Our Heisman favorites and deserving underdogs
Gordon McGuinness offers up key stats, Heisman moments and thorough breakdowns of five standouts for the coveted trophy.
Our Heisman favorites and deserving underdogs
With the season winding down as we enter the second half of November, it’s time to start thinking about who is going to win awards like the Heisman Trophy.
Early on in the season it very much seemed like there was only ever going to be one choice for the award, but as the year has wore on, several other candidates have emerged. With that in mind, here’s a little bit more about those who should be in contention to win the trophy of the famous pose frozen in bronze — both the favorites, and those we think are deserving.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: +32.2
Key stat: 63 missed tackles forced, tied for most among running backs.
Fournette was the favorite for much of the season, and not much has changed after starting the year off incredibly strong. He’s had some huge performances and has the fifth-best elusive rating in the nation at 122.4, averaging 4.0 yards after contact to go along with his 63 missed tackles forced. An absolute nightmare to bring down, rumors of his demise have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, he managed just 31 yards on the ground against Alabama, but 30 of those yards came after contact, highlighting just how little room his offensive line was giving him. It was a similar story against Arkansas this week, with 77 of his 90 yards coming after contact, with Fournette forcing seven missed tackles on his way to the 15th highest rushing grade of the weekend.
Heisman moment: Part of the problem for Fournette is that his Heisman moment came so early. After some trash talk from the Auburn defense, he ran all over them, rushing for over 200 yards and forcing 11 missed tackles, including one on his first run of the game.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford: +32.4
Key stat: McCaffrey’s 2,418 all purpose yards leads the nation by 320 yards over San Jose State’s Tyler Ervin.
While Fournette has seen detractors pick holes in his Heisman credentials, Stanford’s all-purpose star Christian McCaffrey has continued to close the gap on his throughout the year. Now, with the end of the season in sight, the Pac-12’s best player continues to make plays, regardless of how he touches the ball. He’s forced 49 misses tackles on the ground, and another eight as a receiver, on his way to 1,721 yards from scrimmage. His influence isn’t just felt as a runner and a receiver though, with 655 yards as a kick returner and another 32 on punt returns. He’s even thrown a touchdown pass, highlighting that he can hurt opponents in so many different ways.
Heisman moment: He’s had some huge games throughout the season, but none were bigger than the game against UCLA. Averaging 9.7 yards per carry, he forced four missed tackles, scored four touchdowns, and racked up 243 yards on the ground.
Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma: +44.0
Key stat: One of just four quarterbacks with no interceptions thrown on passes of 20 yards or more downfield.
For much of the season he wasn’t even considered the best Heisman contender in his own conference, but suddenly Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield has the Sooners pushing to a conference championship, and an outside shot at a place in the College Football Playoff. The perfect college quarterback, Mayfield doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and makes enough big plays, both downfield and on the ground, to win games. He’s rushed for 437 yards, scoring six touchdowns and forcing 19 missed tackles. On throws of 20 yards or more downfield he has gone 22-for-47 for 918 yards, with eight touchdowns and no interceptions. A late riser in the Heisman race, Mayfield is in position over the next few weeks to put himself, and the Sooners, in a great position for glory.
Heisman moment: The month of November — with big games against the top teams in the Big 12 — is where Mayfield can shine. He’s already started with a huge +8.5 performance in the win over Baylor, completing 68.6 percent of his passes for 270 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State: +59.4
Key stat: 15.7 pass rushing productivity rating and 10.9 run stop percentage, both second amongst 4-3 defensive ends.
He was dominant a year ago, and he’s following that up with another huge year in 2015. Though he’s unlikely to garner much in the way of Heisman votes, such is the nature of the award when it comes to recipients, if it truly goes to the best player in all of college football, he’s definitely right up there. Critics will point to his lack of sacks in 2015, but that only tells part of the story. He’s still registered 56 total pressures and totalled 33 defensive stops, continuing to be an absolute menace to opposing offences whenever he’s on the field.
Most people will have seen the highlights from Week 11’s game against Illinois by now, but what stood out was just how easy he made it look bullrushing opposing offensive linemen in to the backfield before shedding their blocks. Ohio State moves him around the line, letting him rush from the inside as well as the edge, and he definitely is proving he belongs in the conversation for the best player in the nation.
Heisman moment: Against a Minnesota team that pushed Michigan and Iowa as far as they could on either side of their game with the Buckeyes, Bosa had the best game we’ve seen from him over the past two seasons. Again, he didn’t have a sack, but with three hits and nine hurries he posted a +10.0 pass rushing grade.
Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan: +21.7
Key stat: Only three cornerbacks have been targeted more, and he has still only allowed 274 yards in his coverage.
Like Bosa, Lewis is hurt by playing on defense, particularly when he doesn’t have any game breaking returns to catch your attention. That being said, you won’t find a better cover corner in all of college football, and he is right up there with the other four players listed as one of the best players in the country. Lewis has been targeted 72 times in coverage, which seems foolish for opposing quarterbacks, especially when you consider he has given up just 26 receptions for 274 yards and one touchdown over the course of the year. He’s allowed more than 40 receiving yards in a single game just once all year, and has come away with two interceptions and 14 pass breakups. There was a three-game span against UNLV, BYU and Maryland where he allowed just three receptions for six yards while picking off one pass and breaking up five more.
Heisman moment: His Heisman moment came in the game where he allowed the most yards. Giving up 109 yards to Michigan State’s Aaron Burbridge in what was arguably the most fascinating individual matchup of the year, he still managed to come away with four pass breakups.
Other notable contenders: Trevone Boykin (+43.2), Matt Johnson (+41.3), Derrick Henry (+15.0), Ezekiel Elliott (+31.4), Josh Doctson (+25.6), Corey Coleman (+20.0), DeForest Buckner (+62.7)
Gordon McGuinness | Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst
Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.