NCAAF
May 15, 2020
BY Bryan Zarpentine

Ranking the 10 Best Heisman Trophy Winners Since 2000

Winning the Heisman Trophy means receiving an invitation to join one of the most exclusive clubs in all of sports. The fraternity of Heisman winners is so selective that past winners get to vote for who will join their prestigious ranks.

Alas, we know that Heisman winners aren’t all created equal. There are some years when the award is easier to win than others while other years the competition is fierce, leaving worthy candidates high and dry.

Even among the Heisman winners from the current century, some have clearly stood out among others. For that reason, we’ve put together ranking of the top 10 players to win the Heisman Trophy since 2000.

Let's start with a former No. 1 pick. 

10. Jameis Winston, Florida State (2013)

The Seminoles knew Winston had a chance to be a special player, but from the first game of his redshirt freshman season, he showed that he was a big-time player. Winston finished the year with over 4,000 passing yards and 40 touchdown passes. In retrospect, it’s also shocking that he threw just 10 interceptions that season. More importantly, he led FSU to the National Championship, showing the poise to throw the game-winning touchdown with 13 seconds on the clock. Winston unseated reigning Heisman Trophy-winner Johnny Manziel and, at the time, was the youngest Heisman winner of all-time.

9. Marcus Mariota, Oregon (2014)

Mariota lost the Heisman in 2013 after being forced to play the final month of the season with a knee injury. But he showed great fortitude by coming back stronger the following year. While leading Oregon to the National Championship Game, Mariota racked up 42 touchdown passes to just four interceptions while also throwing for over 4,400 yards. He was also a more efficient runner, finding the end zone with his legs 15 times for a total of 57 touchdowns. Even among Heisman winners, that’s a lot of scoring from one player. In the end, the first Hawaiian to win the Heisman did so in a landslide, helping him make up for not winning it the previous year.

8. Robert Griffin III, Baylor (2011)

Just a few years before RG3 won the Heisman, the idea of any Baylor player winning the award would have seemed preposterous. But he turned a pipe dream into a reality, throwing for nearly 4,300 yards and 37 touchdown passes while using his legs to gain another 699 yards and 10 touchdowns. More than that, he led a team picked to finish sixth in the Big 12 and led them to their first 10-win season in more than 30 years. Griffin didn’t have the same five-star talent around him that most Heisman winners had, which makes his accomplishments all the more impressive.

7. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma (2017)

Mayfield had already put together two impressive seasons as the starter at Oklahoma, but he was somehow able to take things to another level for his senior season. In addition to his 4,600-plus passing yards, he set a new career-high with 43 touchdown passes and a career-low six interceptions. Mayfield also led the Sooners to four wins against top-15 teams, including a road victory over Ohio State. He also made a top-notch Georgia defense look average in the College Football Playoff, nearly carrying the Sooners to the National Championship Game. Mayfield ended up turning the Heisman voting that year into an absolute rout. Not bad for a guy who began his career as a walk-on at Texas Tech.

6. Lamar Jackson, Louisville (2016)

Jackson flashed big-time potential as a freshman, but nobody thought a year later he’d become the youngest Heisman winner ever. Even after his team struggled late in the season, Jackson’s performance was too good for Heisman voters to ignore. He threw for over 3,500 yards and 30 touchdown passes while rushing for over 1,500 yards and 21 scores. He may have also hurdled a player or two along the way. Jackson was electric and almost mesmerizing to watch that season, and at least for a couple of years, he set a new standard for speedy dual-threat quarterbacks.

5. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma (2018)

Not only did Murray face competition for the starting job heading into the 2018 season, but once he got the job he also had to take over for the previous year’s Heisman winner. But none of that seemed to bother him once he stepped on the field. While undersized, Murray had the arm strength and athleticism to turn the entire season into one big highlight reel. He threw one long touchdown pass after another, ultimately finishing the year with over 4,300 passing yards and 42 touchdowns, not to mention a passer rating of 199.2, which set a new Big 12 record. Meanwhile, he showed he could just as easily run around defenders, gaining over 1,000 rushing yards with 12 rushing touchdowns, outperforming almost every other dual-threat quarterback in college football history.

4. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma (2008)

Granted, Bradford had a ton of talent around him and in a system that fit his skill set, but his accomplishments in 2008 are no less impressive. Not many quarterbacks throw 50 touchdown passes in a season while racking up over 4,700 passing yards. The not-so-mobile Bradford even managed to score five more touchdowns on the ground. Bradford’s 2008 campaign was so impressive that he was able to unseat reigning Heisman winner Tim Tebow, who actually had more first-place votes than Bradford. Both Tebow and Colt McCoy made strong Heisman candidates that year, but Bradford was able to win by going above and beyond most of his fellow Heisman winners from this century.

3. Joe Burrow, LSU (2019)

Despite looking like nothing special during his first season at LSU, Burrow was head and shoulders better than everyone in 2019. There was a fair amount of competition for the Heisman this year, but Burrow stood out by finishing the season with 60 touchdown passes and a passer rating of 202, both NCAA records. He also led the country with over 5,600 passing yards and while completing 76% of his passes. Statistically, it was one of the most impressive seasons a college quarterback has ever put together. More importantly, he guided the LSU Tigers to 15 wins and a national championship.

2. Tim Tebow, Florida (2007)

Heading into his first season as a starter, many doubted whether Tebow had the passing skills to be Florida’s full-time quarterback. But he proved all of his critics wrong in a big way, finishing the season with the second-best passing efficiency in the country. Tebow was remarkably accurate as a passer, throwing for over 3,200 yards and tossing 32 touchdowns while limiting himself to just six interceptions. Meanwhile, Tebow was a beast on the ground, gaining nearly 900 rushing yards and setting SEC records for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with 23 and total touchdowns with 55.

1. Cam Newton, Auburn (2010)

During Newton’s lone season at Auburn, he took college football by storm and dominated the sport in a way few players have ever done before. He took a borderline top-25 team at the start of the season and turned them into a national champion. One could argue that he could have done the same for any number of teams that year. For a quarterback to run for over 1,400 yards and 20 touchdowns is almost ridiculous, especially when adding 30 touchdown passes and an average of over 10 yards per pass. Newton went up against some of the best defensive teams in the country that year and he found a way to beat all of them with arguably the best single-season performance of the current century.

Photo: Getty Images