“Lamar Jackson, from the University of Louisville.”
These were the final words echoed by ESPN host Chris Fowler before giving the prestigious award to the Sophomore Quarterback who dazzled in every way this college football regular season and at 19, became the youngest winner in Heisman history.
On Saturday night in Lower Manhattan, New York City, five players who represent the best talent in the nation, sat in the front row, anxiously waiting for their name to be called. If it was then they would become the 82nd winner of the Heisman trophy and each would be deserving.
Oklahoma Sooner duo QB Baker Mayfield and WR Dede Westbrook made late season surges to be named Heisman finalists this year. After an early season out of conference loss to Ohio State and an early season conference loss to Texas, the Sooners went on a rampage throughout the remainder of the season and these were the two guys that spearheaded it.
Mayfield finished the regular season with 38 touchdown passes, throwing for 3,669 yards and completing 71.2 percent of his passes. He saved one of his best performances for last as he led his Sooners to a top ten win against Oklahoma State in the Bedlam Rivalry, throwing for 288 passing yards, 3 touchdowns and completing 68 percent of his passes. His other major highlight this season was against his former Texas Tech Red Raider squad. In the game, he threw for 545 yards and a whopping seven touchdowns.
Two of those touchdowns and 202 of those yards went to Westbrook who was clearly the nation’s best receiver this year. Westbrook was the definition of coming on late this year as after going without a touchdown and a one-hundred-yard game in the first three games, in his last nine games, he caught 57 passes for 1,281 yards and 16 touchdowns. Westbrook’s play and ability to blow the top off any defense with massive gains is a big reason as to why the Sooners regrouped and dominated at the end of the season, solidifying his spot as a Heisman Finalist.
A player who didn’t allow his defense to give up many big plays was the human Swiss army knife Jabrill Peppers.
Peppers played almost every position on the field this season, but was mainly positioned as a linebacker despite being recruited as a safety coming into Michigan. Despite being announced as a Heisman finalist as a defender, he played important roles in all three phases for the Wolverines: Offense, Defense, and Special Teams.
Defensively, Peppers played linebacker, slot cornerback, and safety for a Michigan defense who ranked 2nd in the country overall. He totaled 68 tackles with four sacks, one forced fumble and one interception. Although these stats don’t jump out at you his impact was felt all over the field and he proved to be the main threat for a Wolverine team that was in contention for a college football playoff spot all year long. On special teams, despite only returning 21 punts, he had 310 yards and a touchdown, averaging 14.8 yards per return. His ability to break it open at any time gave the Wolverine offense great field position because punters would intentionally kick away from him and most of the time, the offense would capitalize, especially when Peppers was apart of it. Offensively, Peppers had three rushing touchdowns this year and had a total of 170 yards from scrimmage, with many of those yards coming in crucial moments of the game where his presence opened up opportunities to other offensive players to shine.
A major offensive player who shined this season was Quarterback DeShaun Watson from Clemson. Coming off a stellar 2015 campaign that ended in a loss to Alabama in the National Title Game in which he displayed all his talents, he came back in 2016 with the Heisman in sight. Focusing more on his passing this season as a Junior, Watson threw for 3,914 yards, 37 touchdowns and completed 67.6 percent of his passes, leading the Tigers to the second seed in the college football playoff. In the biggest game of the year, the ACC Championship Game, with a playoff spot and a Heisman spot on the line, Watson delivered in primetime as he threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns as well as a rushing touchdown that sealed the game. He rushed for only 524 yards this season, and I say only because he rushed for over 1,100 yards last year, but he became a better passer and leader this year, more focused on staying in the pocket and letting his receivers and running backs play bigger roles in the offense while the team won games.
Last, but not least, is a player who played the biggest role and had the most impact this year in college football, the 2016 Heisman winner Lamar Jackson. From Week 1, Jackson provided us with endless highlights, amazing plays and clutch performances. Despite losing his last two games of the regular season, Jackson led a Louisville Cardinal team that had been dismal a couple of seasons ago to a 9-3 record this year and was clearly the best and most valuable player to his team in the country. As a true sophomore, Jackson threw for 3,390 passing yards for 30 touchdowns and completed 58 percent of his passes.
That’s not where all of his damage was done though. His ability to scramble and make huge plays with his legs is what truly mesmerized fans all year long as he rushed for 1,538 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground. In total, Jackson accounted for 51 total touchdowns, over 4,900 yards and became the first player since Jordan Lynch in 2012 to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,500 in the same year.
With 2,144 points in the Heisman voting, Jackson was the clear favorite and most deserving to win the award this year. When you talk about not only being the best, but most important player, Jackson was just that this season. Not only did he put up the stats, but his team need every single yard and touchdown he produced in order to win those nine games and became nationally relevant again this season. There wasn’t a more dynamic player in college football this year, so despite having the worst record out of all the candidates, he also had the worst team talent- wise and rallied his team all year to bring out their best every week. Without Jackson, this team wouldn’t sniff nine wins and come close to beating the Watson-led Clemson Tigers team in Death Valley in primetime. You can make the argument that without Westbrook, Mayfield wouldn’t have been as good and vice-versa. You can make the argument that without Peppers, Michigan still had the overall talent to do some damage and be a top 25 team. You can make the argument, although slightly, that without Watson, Clemson could have held its own.
You can’t make the same argument for Jackson and the Cardinal. He deserved this award this year.
Do you think Lamar Jackson was deserving of the Heisman? Let’s talk about it here or find me on Twitter @Phenombc3.