The Heisman Trophy is awarded annually to the most outstanding player in college football. Out of all the postseason awards handed out by the various bodies and trusts around the NCAA (and there are many), this is the award everyone wants to win. Taking home the Heisman Trophy grants you a lifetime pass into the most exclusive club in the sport, and in 2016 there were five Heisman finalists in New York hoping to have accrued enough votes to take home the award: Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook, and Michigan linebacker (playmaker) Jabrill Peppers.
There was some worry around mid-season that this would not be a much of a race at all. Jackson had bolted to the head of the line early, and after a couple of notable names fell away (for example, Christian McCaffery of Stanford), he had seemed untouchable.
It is easy to see why people fell in love with Jackson. He was not the most highly recruited player out there, but his mix of speed, agility, and passing ability saw the sophomore become a star in short order. In 12 games this season, he accounted for an incredible 51 touchdowns (30 passing, 21 rushing), and he became the most feared dual-threat quarterback in the nation. While Louisville faded a little down the stretch, the school would be nothing without the play of its star quarterback.
If star quarterbacks are your style, then Deshaun Watson of Clemson was the choice for you. Watson’s Tigers won the ACC Title, claimed the #2 seed in the final CFP ranking, and beat Jackson’s Louisville when the two schools faced off earlier this year. Watson went down as the best quarterback in the history of Clemson after finishing with 37 touchdown passes and 3,914 passing yards on the year. The one knock on Watson this season was turnovers- he had 15 interceptions, but in big games the Tigers quarterback performed at his peak and put his school on his back time and time again.
Oklahoma placed two players in the top five of the Heisman Trophy voting, after the Sooners tore through the Big 12 and finished the season by winning nine games in a row. If Oklahoma had been able to pick up victories in either of its big early season tests against Houston and Ohio State, then Baker Mayfield or Dede Westbrook likely would have been right there with Jackson and given him a real challenge down the stretch.
It is hard to separate these two as candidates, because each played a huge factor in the other’s success. Mayfield had an incredible passer rating of 198, a rating that led the country by a mile, and had a 38 touchdown to eight interceptions ratio on the season. Westbrook had 16 touchdown catches and just shy of 1,500 yards on the year- and he was a human highlight reel after the catch.
The fifth finalist Jabrill Peppers was listed as a linebacker, but he played everything and anything (on both sides of the ball) in his Michigan system. Peppers might not have had the numbers that would wow you, but it seems like every time there was a big play for the Wolverines, Peppers was involved in it. His four touchdowns all came at key moments in Michigan’s season, and he had to be accounted for on every single snap.