The Most Deserving Heisman Trophy Recipients Of All Time
The most desired trophy of college football athletes goes to one all-star each year. If you’re the best team player, a good athlete, and the player everyone wants to watch play, you have higher odds of getting this award.
You do, however, also need more than just a few good games and good stats to shine throughout an entire season, and not everyone can do that. That’s why Heisman winners are so special. These are the Heisman Trophy winners who earned it.
Lamar Jackson – 2016
Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy despite being one of the most underrated quarterbacks in college football. He was a revelation at Louisville under center, but most analysts believed he was better suited to play wide receiver.
Jackson defied them all and refused to change positions in the NFL. The move to not move didn’t affect his draft stock and the Ravens took him at the end of the first round. Halfway through his first NFL season, he usurped Joe Flacco as Baltimore’s starter.
Bo Jackson – 1985
Bo Jackson had a chance to be the greatest athlete of all-time. Many analysts consider the greatest college player of all-time. He ran with passion and could hit defenders like a dump truck. He was perfect for college, and his career was topped off with his Heisman win in 1985.
When he went pro, he played in the NFL and in the MLB. Sadly, he was too fast for his own good and ended up blowing out his hip on a routine run. Go back and watch his college tape, though, and you’ll wish he was still playing today.
Chris Weinke – 2000
Chris Weinke was 28-years-old when he won the Heisman. Being one of the elder statesmen of college football had its advantages. Weinke torched his younger counterparts, throwing for 4,441 yards and tossing 34 touchdowns. He was a clear Heisman winner, except he wasn’t.
Because of his age, his win was considered controversial. Josh Heupel was younger and more exciting. Weinke wouldn’t be denied though, and even had a decent NFL career as a backup. These days he works as a coach for Tennessee.
Derrick Henry – 2015
In 2015, Derrick Henry became a surprise Heisman winner. No one really new his name at the start of the college year, and he was still a relative unknown halfway through. Then he ran for nearly 2,000 yards and everyone opened their eyes.
His big game came against LSU and Heisman favorite Leonard Fournette. He outrushed the NCAA superstar, ending the day with 210 yards and three touchdowns. After that, it wasn’t hard to see who the best running back in college football was.
Matt Leinart – 2004
The year 2004 was one of the most talented and contested Heisman years of all-time. Standing just barely above the crowd was Matt Leinart, the iconic quarterback from USC. Everyone remembers his epic showdown against Vince Young in the Rose Bowl!
Leinart threw for 2,990 yards and 28 touchdowns his Heisman season. If you include his performance in the Orange Bowl that season, those numbers balloon up to 3,322 yards and 33 touchdowns. Like so many before him, Leinart struggled to adapt his skills to the NFL level and now works as an analyst.
Carson Palmer – 2002
Carson Palmer was stellar the year he won the Heisman. He led USC to the Orange Bowl while throwing 33 touchdowns and nearly eclipsing 4,000 yards. Looking back at history, he might be the greatest quarterback that USC has ever had.
He was a pretty good NFL QB, too. Drafted by the Bengals in the first round, Palmer turned the franchise into a perennial powerhouse. Near the end of his career he landed in Arizona, where he set franchise records and nearly went to the Super Bowl.
Marcus Allen – 1981
There are workhorses and then there’s Marcus Allen. During his Heisman year, USC had the audacity to give him the ball a whopping 477 times. He turned all those touches into a Heisman trophy. He still holds the record of 200-plus rushing yard games with eight.
His 212.9 rushing yards per game still also ranks number two behind the top player on this list. Despite USC losing to an unranked Arizona and Washington before losing in the Fiesta Bowl, his stats were impeccable.
Eddie George – 1995
Eddie George played quite well as a junior for the Ohio State Buckeyes. But it wouldn’t be until his senior year that he became more than the nation could handle. He helped lead the team to a flawless 11-0 start and the National Championship game.
George ran all over opponents and had at least 100 yards in every game minus the opener because his coach subbed him out due to the score being 38-6. No need to beat a dead horse.
Tim Tebow – 2007
The Florida Gators won the national title when Tim Tebow was a freshman and the next year, his expectations were monumental. Still, Tebow managed to over exceed the hype. With 32 passing touchdowns and 23 rushing ones, the man was en fuego.
He had 9.4 yards per attempt and 55 total touchdowns, which both ranked number one in the country. Florida struggled a bit, but voters knew Tebow had a special season. He became the first sophomore to ever win the award.
O.J. Simpson – 1968
Well, we weren’t going to leave The Juice off the list. Prior to the murder charges, O.J. Simpson had the world going crazy over his abilities and rightfully so. Simpson was the first college star who garnered attention the way superstars do today. Defenses dreaded having to gameplan for The Juice.
He led the nation in rushing yards and carried two years in a row. 1968 was when he made dominating look like a piece of cake. He also led in touchdowns that year with 23. His margin of victory still remains the largest in Heisman Trophy history.
Mike Rozier – 1983
Mike Rozier had 275 carries, 2,148 yards, and 29 touchdowns. Wow. This is even more amazing because he was a part of a historically dominate Nebraska offense. That team averaged 50 points per game. Rozier’s stats above led the country that season.
Nebraska started 12-0 and then had to face off against Miami in the National Championship game. Rozier ran all over the place early in that game but ended up hurting his ankle. He had to leave the game but his team still left victorious.
Charles Woodson – 1997
Charles Woodson is an NFL legend and a college football hero too. His Heisman year was one of the most debatable victories in the past decades. Many believed Peyton Manning should have won that year, but it was not to be.
Woodson winning over Manning adds to the greatness of it. He is still the only defensive player to ever claim the honor. He played a little on offense too, bringing in three touchdowns, but it was his defense that mattered. His last game of the season cemented his campaign after he talked smack to an opposing team’s receiver and returned a punt for a touchdown.
Sam Bradford – 2008
Thanks to Sam Bradford’s abysmal NFL career, many can easily forget just how amazing he was in college. As an Oklahoma Sooner, he was simply breathtaking. His Heisman year in 2008 was one for the record books.
Bradford led the nation in passer rating and passing touchdowns which ranked ten and four, respectively in the single-season FBS record book. Even though he put up amazing numbers, he still barely beat Colt McCoy in the Heisman race. Did we mention the Sooners averaged 51 points per game?
Ricky Williams – 1998
The year was 1997 and Ricky Williams had put the nation on notice. If not for Peyton Manning and eventual winner, Charles Woodson, Williams would have been the clear winner. The next year was all Williams. He saw his touches go up from 279 to 361, and he became an efficient workhorse.
During this season, Williams ended up breaking the FBS career rushing record. Running towards 6,083 yards was the story of the season and the play that captured it was amazing. He burst through the hole, bounced off a tackle, and sprinted his way to a 60-yard touchdown.
Roger Staubach – 1963
In the modern era, Roger Staubach’s stats don’t translate that well. In his time, however, he redefined the quarterback position. With only 128 of 192 passes completed and seven touchdowns that year, it seems like anyone else on this list could do that in a single game.
Known as Roger the Dodger thanks to his uncanny scrambling skills, he paved the way for future pocket scrambles during his time at Navy. He carried his team to the National Championship game but ended up losing. He still was the story of the year.
Tony Dorsett – 1976
Tony Dorsett’s 1975 campaign was quite strong, but his team’s record was not as spectacular, sitting at 8-4. Dorsett responded by putting Pittsburgh in the National Championship talks the very next season. Moreover, he made it to the game.
Dorsett led the nation in carries at 370 and in rushing yards with 2,150 yards. Pittsburgh started the year with a road win against a tough Notre Dame team where Dorsett took his first carry 61 yards. He ended the year with a National Championship victory.
Reggie Bush – 2005 *
We must include the asterisk next to Reggie Bush’s name because his miraculous Heisman trophy had to be vacated by the NCAA thanks to USC violating rules. Nevertheless, Bush pulled off an amazing collegiate career, but 2005 was his best. Many call it the best of the new millennium.
The master of the roundabout running, Bush became a megastar out in Los Angeles and it wasn’t fair for the competition. He led the country with 8.7 yards a carry, so he was basically an automatic first down. With 200 carries and splitting the work with another future NFL starter, Bush still managed to amass 1,740 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns.
Johnny Manziel – 2012
They didn’t call him Johnny Football for no reason. Johnny Manziel was a force to be reckoned with at that quarterback position, undersized and all. He scrambled around like it was nobody’s business and still managed to throw pretty accurate passes on the go. He was tough to stop and amazing to watch.
Manziel made the Aggies a tough opponent and even got a win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa! He covered over 5,500 yards of total offense, 47 total touchdowns, and more Sportscenter highlight plays then you can count. No freshman had won the award before him.
Desmond Howard – 1991
Here we have a rare receiver on the list, but Desmond Howard knew how to get in the end zone. What if we told you 31 percent of his catches turned into touchdowns? We wouldn’t be lying. That’s a one in three chance that he was going to put numbers on the board when he caught it.
The receiving numbers were enough to put him into Heisman consideration, but it was his special teams play that took him over the top. He took 35 attempts which 15 were kickoffs and 20 were punt returns, for 694 yards and two touchdowns.
Doug Flutie – 1984
Doug Flutie looked as interesting as he played. That’s because he was undersized with a running back’s number. Say goodbye to dull when he had to improvise outside of the pocket. You would have thought he’d have more than three rushing touchdowns his Heisman year.
His most famous play was the Hail Mary that beat Miami and is still known as one of the greatest plays in college football history. He was far from a one-hit wonder. He always made big plays and helped Boston College lead the nation in scoring offense (37.4 points per game). He nearly doubled the second-place finisher in first-place votes.
Herschel Walker – 1982
In 1981, Herschel Walker’s amazing year became overshadowed by what would be Marcus Allen’s Heisman campaign. Then after Allen left college, the award was Walker’s for the taking in 1982. He even suffered a broken thumb, but that didn’t slow him down.
He somehow improved his yards per attempt while still taking fewer carries the the year before. The Bulldogs swept SEC play and went 11-0 right before losing in the Sugar Bowl. With 335 carries, he gained 1,752 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Ty Detmer – 1990
If Ty Detmer didn’t throw so many interceptions his Heisman year, it could have easily been one of the greatest. With a 64.2 percent passer completion rate (361-562), 5,188 yards, and 41 touchdowns to 28 interceptions, he still had a pretty phenomenal year for BYU.
The BYU Cougars started 10-1 and rose to as high as number four in the country in rankings before losing their last two games. The mistakes hurt a lot but he needed to take those chances.
Barry Sanders – 1988
Something would be completely wrong with us if we didn’t include Barry Sanders. His 1988 Heisman year will never be duplicated and many can only hope to get within arms reach of it. He led the nation with 37 touchdowns (four less than the quarterback previous on this list), and set an FBS rushing yard record with 2,428 yards.
These days, bowl stats count and teams play between 12 and 15 games. Still, no one has passed Sanders 11-game totals.
Cam Newton – 2010
Cam Newton is one of the most special talents college football has ever seen. After a controversial start to his collegiate career, he arrived at Auburn right on time. His creative and athletic play style was perfect for their system.
He became the first player in SEC conference history to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 in a single season. He was out there making defenders look like high school JV teams. With 30 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing to go along with only seven interceptions, Newton was a sure-fire winner. The National Championship victory was only the icing on the cake.
Baker Mayfield – 2017
Before Kyler Murray was setting efficiency records, there was Baker Mayfield. On his way to winning the 2017 Heisman, the Cleveland Browns starting QB set a then efficiency rating record of 203.76.
To set the record, Mayfield threw 41 touchdowns while only surrendering five interceptions. He also completed 71 percent of his passes and led Oklahoma to the its third straight Big 12 title. It’s no wonder why the Brown took him with the first overall pick, then!
Danny Wuerffel – 1996
Leading Florida to the National Title was just the icing on the cake for Danny Wuerffel in 1996. He faced stiff competition on his way to a ring, and made it look easy. His year ended with 39 passing touchdowns and a 170.6 efficiency rating.
Moreso, he helped Florida reach incredible peaks. The team averaged 46.6 points a game and scored 76 total touchdowns. And you thought scoring was at an all-time high now! Wuerffel was just ahead of the trend.
Marcus Mariota – 2014
Few have dazzled fans the way Marcus Mariota did back in 2014 while playing for the Oregon Ducks. Granted, the Ducks always seem to have blazing fast and really talented players, but Mariota was different. His Heisman year campaign made him look NFL-ready every single game.
He started out as an impressive freshman, and by his Heisman year, he was completely dominating. He ended the year with 57 total touchdowns (15 of them rushing) and completed 304 of his 445 passing attempts. He led his team to the National Championships during the first year of College Football history. His only blemish was not winning the big game.
Kyler Murray – 2018
Kyler Murray beat out some stiff competition to win the 2018 Heisman. The race was considered a neck and neck tie between him and Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa. Tua finished the year with a 202.3 efficiency rating. Murray set a college football record with, though, with a 205.72 rating.
To rise to his historic heights, Murray threw 40 touchdowns and ran for 11. He finished the year with 4,053 passing yards and 892 rushing yards. With such incredible stats, you’d think he would be a sure first first round draft pick, but he might not play in the NFL at all after signing an MLB contract with the Oakland A’s!
Billy Sims – 1978
Billy Sims racked up some gaudy rushing numbers in 1978 when he won the Heisman. Known for how hard he would run into defenders, the running back averaged 7.4 yards per carry and totaled 1,896 rushing yards.
The team rode their workhorse to glory that year, cruising to the Big Eight title and earning a spot in the coveted Orange Bowl. Sims was on his way to a Hall of Fame career in the NFL when he blew out his knee, sadly ending his aspirations of greatness.
Howard Cassady – 1955
Howard Cassady is probably a name you don’t remember, which is a shame. During his era, he was one of the best college running backs. He blew away the competition statistically, rushing for 958 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns his Heisman winning season.
Cassady also played defensive back for Ohio State and was named an All-American. A giant among men in 1955, the bruising back crushed the enemy as Ohio State won the Big Ten title. Michigan never stood a chance
Earl Campbell – 1977
What can be said about one of the few Heisman winners that also found his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Let’s try. During his Heisman winning year, Campbell rushed for over 1,700 yards and scored 18 touchdowns.
As if that wasn’t enough, he also caught five passes for 111 yards and one touchdown. Just because he could. When he went to the NFL, he continued to be great, getting voted to five Pro Bowls and winning one Most Valuable Player award.
Sam Bradford – 2008
Sam Bradford was the consensus number one overall draft pick coming out of college thanks to his Heisman trophy. Playing for Oklahoma, Bradford was the second sophomore to ever win the award. That year, he led the Sooners to five straight games scoring 60 or more points.
Not happy with blowing out opponents, Bradford also threw for nearly 4,500 yards and completed 48 touchdown passes. His NFL career looked as promising as his college one until injuries got in the way.
Ron Dayne – 1999
Ron Dayne became the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher during his Heisman winning season. He ran for over 200 yards four times, finishing the year with 1,834 yards. His hard work helped the Wisconsin Badgers make it to the Rose Bowl.
During the Rose Bowl, Dayne had another 200 yard rushing spectacular, putting hits 1999 total at 2,034 yards. Unfortunately, his skill set never translated to the next level. Dayne retired in 2007 never having rushed for more than 1,000 yards professionally.
Archie Griffin – 1974
Archie Griffin won the 1974 Heisman by a landslide vote. When the numbers were counted, he beat Anthony Davis by more than 1,100 points. The victory is one of the most lopsided in the history of the award.
To earn such a dominant victory, Griffin needed to put together an even more dominant season. He finished the year with 1,695 yards and 12 touchdowns. And in every game he played, he ran for more than 111 yards. That’s just videogame like!
Joe Bellino – 1960
Joe Bellino scored 18 touchdowns for Navy in 1960 for a dominant Heisman win. An undersized player, Bellino played with the passion of a bull. This despite being only 5’9″ and 181 pounds.
Bellino did it all for Navy. He was a running back, a wide receiver, a quarterback, and a punt returner. Navy lost the Orange Bowl, but the story of how Joe Bellino led the rag tag group of men to a 9-1 record has lived on well beyond the box score.
Troy Smith – 2006
Troy Smith had an all-time great college season for Ohio Stat in 2006 on his way to winning the Heisman. He threw 30 touchdown passes and five interceptions. On the ground he added five more touchdowns. Most importantly, he always played his best games against major opponents.
His Heisman win was lopsided. No one questioned that he was the best player in college football. In the NFL, he sunk more than he swam, jumping around from team to team playing inconsistently from start to start.
Charlie Ward – 1993
Charlie Ward is one of the more interesting Heisman winners on this list. Considered undersized as a quarterback, he led Florida State to the National Title game in 1993. To get the team there, he completed 70 percent of his passes.
When it came time to enter the NFL, Ward made it clear he would only play if he was drafted in the first round. After being told he wasn’t a first round talent, he elected to play in the NBA.
Robert Griffin III – 2011
Robert Griffin III had a brilliant NCAA career. If anyone thought they had a chance of beating him out for the Heisman in 2011, they had never seen him play. He was the ultimate college quarterback; a deadly accurate arm and legs that could breakaway for a touchdown at any second.
When his time came to enter the NFL, he won rookie of the year and lead Washington to the playoffs. Then his body began to breakdown, relegating him to a career as a backup.
Tim Brown – 1987
Tim Brown put Notre Dame back on the college football map in the late 1980s. The legendary wide receiver played for some lower end teams, but made high school players see the school as a hot spot destination.
It’s no wonder Brown became a stud in the NFL. Playing for the Oakland Raiders, Brown never had the best QBs throwing to him, but he always made the most of it. Also, near the end of his career he got to play opposite Jerry Rice, which is pretty cool.