Who are the top Heisman Trophy candidates for 2016? It was a strange 2015 Heisman season with three candidates coming from out of the blue, but the 2016 race should be loaded from the very start. Who are the top talents on the watch list for next year?
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2016 Early Heisman Trophy Candidates
1. RB Leonard Fournette, Jr. LSU
Being forced to play more college football than he has to – he’s not eligible to go off to the NFL yet – everyone’s 2015 midseason Heisman winner is back on what should be a preseason top five team.
While he was held to 31 yards and a score on 19 carries against Alabama – when the spotlight was brightest – and was stopped by Arkansas for 91 yards the week after, that was it for the games under 100 yards, finishing the regular season with 1,741 yards and 18 scores. In most other seasons, those numbers alone would’ve been Heisman-worthy.
2. RB Dalvin Cook, Jr. Florida State
Because of what Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette did, and because Florida State wasn’t in the ACC title chase and was out of the national spotlight after the Clemson loss in early November, Cook’s Heisman-caliber season went unnoticed. Even with a 54-yard game against Boston College, and despite missing the Syracuse game, he still finished with 1,658 yards and 18 scores averaging a whopping 7.86 yards per pop. How was he in the Heisman-moment big games? 222 yards and two scores against Miami, 194 yards and a score against Clemson, and 183 yards and two touchdowns against Florida.
3. QB J.T. Barrett, Jr. Ohio State
Assuming that Cardale Jones leaves early for the NFL, and assuming Barrett isn’t going to take off, too, the Ohio State quarterback situation will finally be settled. Whether it was Braxton Miller, or Barrett in 2014, Buckeye quarterbacks have never been deep in the hunt under Urban Meyer. The stats have been there, and the attention has never been a problem. Now it really and truly should all come together for Barrett and the Buckeyes in the Heisman race.
4. RB Christian McCaffrey, Jr. Stanford
Can the guy who finished second make the little leap up and get the top spot? This time around, everyone will be watching – the excuse that he plays for Stanford in the Pacific time zone won’t fly. What else can the guy who finished with close to 3,500 yards of total offense – with 1,847 on the ground – possibly do for an encore? Considering QB Kevin Hogan is gone along with four NFL-caliber starters up front, if McCaffrey can take home the hardware, he’ll have more than earned it.
5. QB Deshaun Watson, Jr. Clemson
The dynamic catalyst in an undefeated season could just be getting started. He’ll lose three starters up front, but this is a young team with almost all the weapons returning. 2015 was supposed to be a bit of a reloading year to gear up for 2016 – especially on defense – but Watson was able to get into the Heisman top three. The expectations will be through the roof, and rightly so after throwing for 3,512 yards and 30 touchdowns with 887 rushing yards and 11 scores.
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6. QB Baker Mayfield, Sr. Oklahoma
Now that he has a year of experience in the offense under his belt, look out. Can Mayfield take his game to another level and become Baker Manziel? He threw for close to 3,400 yards and 35 touchdowns with just five picks and ran for 429 yards and seven scores, but more than that, he showed the magic of a possible Heisman winner. Fourth in 2015, the campaign will be on.
7. QB Josh Rosen, Soph. UCLA
The offense around The Rosen One should be terrific next year with a strong, dangerous receiving corps and a deep backfield behind a line with four starters returning. The NFL scouts are drooling, he’s in the right media market, and he should have a strong team around him. It wasn’t a bad opening act with 3,350 yards and 20 touchdowns, but if he gets a little more accurate and a tad bit more consistent, he’ll blow up.
8. RB Nick Chubb, Jr. Georgia
How healthy will he be to start the season? Will Kirby Smart and the new coaching staff want to use their star back like Alabama used Derrick Henry? That’s getting ahead of the game, and there are other options to take away carries and stats – Sony Michel is no slouch – but the guy who averaged over eight yards per carry before suffering his knee injury, and tore off 1,547 yards and 14 scores as a freshman, is expected to be all back full.
9. RB Royce Freeman, Soph. Oregon
Oregon running backs almost never get the credit they deserve – they’re a cog in an amazing system – but Freeman might be the exception when it comes to the Heisman race next season after tearing off 1,706 yards and 14 touchdowns and catching 24 passes for 325 yards and two scores. Christian McCaffrey sucked up all the spotlight from the Pac-12 North, but Freeman was every bit the runner with 100 yards in every game but the losses to Michigan State and Utah, and with 105 yards and a score on just 16 carries in the win over Stanford.
10. QB Seth Russell, Jr. Baylor
Everything was going along great before Russell suffered a neck injury. If he’s not able to come back 100%, pencil in Jarrett Stidham into this spot even though he’s trying to return from a back problem. Russell threw 29 touchdown passes and over 2,100 yards in seven games, and ran for 402 yards and six scores. The Baylor offense won’t have Corey Coleman around anymore, but it’s still the Baylor offense – you know what you’re getting.
Five Players Who Might Be On The List, But Won’t Be
RB Corey Clement, Sr. Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s running game was a borderline disaster at times with Clement hurt, but if he can overcome the health issues – and if there aren’t any issues off the field – he’s a special back who could blow up behind an improved line.
QB Deshone Kizer, Jr. Notre Dame/QB Malik Zaire, Sr. Notre Dame
Kizer was fantastic filling in for an injured Zaire. Zaire was fantastic before getting hurt. If Will Fuller really does come back for another year, look out.
RB Samaje Perine, Jr. Oklahoma
He’ll have to split time with Joe Mixon, and Baker Mayfield is the star of the show, but if Perine becomes the featured back and workhorse, the stats will be amazing.
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jr. USC
He’s a wide receiver, so he won’t have a chance, but he’s one of the nation’s most dynamic stars coming off an 85-catch, 1,389-yard, ten score season.
QB Greg Ward Jr., Sr. Houston
All Ward did in his first year with Tom Herman as the head coach was throw for 2,590 yards and 16 scores and run for 1,041 yards and 19 touchdowns. After earning an American Athletic championship and a New Year’s Six berth, the production should be even bigger.
Five Players Who’d Be On The List, But They’ll Leave Early For The League Of Mercenaries
WR Corey Coleman, Baylor
RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
QB Jared Goff, California
RB Derrick Henry, Alabama
QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis