SPORTS

The 15 Best Heisman Trophy Candidates

One of these guys will (probably) take it home.

This season's Heisman Trophy field doesn't have a Marcus Mariota or a Jameis Winston... and one could argue that's a good thing. Think about two recent quarterbacks who won the Heisman, Baylor's Robert Griffin III and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. Neither was hyped like Mariota was -- or perhaps even Winston, who himself was a mega-recruit despite redshirting as a freshman. As a result, we had captivating Heisman races that seemed to seesaw every week. In RG3's case, he didn't lock up the award until the final regular season week.

Below, you'll find our top picks for the Heisman. Here's to a wide-open race.

  • 1 J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State (SOPH)
    In theory, Ohio State has three bona fide Heisman candidates at quarterback, an embarrassment of riches that I'm not sure we'
    Jamie Sabau via Getty Images
    In theory, Ohio State has three bona fide Heisman candidates at quarterback, an embarrassment of riches that I'm not sure we've ever seen before. Senior Braxton Miller (84 career touchdowns under center) has shifted to a wide receiver/H-Back role, leaving a duo of phenoms in J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones -- the latter of whom helped the Buckeyes beat both Alabama and Oregon en route to last year's national title. The choice for Urban Meyer is challenging, but our pick is Barrett, who amassed nearly 3,000 passing yards and 34 touchdowns, along with almost 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. No stage is too big for Barrett, who could very well have won the award last year if he hadn't gotten hurt late in the season. The National Freshman of the Year makes good decisions with the ball and -- like Miller and Jones -- seems to always know when to tuck it and run. 
  • 2 Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State (JR)
    In case anyone forgot, Elliott is the juggernaut who ran for 696 yards and eight touchdowns in Ohio State's wins over Wi
    Fort Worth Star-Telegram via Getty Images
    In case anyone forgot, Elliott is the juggernaut who ran for 696 yards and eight touchdowns in Ohio State's wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon to close out the year and lock up a championship. Don't expect the Missouri native to rest on his laurels now. Meyer recently dubbed him "the best worker at tailback that I've ever had," adding that Elliott "just got better and better and better." Elliott's tenacious running style and smooth cutting make him an ideal combination with Barrett -- and with Jones, for that matter -- and the Buckeyes should be near the top of the polls heading into January.
  • 3 Jared Goff, QB, California (JR)
    The 6-foot-4 Goff is the prototypical Pac-12 quarterback with a cannon for an arm, and he will be tasked to throw the ball a
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    The 6-foot-4 Goff is the prototypical Pac-12 quarterback with a cannon for an arm, and he will be tasked to throw the ball a ton -- his defense gave up a league-worst 40 points per game last year. Goff rebounded from a shaky freshman debut to throw for 35 touchdowns and just seven picks as a sophomore. Cal produces a ton of premier offensive NFL talent at the skill positions -- namely Aaron Rodgers, DeSean Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, Keenan Allen, C.J. Anderson and Justin Forsett. Goff, who could throw for 40 touchdowns and 4,500 yards as a junior, appears to be next in line.
  • 4 Cody Kessler, QB, USC (SR)
    Kessler is in many respects a more seasoned version of Goff. Both were heavily recruited out of Northern California after put
    Harry How via Getty Images
    Kessler is in many respects a more seasoned version of Goff. Both were heavily recruited out of Northern California after putting up tremendous numbers at the prep level. Kessler, a senior, isn't as big as Goff, but his 39-5 TD-INT ratio speaks volumes. USC has a boatload of talent at the skill positions, though Kessler will surely miss his favorite receiving target, Nelson Agholor, who was Philadelphia's first-rounder. In fact, this season marks the second consecutive year Kessler loses a high draft pick at receiver, as Marquise Lee went 39th overall in the 2014 draft.
  • 5 Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU (SR)
    The former wide receiver comes off a sensational junior campaign in which he threw for 3,901 passing yards and 33 touchdowns
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    The former wide receiver comes off a sensational junior campaign in which he threw for 3,901 passing yards and 33 touchdowns and ran for another 707 and eight scores. TCU is loaded with talent (10 offensive starters return) and features a slew of playmakers at Boykin's disposal. His combination of elite athleticism and accuracy (61 percent completion percentage) -- not to mention a Horned Frogs team that may run the table -- just might lead to Boykin being the first Heisman winner in school history, a feat even the great LaDainian Tomlinson couldn't accomplish.
  • 6 Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia (SOPH)
    He may not be Todd Gurley (or Herschel Walker or Terrell Davis or Garrison Hearst), but Chubb -- the SEC Freshman of the Year
    Grant Halverson via Getty Images
    He may not be Todd Gurley (or Herschel Walker or Terrell Davis or Garrison Hearst), but Chubb -- the SEC Freshman of the Year -- has dominated opponents in a manner that recalls that outstanding quartet of former Georgia stars. When Chubb took over the starting job last season as a true freshman (following Gurley's ACL tear), he averaged a healthy 7.1 yards per carry, ranking second in the league in rushing. Chubb is an elusive and smooth runner with power -- a human bowling ball -- and he enters his sophomore year amid high expectations and behind a wondrous offensive line. Remember, this was a highly touted kid with offers from Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Ohio State and Texas. 
  • 7 Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU (SOPH)
    Speaking of stud sophomore running backs in the SEC, Leonard Fournette -- who set an LSU record for rushing yards by a freshm
    Rob Foldy via Getty Images
    Speaking of stud sophomore running backs in the SEC, Leonard Fournette -- who set an LSU record for rushing yards by a freshman -- was the consensus top recruit in America. A monstrous 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, Fournette runs like a deer and torched the big schools in the games that mattered most. Fournette will only improve as a pass-catcher, and with a head coach in Les Miles not afraid to ride his horses (e.g. Kenny Hilliard, Alfred Blue, Jeremy Hill, Stevan Ridley, Jacob Hester and Joseph Addai), we can expect monumental numbers from Fournette.
  • 8 Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn (JR)
    Nick Marshall was a fine football player for Gus Malzahn, but the War Eagle faithful will fall in love with Jeremy Johnson, w
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Nick Marshall was a fine football player for Gus Malzahn, but the War Eagle faithful will fall in love with Jeremy Johnson, who's already drawing comparisons to Cam Newton, the Tigers' former Heisman winner and top overall NFL Draft pick. Those comparisons may or may not be fair, but the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Johnson definitely has a size and style similar to Newton's. A true dual threat, Johnson has completed 73 percent of his passes during his first two seasons, both as a backup. His primary weapon will be receiver D'haquille Williams, a potential Biletnikoff Award winner.
  • 9 Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State (SR)
    <span style="color: #222222;">Talk about dual threats. Remember "Stark Vegas" last year? That was all Prescott. After finishi
    Mike Ehrmann via Getty Images
    Talk about dual threats. Remember "Stark Vegas" last year? That was all Prescott. After finishing eighth in the Heisman voting while amassing nearly 3,500 yards through the air and another 1,000 on the ground -- not to mention 41 total touchdowns -- Prescott put his NFL dreams on hold for one more run at collegiate stardom. If he can remain consistent and get the Bulldogs through the SEC gauntlet relatively unscathed, the 6-foot-2 Prescott will find himself right back in the mix.
  • 10 Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama (JR)
    <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/eddie-lacy-championship-loss_55c216bee4b0f7f0bebb054b?utm_hp_ref=the-schultz-report&a
    Kevin C. Cox via Getty Images
    He may not be Eddie Lacy 2.0, but Henry has a similarly rugged running style with the ability to hit the home run and eke out the tougher runs as well. At 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds, he has all of the skills to become a dominant player for Nick Saban, as suggested by his quality performances against the marquee schools last season -- 113 and a score against West Virginia, 111 and a TD against Florida and nearly 100 yards and a touchdown versus Ohio State in the 2014 playoff.
  • 11 Malik Zaire, QB, Notre Dame (SOPH)
    <span style="color: #222222;">Zaire is probably the biggest surprise on this list, and I could have easily included Clemson's
    Andy Lyons via Getty Images
    Zaire is probably the biggest surprise on this list, and I could have easily included Clemson's own prodigious two-way threat, sophomore Deshaun Watson, instead. However, former Washington and UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel has told me that Zaire has all of the tools to get invited to the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City. Zaire has waited his turn, sitting behind the departed Everett Golson for two years after being one of the most sought-after recruits in the country. He is a natural playmaker who torched LSU in the Music City Bowl before earning MVP honors in the game. Brian Kelly will entrust him to run read-option and a ton of play-action, a system in which Zaire should thrive. Moreover, the Irish have a legitimate chance to reach the college football playoff, and if the 6-foot, left-handed Zaire puts up big numbers, he may find himself in the mix. Oh, and in case you're wondering, he will be well-protected: Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (who may actually move to the right side) is one of the nation's best.
  • 12 Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State, (SR)
    <span style="color: #222222;">Cook is Mr. Dependable for a top 10 team in the vastly improved Big Ten. While he lost his top
    Tom Pennington via Getty Images
    Cook is Mr. Dependable for a top 10 team in the vastly improved Big Ten. While he lost his top two receivers, Cook's steady hand (23-3 as a starter) and his solid (if not spectacular) numbers put him in the running for this award. The Spartans will have to win for him to be in the mix, because he doesn't overwhelm voters with the gaudy yards or touchdowns, but Cook, an Ohio product and true pocket passer, still has a shot to be in the conversation.
  • 13 Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma (SOPH)
    The 240-pound Perine rushed for more than 1,700 yards as a true freshman, highlighted by his single-game FBS rushing record o
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    The 240-pound Perine rushed for more than 1,700 yards as a true freshman, highlighted by his single-game FBS rushing record of 427 yards against Kansas. Then there was his 242-yard, four-touchdown performance against West Virginia just two months earlier. The Sooners are going to chuck it a lot with Lincoln Riley calling plays, but Perine's physical running style and game-breaking ability will not soon be forgotten. It's only fitting that after not receiving an offer from the boys in Austin, this Texas native is now tearing it up for archival Oklahoma.
  • 14 Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State (JR)
    <span style="color: #222222;">How can a guy who threw 15&nbsp;picks and only 12&nbsp;touchdowns be on this list? Because at 6
    Joe Sargent via Getty Images
    How can a guy who threw 15 picks and only 12 touchdowns be on this list? Because at 6-foot-4 and 228 pounds, this former mega-recruit has all of the physical and mental tools to ascend to Andrew Luck territory. He's just that talented. Hackenberg's sub-56 percent completion percentage will require a big spike, and he can't be sacked 44 more times. But Penn State runs a pro-style offense, and Hackenberg, with a veteran offensive line and his top four receivers returning to Happy Valley, has the necessary weaponry around him to finally live up to his Herculean billing. 
  • 15 Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona, (JR)
    Alas, a defensive player in the Heisman mix! Wright was a light recruit who has since morphed into college football's best de
    Christian Petersen via Getty Images
    Alas, a defensive player in the Heisman mix! Wright was a light recruit who has since morphed into college football's best defensive player. After making 163 tackles last year -- including a stellar 14 sacks from the linebacker slot -- he should have an opportunity to become at least a Heisman finalist. Wright doesn't miss tackles, nor does he take plays off. He can cover and tackle in space, and he attacks downhill. A brilliant junior season for the California native is surely in order.
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