2016 Preseason Award Projections: Heisman Trophy

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2016 college football season, WalterFootball.com has rolled out our projections for the nation’s leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and the next fall’s stars could be the headline players next April for the 2017 NFL Draft. We also have projected the winners of the postseason awards that are given out to the best of college football. We conclude the series with the perhaps most storied and overrated award in sports, the Heisman Trophy.

The Heisman Trophy is given to the best player in college football, even though it never goes to linemen and has hardly ever gone to a defensive player. Last year’s winner was Alabama Derrick Henry. Two years ago, we were correct when we predicted Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota would win the Heisman Trophy.

Heisman Trophy Finalists:

Leonard Fournette, LSU

I personally think the Heisman Trophy is a joke. The fact that it has hardly ever gone to a defensive player and doesn’t go to an offensive or defensive lineman is absurd. The hype around it is insane, but every year, readers ask me for a prediction so here it is.

Even though defenses will be selling out to stop him, Fournette’s talent level is that of a special NFL player playing at a college level. He should be in store for a big season even with teams selling out to stop him. The only thing that could hold Fournette back is injuries. Hopefully, he stays healthy so college football can enjoy one more season from this rare superstar.

As a sophomore in 2015, Fournette took his game to another level and was one of the best players in college football. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry for 1,953 yards with 22 touchdowns. Fournette also caught 19 passes for 253 yards with a touchdown. He had a number of long gains called back as well. On top of that, teams were selling out to stop Fournette given LSU’s poor quarterback play and defenses were still struggling to keep him in check. It would surprise nobody if Fournette dominates college football to win this coming season’s Heisman Trophy.

Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

In my opinion, McCaffrey should have won the Heisman Trophy last year. Obviously, Derrick Henry had a great 2015 season and was a worthy player to consider, but McCaffrey carried his team. Henry had a defense filled with NFL talent and a lot of good players around him on offense. McCaffrey’s supporting cast wasn’t nearly as talented, and Stanford was reliant on McCaffrey to produce points.

McCaffrey was unstoppable in the last half of the 2015 season. On the year, he averaged six yards per carry for 2,019 yards with eight touchdowns. As a receiver, McCaffrey had 45 catches for 645 yards and five scores. He also performed on special teams, averaging 29 yards per kick return with a touchdown on 37 kick returns and 8.7 yards per punt return with a touchdown. McCaffrey was a speedy play-maker who was threat to break off a long gain every time he touched the ball.

That won’t change this year, but it could be harder for McCaffrey to produce as much this season. Defenses will be selling out to stop him while the Cardinal is breaking in a new quarterback. McCaffrey also lost some offensive linemen. Thus, I think he is more of a finalist than the winner of the Heisman.

Dalvin Cook, Florida State

The Heisman has a tendency to favor running backs that carry their teams with a weak quarterback. Thus that makes it really hard to pick finalists among the group of Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Nick Chubb. All four of them have weak quarterbacks so defenses will be stacking the box to try and stop them. Cook was my selection for the Doak Walker as the nation’s top running back because the ACC defenses are a lot worse than the SEC defenses and the PAC 12 defenses that McCaffrey will take on. Clemson lost a ton of defensive talent to the NFL, and Cook may only see two quality defenses all season when he takes on Ole Miss and a very tough defense in Florida in the season finale.

In 2015 Cook averaged 7.4 yards per carry for 1,691 yards with 19 touchdowns. He had 24 receptions for 244 yards and a score. Defenses knew that they were going to see a ton of handoffs to Cook, yet they were incapable of stopping him.

If he stays healthy, Cook could easily be a finalist for the Heisman. The ACC provides a lot of weak opponents for Cook to run over throughout the regular season. He also has a lot of offensive linemen returning, some good talent at wide receiver to help keep safeties honest, and a tough defense that should get him the ball quickly. Cook could produce a massive season and be a top Heisman Trophy contender.

Heisman Trophy Runner-Up:

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Mayfield went on a tear late in the 2015 season as he turned the Sooners’ offense into a point machine. He was a Heisman finalist as he completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,700 yards with 36 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also ran for 405 yards with seven scores. The effectiveness of Mayfield carried Oklahoma into the college playoff.

Mayfield needs to continue to develop his pocket passing for the NFL, but the 6-foot-2, 214-pounder should produce a massive 2016 season. He has a quality supporting cast and plays in college football’s Arena league. The Big XII also lacks quality defenses, so Mayfield should dominate his conference slate again. It would be surprising if he didn’t have a 2016 season comparable to last year and is a top candidate for the Heisman.

Heisman Trophy Winner:

Deshaun Watson, Clemson

This isn’t exactly going out on a limb, but it wasn’t when I predicted Marcus Mariota two years ago either. Watson could have easily been the winner of the Heisman last year, which I think will have an impact on voters. I also could see Watson carrying Clemson to a lot of wins as he goes against a lot of weak ACC defenses. Plus, the Tigers’ defense lost seven starters to the 2016 NFL Draft, including three-quarters of their starting defensive line and secondary. Thus, I could see Clemson being in a lot of high-scoring affairs.

Watson won lots of awards last year, including the the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s best quarterback, so he already is on the voters’ radars. In 2015, Watson completed 68 percent of his passes for 4,104 yards with 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. On the ground, he averaged 5.3 yards per carry for 1,105 yards with 12 scores.

There is no reason to think that Watson won’t be just as good in 2016. Clemson has recruited a lot of talent around him, plus he gets wide receiver Mike Williams back. With other good talent at tight end, running back, and on the offensive line, Watson should lead a prolific point-machine offense this fall. If he stays healthy, at least.

Honorable Mentions:
Offense: Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, Texas Tech quarterback Pat Mahomes, Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly, Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya, Washington State quarterback Luke Faulk, Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs, BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, Georgia running back Nick Chubb, USC wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams and Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk.

Defense: Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, LSU safety Jamal Adams, Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker, Missouri defensive end Charles Harris, Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis and Florida cornerback Jalen Tabor.

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