2019 Preseason Award Projections: Heisman Trophy

By Charlie Campbell
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Heading into the 2019 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut 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 2020 NFL Draft. We also will project the winners of the postseason awards that are given out to the best of college football.

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. Five years ago, we were correct when we predicted Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota would win the Heisman Trophy. Two years ago, we predicted Baker Mayfield to win the Heisman, and he did in fact win in 2017. Last year, we predicted West Virginia quarterback Will Grier would win the Heisman, but it went to Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray.

Heisman Trophy Finalists:

Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Taylor should produce a huge 2019 season and could easily be the most productive running back in college football. As usual, Wisconsin has an offensive line that should open holes and a very easy schedule of opponents for Taylor to have his way with even when they know the run is coming. With the Badgers’ ground-based offense, Taylor is sure to get many rushing opportunities, and it would not be surprising to me if Taylor puts his name in the Badgers’ all-time record book with a prolific year similar to Melvin Gordon, Montee Ball and Ron Dayne.

As a sophomore, Taylor averaged 7.1 yards per carry for 2,194 yards with 16 touchdowns. In 2017, he broke out, averaging 6.6 yards per carry for 1,977 yards with 13 touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 216-pounder displays an overwhelming combination of size, quickness, and natural running skills. Taylor is a safe bet to be one of the best offensive players in college football, and he could easily end up being a top contender for the Heisman Trophy.

Jerry Jeudy, Alabama

NFL scouts who attended Alabama’s practices in the fall of 2017 told me that Jeudy was the next great Crimson Tide receiver to keep the tradition going under Nick Saban that has seen elite receivers like Julio Jones, Amari Cooper and Calvin Ridley dominate the competition. Those scouts had very good foresight as Jeudy only recorded 14 receptions for 264 yards and two touchdowns that season.

Last year was a different story after Jeudy took over as the No. 1 receiver spot in replacment of Ridley. The Alabama passing attack was also much more potent with Tua Tagovailoa as the starting quarterback instead of Jalen Hurts. Jeudy was a sophomore sensation, recording 68 receptions for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns. He deserved and won the Fred Biletnikoff Award for the best wide receiver in college football.

Jeudy has an easy schedule in the first half of the 2019 season to produce plenty of highlight-reel plays while beating up on weak competition. He has a lot of talent around him in other receivers and running backs who will make it harder for teams to send lots of extra attention his direction. And most important of all, Jeudy has an excellent quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa who can get him the ball. The 2019 season should be a prolific year for Jeudy that lands him lots of awards and could make him a contender for the Heisman Trophy.

Justin Herbert, Oregon

The 6-foot-6, 233-pound signal-caller has a NFL skill set and could up a huge year with his arm and legs. Herbert displays a good size and has a strong arm with the ability to loft in touch passes. Herbert can loft in passes with nice ball placement, leading his receivers and beating quality coverage with the location of his passes. With his height and size, Herbert is comfortable to stand tall in the pocket with patience to let routes develop. Along with his arm talent, he is a quality athlete with the ability to pick up yards on the ground and should add a good number of rushing touchdowns to his stat line.

Herbert is going to see a challenging schedule as a senior, which starts in Week 1 with a matchup against Auburn. The Tigers have a lot of NFL talent on their defense, and they will probably be the toughest defense that Herbert faces all season. After Auburn, he has some cupcakes to pad his stats before seeing better Pac-12 competition. Playing well against Stanford, Washington and USC will be important for Herbert. He also had some issues with Arizona and Arizona State last year, so it will be interesting to see if he rebounds in the rematches against those teams prior to the in-state rivalry game to close out the year.

Herbert’s schedule and competition might keep him from producing as large of statistics as other quarterbacks, and Oregon might lose a game or two that could hurt Herbert’s chances of winning the award over Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, as both of them could be undefeated in the regular season. Hence, I could see Herbert coming up short on a few awards like the Heisman.

Heisman Trophy Runner-Up:

Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

Lawrence took college football by storm as a freshman in 2017, compiling a flawless season that culminated with him ripping Alabama’s defense comprised of NFL talent to win another National Championship for Clemson. Lawrence completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,280 yards with 30 touchdowns and four interceptions. The scary part about Lawrence is he looked like he was just scratching the surface and has the upside to get better as he gains experience.

The 6-foot-5, 205-pounder has a good arm, developed poise, and play-making ability. Lawrence made good decisions while distributing the ball well to his phenomenal supporting cast. Clemson brings back a loaded offense with quality blocking, good running backs, and mismatch receivers. The Tigers also take on an easy schedule with a conference slate that should not pose much of a challenge to the defending National Champions. Unless Lawrence gets injured, he should have a massive sophomore season and earn a lot of postseason honors. Because of an easier schedule and Lawrence being relegated to returning to Clemson in 2020, I think the Heisman Trophy might go to another player over him.

Heisman Trophy Winner:

Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

A year ago, Tagovailoa won the starting quarterback job over Jalen Hurts for the 2018 season. He was then sensational for the Crimson Tide, completing 69 percent of his passes for 3,966 yards with 43 touchdowns and six interceptions. With a loaded team around him, Tagovailoa should produce another prolific season in 2019.

Tagovailoa has the best receiver in college football in Jerry Jeudy. And aside from Jeudy, Alabama has a few other receivers who should get drafted by the NFL, including Henry Ruggs and sophomore Jaylen Waddle. The also backfield is loaded again, so there will be a running game to support to Tagovailoa.

The Crimson Tide will see some good defenses in their SEC West divisional games, which has excellent NFL talent, and that could hurt Tagovailoa’s numbers compared to other quarterbacks. However, the Heisman voters will give Tagovailoa credit for leading Alabama to wins over better competition. This figures to be Tagovailoa final season at Alabama, and I could see that helping him to get some votes over Trevor Lawrence, who will be forced to return to Clemson for 2020. The Heisman Trophy also has never gone to an Alabama quarterback, so I could see the voters looking to change that and haveTagovailoa bring the Heisman Trophy back to Tuscaloosa.

Honorable Mentions: Offense: Georgia QB Jake Fromm, Stanford QB K.J. Costello, Michigan QB Shea Patterson, Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins, Alabama RB Najee Harris, Georgia RB D’Andre Swift, Oklahoma WR Ceedee Lamb and TCU WR Jalen Reagor.

Defense: Alabama DT Raekwon Davis, Auburn DT Derrick Brown, Oregon LB Troy Dye, Ohio State DE Chase Young, Penn State DE Yetur Gross-Matos and Iowa DE A.J. Epenesa.

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