Ranking last 25 Heisman Trophy winners based on NFL success
On Tuesday, the Heisman Trophy will be presented to the most outstanding college football player of 2020.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, Florida quarterback Kyle Trask, and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones and wide receiver DeVonta Smith are this year's Heisman finalists. The winner will be announced at ESPN's studios in Bristol, Connecticut.
Winning the Heisman Trophy typically doesn't translate to NFL success. Just take a look at the previous 25 Heisman winners, whose NFL careers range from not appearing in a single professional game to expected Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Here is a ranking of the last quarter century of Heisman Trophy winners based on their NFL success:
25. Jason White
Year: 2003 (Oklahoma)
NFL accolades: N/A
More Heisman Trophy winners have gone undrafted (15) than have made the Pro Football Hall of Fame (nine have, but Charles Woodson likely will make it 10 in 2021). White is the last Heisman winner to go undrafted, not getting selected in the 2005 NFL draft. He had a tryout with the Kansas City Chiefs and eventually signed a free-agent contract with the Tennessee Titans, but retired from football, citing weak knees. In 2003, Larry Fitzgerald and Eli Manning finished 2-3 in the Heisman voting behind White, and both could wind up in the Hall of Fame.
24. Eric Crouch
Year: 2001 (Nebraska)
NFL accolades: N/A
An option quarterback for the Cornhuskers, the 6-foot Crouch was considered too short for the position in the pros. The St. Louis Rams took a chance on Crouch – the wide receiver – in the third round of the 2002 draft. Injuries kept Crouch from ever playing a down in the NFL. For a few years, Crouch bounced around an alphabet soup of pro football leagues (NFL Europe, CFL, UFL), and positions, switching to safety while in NFL Europe.
23. Johnny Manziel
Year: 2012 (Texas A&M)
NFL accolades: 8 starts in 2 seasons
Manziel's short time with the Cleveland Browns was ravaged by numerous off-the-field issues. He experienced a vagabond pro football career afterward, playing in the Canadian Football League (2018) and in the AAF (2019). Manziel is slated to play in the Fan Controlled Football indoor league in 2021.
22. Troy Smith
Year: 2006 (Ohio State)
NFL accolades: 8 starts in 4 seasons
Smith was a fifth-round selection in 2007 by the Baltimore Ravens, but played sparingly in three seasons with the team. He did go on to make six starts for the San Francisco 49ers in 2010, his last season in the NFL.
21. Danny Wuerffel
Year: 1996 (Florida)
NFL accolades: 10 starts in 6 seasons
Wuerffel bounced around the NFL, spending four seasons with the New Orleans Saints, one with the Green Bay Packers, one with the Chicago Bears and his final season (2002) with Washington, which was coached by Wuerffel's college coach, Steve Spurrier. Wuerffel's pro highlight came overseas. While playing for the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe in 2000, Wuerffel earned World Bowl MVP honors.
20. Chris Weinke
Year: 2000 (Florida State)
NFL accolades: 20 starts in 5 seasons
Weinke was a fourth-round selection by the Carolina Panthers in 2001 and became the team's primary quarterback that season. The Panthers had a disastrous 1-15 season that year, Weinke's only year as a full-time starter, and he made just five more NFL starts over the next six years. In the Heisman voting in 2000, future Hall of Famer Drew Brees finished third and 2017 Hall enshrinee LaDainian Tomlinson was fourth (in case you were curious, current UCF coach and then-Oklahoma QB Josh Heupel was the runner-up).
19. Matt Leinart
Year: 2004 (USC)
NFL accolades: 18 starts in 6 seasons
Leinart earned his Heisman on a ballot that included notables such as Adrian Peterson, Alex Smith, Reggie Bush and Aaron Rodgers. The No. 10 overall pick in the 2006 draft by the Arizona Cardinals, Leinart never lived up to the hype. When the Cardinals reached Super Bowl XLIII during the 2008 season, it was veteran Kurt Warner, not Leinart, who directed the team's offense.
18. Ron Dayne
Year: 1999 (Wisconsin)
NFL accolades: 3,722 yards and 28 TDs rushing
After being the No. 11 pick in the 2000 NFL draft, Dayne became "Thunder" to Tiki Barber's "Lightning" as the New York Giants reached Super Bowl XXXV in the 2000 season. However, Dayne had a disappointing seven-year NFL career, with his NFL highlight coming on Thanksgiving Day 2005, when Dayne – with the Denver Broncos – rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown in a 24-21 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
17. Joe Burrow
Year: 2019 (LSU)
NFL accolades: No. 1 overall pick in 2020 draft
Before a knee injury cut short his rookie season, Burrow was displaying the abilities that made him the top overall selection. In 10 starts, Burrow had five games with 300-plus passing yards, including one 400-yard game in which he became the first rookie in NFL history with 350-plus passing yards, three passing TDs and a rushing TD in the same game.
16. Tim Tebow
Year: 2007 (Florida)
NFL accolades: 16 starts in 3 seasons
Tebow's 2011 season is the stuff of legend. After a 1-4 start that year, the Broncos inserted Tebow as the starter. Tebow led Denver to an 8-8 finish and the AFC West title, thanks to a series of late-game heroics that inspired the "Tebow Time" moniker. To cap it all off, Tebow delivered a dramatic overtime wild-card playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Tim Tebow had a magical 2011 season with the Broncos. (Photo: Doug Pensinger, Getty Images)
15. Marcus Mariota
Year: 2014 (Oregon)
NFL accolades: 61 starts in 6 seasons
With Mariota as the primary starter behind center, the Tennessee Titans did enjoy three consecutive winning seasons, the longest run of winning seasons – since stretched to five in a row – since the team relocated from Houston. In the 2017 playoffs, Mariota guided a second-half comeback in a wild-card win over the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
14. Kyler Murray
Year: 2018 (Oklahoma)
NFL accolades: No. 1 pick in 2019 draft, 2019 offensive rookie of the year, 1-time Pro Bowler
As a threat to burn defenses with his arm or legs, Murray's abilities have helped the Cardinals become a playoff contender in just his second pro season. The highlight of Murray's young career was a dramatic Hail Mary touchdown play to DeAndre Hopkins in a 32-30 win over the Buffalo Bills that has been dubbed the "Hail Murray."
13. Jameis Winston
Year: 2013 (Florida State)
NFL accolades: No. 1 pick in 2015 draft, 1-time Pro Bowler
Winston's career never took off as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had expected, and the mistake-prone quarterback was jettisoned after five seasons with the team. But not before experiencing one of the wildest statistical seasons in NFL history. In addition to throwing for more than 5,000 yards in 2019, Winston became the first quarterback to throw for 30 or more touchdowns and 30 or more interceptions in the same season.
12. Robert Griffin III
Year: 2011 (Baylor)
NFL accolades: 2012 offensive rookie of the year, 1-time Pro Bowler
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 draft, RGIII was an immediate NFL sensation, leading Washington to the playoffs. However, though he's still in the league, RGIII enjoyed a flash-in-the-pan NFL existence. After suffering a major knee injury in Washington's playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, he hasn't been the same, starting just 27 games in the eight years since.
11. Sam Bradford
Year: 2008 (Oklahoma)
NFL accolades: No. 1 pick in 2010 draft, 2010 offensive rookie of the year
Bradford had an injury-riddled NFL career. He started every game in two of his five seasons with the St. Louis Rams (2010 and 2012), but an ACL injury during the 2014 preseason effectively ended Bradford's tenure in St. Louis. In his final full season as a starter, in 2016, Bradford started 15 games for the Minnesota Vikings and led the NFL in completion percentage (71.6%).
10. Mark Ingram
Year: 2009 (Alabama)
NFL accolades: 3-time Pro Bowler
Ingram has enjoyed a productive career in his 10 NFL seasons. He has rushed for more than 1,000 yards three times and also posted double-digit touchdown seasons (combined rushing and receiving) three times.
9. Baker Mayfield
Year: 2017 (Oklahoma)
NFL accolades: No. 1 pick in 2018 draft
After 12 consecutive losing seasons, Mayfield helped end the NFL's longest playoff drought this season, as Cleveland reached the playoffs for the first time since 2002. After selecting Tim Couch, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel in the first round since returning from hiatus in 1999, it was Mayfield who finally delivered the Browns' long-sought postseason berth.
Three years after winning the Heisman Trophy, Baker Mayfield helped the Browns reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season. (Photo: Scott Galvin, USA TODAY Sports)
8. Reggie Bush
Year: 2005 (USC)
NFL accolades: First-team All-Pro selection in 2008
While records can be vacated years after the fact, you can't take away the memories. That is why in this exercise we are not excluding Bush, who voluntarily forfeited his Heisman Trophy in 2010. After being the No. 2 pick in the 2006 NFL draft, Bush played 11 seasons in the NFL, scoring 58 total touchdowns via the run, pass and on kickoff returns. He was a member of the New Orleans Saints team that won Super Bowl XLIV.
7. Ricky Williams
Year: 1998 (Texas)
NFL accolades: First-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection in 2002
The New Orleans Saints traded all of their remaining 1999 draft selections to Washington in order to move into position to select Williams. It was a gamble that didn't exactly pay off (for both sides). While Washington somehow couldn't parlay that draft pick haul into a run of success, the Saints got two 1,000-yard rushing seasons (plus, an unexpected NFC West title in 2000). A trade to the Dolphins netted Williams a rushing title in 2002 (1,853 yards). After 11 NFL seasons, Williams accumulated 10,009 yards and 66 touchdowns rushing.
6. Derrick Henry
Year: 2015 (Alabama)
NFL accolades: 2019 and 2020 rushing yardage leader, 2-time Pro Bowler
Henry, a second-round pick in the 2016 draft, has cemented himself as one of the NFL's most dangerous offensive players and the league's premier bell-cow back. With a 2,000-yard rushing season now on his resume, Henry is trending toward a higher place on this list.
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