ranked seventh with 26 runs of 15+ yards and second with 52 runs of 10 or more yards.
3. Cody Kessler | USC Trojans
The quarterback with our highest returning passing grade (+24.2) will spend plenty of time in the spotlight with the Pac-12 favorite Trojans. Kessler led all quarterbacks in 2014 with an 80.3 percent accuracy percentage and ranked third in accuracy percentage under pressure. He set Trojan records for completions, completion percentage, and interception rate. Marcus Mariota was the only other quarterback to throw for 35 or more touchdowns and less than five interceptions.
4. Nick Chubb | Georgia Bulldogs
Last season the true freshman Bulldog rushed for 1,547 yards and 16 total touchdowns. He tops many other Heisman watch lists and was recently named to the preseason All-American team. With quarterback Hutson Mason gone and new starter Greyson Lambert learning the system, Georgia’s power offense will be even more reliant on Nick Chubb. His 85.9 run rating ranked 3rd overall and came on only 407 snaps. He also managed to force 63 missed tackles on his 219 attempts giving him our third-ranked 108.5 elusive rating.
5. Derrick Henry | Alabama Crimson Tide
The biggest of all the backs on this list at 6-3 and 238 pounds, Derrick Henry should be warmed up and ready to roll through SEC defenses this fall. Henry rumbled for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns last season while sitting behind T.J. Yeldon. Henry will now be the focal point of the 2015 Alabama offense with T.J. Yeldon, Amari Cooper, and Blake Sims now departed. In 2014 he outperformed his counterpart Yeldon in both rushing grade (+9.1 to +7.9) and in breakaway percentage (32.5 to 24.7).
6. Leonard Fournette | LSU Tigers
Fournette’s situation is similar to Derrick Henry’s. He performed well with a limited amount of snaps last year (322) and should get a full workload this season. He set an LSU freshman rushing record with 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns and was named to the All-SEC freshman team. In his six starts he averaged 98.5 rushing yards and a touchdown. He finished with a 79.2 rushing rating and broke a 15+ yard run on over 40 percent of his total carries.
7. Jeremy Johnson | Auburn Tigers
This is the wildcard pick of the group. Johnson is still an unproven prospect and he only played in 85 snaps last season (finishing with a +3 passing grade). Most of his snaps came in the season opener against Arkansas. Johnson completed 12-of-16 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone. If that game is any indication, Johnson could just be waiting to break out, and at 6-5 and almost 250 pounds with 4.6 40 speed, he has plenty of Cam Newton like athletic ability for Gus Malzahn to put use.
8. Dalvin Cook | Florida State Seminoles
With Jameis Winston now gone, Dalvin Cook becomes the focal point of the FSU offense. Cook set a Seminole freshman mark last year with 1,008 rushing yards and he finished the season on a tear. In his last three games (Florida, Georgia Tech, and Oregon) he rushed for 423 yards and averaged six yards per carry. Cook could also be the most explosive back on this list. He ranked 16th in breakaway percentage at 51.0 and broke 42 total tackles on his way to a 75.6 elusive rating.
9. Rashard Higgins | Colorado State Rams
He lacks the primetime school spotlight and the position to be a favorite, but that doesn’t mean Higgins is any less deserving. His 1749 receiving yards, 17 touchdowns, and 9.5 YAC average led all of FBS. He topped all wide receivers with a 93.1 receiving rating, and he wasn’t just catching bubble screens and slants. Higgins ranked fourth with a 54.8 percent catch rate on deep targets last season and his 633 total yards on deep targets ranked third.
10. Scooby Wright III |Arizona Wildcats
Charles Woodson was the last defensive player to win in 1997, but maybe Scooby Wright can change that. He led all linebackers in 2014 with a +53 overall grade and was a force in all facets of the game. He ranked 10th in run stop percentage and his 61 overall stops ranked second. He ranked sixth in coverage, averaging 22.4 snaps in coverage per reception allowed, and to top it off he led all inside linebackers with 11 sacks and 37 total quarterback pressures. If the Wildcats can fare well against the top tier of the PAC-12, it could be enough to get Scooby Wright III the spotlight he needs to make a Heisman push.