Ranking the Heisman Winners of the Past Decade
Written by Jonathan Lidskin
The past decade of Heisman Trophy winners have been dominant. These players have 4 National Championships, 5 of them have been the first pick of the NFL draft, and many numerous moments. College football has produced 9 quarterback heisman winners and 1 running back winner in the past decade. Some of them have been controversial wins, some of them have been landslide victories. But how do these players who earned the most decorated individual award in all of sports stack up against one another? Individual accomplishments and value to their team are considered my rankings. Here is how I rank the past decade of Heisman winners:
10. Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
Don’t get me wrong, Johnny Manziel took the college football world by storm in 2012. He for sure earned the Heisman Trophy during that season, throwing for 3,706 yards and 26 touchdowns while only throwing 9 picks. Manziel’s signature moment of the season was definitely a 29-24 win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Manziel was 1 of 5 quarterbacks to give Nick Saban a home loss. However, there are two reasons Manziel is not higher on this list. His stats compared to other winners. The first one is simple: Manziel’s stats aren’t as good as other Heisman winners. The second reason is the deal breaker. Manziel finished 5th in the Heisman voting the following year where his numbers were better with similar attempts. His competition in 2012 for the award was just not that good. The runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 2012 was Notre Dame Linebacker Manti Te’o. As great as Te’o was, a defensive player was never going to win the award over Manziel.
Manziel displays his signature “money” celebration that became famous during his Heisman season (Photo: USA Today’s FTW)
9. Derrick Henry, Alabama
The 2015 Heisman Trophy is easily the most controversial Heisman of the decade. The award went to Alabama Running Back Derrick Henry. The runner-up for the award was Stanford Running Back Christian McCaffrey. Before I say what I am going to say, I want it to be known that Henry had a phenomenal 2015 season. He had 28 touchdowns and ran for 2,219 yards. He carried Alabama’s offense and led them to a national championship with Jacob Coker at quarterback. With that being said, Henry should not have won the Heisman. In 2015, Christian McCaffrey broke the All-Purpose Yards record in a season with 3,864 yards. If it wasn’t for a couple bad losses, Stanford makes the playoff and probably competes pretty well with Clemson in the semi-final. Instead, Stanford played Iowa in the Rose bowl. They won 45-16 and McCaffrey tallied 368 total yards and 2 total touchdowns, one of which was a punt return. Derrick Henry had a phenomenal year, but the reason he is number 9 and not higher is because he didn’t deserve the Heisman.
8. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
If 2015 is the most controversial Heisman of the decade, 2016 is probably second. Lamar Jackson took a commanding lead in the race from the get go after Louisville demolished Florida State 63-20 in week 3 behind Jackson’s 5 total touchdowns. This game was probably his Heisman moment, but as the season progressed, Jackson slowed down. This led to another ACC Quarterback, Deshaun Watson, trying to overtake Jackson as the heisman winner. Jackson ended up winning the trophy, but Watson had plenty of supporters by the end of the season. During his Heisman season, Jackson threw for over 3,500 yards and 30 touchdowns while rushing for an additional 1,571 and an additional 21 touchdowns. So with those absurd numbers, why is it that Jackson is 8 on my list? As I mentioned above, Jackson’s Heisman moment was a 43 point win over Florida State. While that game was impressive, especially considering FSU finished the year in the Top 10, Jackson never really had a moment where he was clutch. He failed to lead Louisville on the game winning drive against Clemson and believe it or not he actually played one of his worst games of the season against Kentucky and played Louisville out of a New Year's Six bowl game. Nonetheless, Lamar Jackson’s stats and electric moves are something college football fans won’t ever forget.
7. Robert Griffin lll
Robert Griffin lll is another guy that was must see TV. Griffin’s Heisman season came in 2011 as he threw for 4,293 yards and 37 touchdowns. Griffin’s Heisman season is definitely nothing to slouch at considering he beat out future number 1 pick Andrew Luck for the trophy. Griffin would be higher if Baylor had more success as a team, and they didn’t get blown out twice on the road. RG3 suffered the two biggest losses of any Heisman winner in this decade. While those losses might not be totally his fault, Heisman trophy winners should not be losing by 35 and 27 on the road. To finish the season, RG3 led Baylor to a 67-56 win in the Alamo bowl over Washington. While RG3 didn’t do much in that game, his Heisman moment came in an upset of number 5 Oklahoma who the Bears beat 45-38. Griffin had 479 yards passing and 4 touchdowns in that game. The next year, Griffin left to go to the NFL draft as one of the most unique players ever in college football.
Griffin celebrates after throwing a miraculous touchdown in an upset of Oklahoma (Photo: Heisman.com)
6. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Baker Mayfield’s story is incredible. The undersized Quarterback wasn’t supposed to succeed anywhere he went. He walked-on at Texas Tech and overachieved there. He then transferred to Oklahoma and the rest is history. Mayfield completed 70.5% of his passes while throwing 43 touchdowns in his Heisman season in 2017. Oklahoma was the best offense in the country with weapons all over the field. Mayfield led Oklahoma to a Big 12 title and Oklahoma’s second ever playoff appearance. The Sooners lost the Rose Bowl to Georgia in an epic game and had they won that game, Mayfield is probably higher on this list. With that being said, Mayfield has a couple of memorable moments from that season. The Sooners won in a game in Columbus over Ohio State and after the game, Mayfield planted the Oklahoma flag on the Ohio State logo at midfield. He also had an epic showdown in Stillwater with 11th ranked Oklahoma State where he threw for 598 yards and 5 touchdowns in a shootout win. Mayfield was phenomenal, but he failed to step up in the biggest game of the year.
Baker Mayfield in the Rose Bowl against Georgia (Photo: Crimson and Cream Machine)
5. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
Lamar Jackson is right up there, but Kyler Murray is the most electric college football player of the decade. In Murray’s one season starting at Oklahoma, he led Oklahoma to a 11-1 regular season, a Big 12 Championship and a College Football Playoff berth. Murray never really had a true Heisman moment as Oklahoma lost arguably their biggest regular season game against Texas. He did lead a comeback against West Virginia to secure a spot in the Big 12 Championship, but the most specific moment people remember from Murray’s season is the game winning field goal from Texas that beat the Sooners. Murray ended up beating Texas in a revenge game in the Big 12 Championship to secure a playoff berth, but they ended up losing to Alabama in the Orange Bowl. During his Heisman campaign, Murray posted some ridiculous numbers both passing and running the football. Murray threw for 4,362 yards and 42 touchdowns during the 2018 season as well as rushing for over 1,000 yards and adding 12 touchdowns. The 2018 Heisman winner didn’t have the talent Baker Mayfield had around him, but regardless, he still got to the playoff.
4. Marcus Mariota, Oregon
Marcus Mariota accomplished some unbelievable things while at Oregon. He was not only just the Heisman winner in 2014, but he was the runner-up in 2013. In his Heisman season, Mariota threw for over 4,400 yards and 42 touchdowns. Not to mention he only threw 4 interceptions all year. Mariota lost one game before the playoff that year to Arizona. After that loss, Oregon went on to dominate the rest of the way. They won every game the rest of the year by double digits including two top 20 wins on the road against UCLA and Utah. Mariota got his revenge against Arizona in the Pac 12 Championship as the Ducks exploded for 51 points to rout the Wildcats 51-13. This put an exclamation on the Heisman season for Mariota who captured 788 of the 890 possible first place points. His Heisman class was relatively weak compared to other classes this decade, but Mariota was so dominant that it really didn’t matter. He is at number 4 because of the National Championship loss. The top 3 guys all carried their teams to National Championship victories. If Mariota was able to lift Oregon over Ohio State, he would have more of an argument for the top 3.
3. Jameis Winston, Florida State
Jameis Winston’s dominance in his freshman season at Florida State was one of the more surprising seasons from a quarterback this decade. Winston was surrounded by a Florida State team that was probably the second best team this decade outside of 2019 LSU. The closest game the Noles played before the National Championship was a 14 point win at Boston College that they led by 3 scores early in the 4th quarter. Winston’s Heisman moment came in a shocking way. Relatively early in the season, FSU went on the road and downed number 3 Clemson 51-14. Winston threw for 444 yards and had 4 total touchdowns in the game. Winston is not higher than number 3 simply because the two guys ahead of him were just more dominant. Nothing is being taken away from Winston with that statement. Winston beat 4 ranked ACC teams by an average of 41.25 points. That’s impressive in its’ own right, not to mention two of those four teams were ranked in the top 10. His 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions might not be as eye opening as other Heisman winners, but Winston capped off his freshman season with a come from behind victory in the National Championship to beat Auburn.
Winston holds up the final ever BCS Trophy after defeating Auburn (Photo: USA Today)
2. Cam Newton, Auburn
Like Jameis Winston, Cam Newton’s passing stats don’t pop out like other winners. However, when you also throw in his running stats, his numbers become unreal. Newton had 51 total touchdowns in the 2010 season where Auburn continuously bulldozed top 25 teams. Auburn beat 4 top 15 teams before even getting to postseason play. The most notable of those teams was a game on the road against Alabama. If you want to argue that Newton should be lower than two, just remember he has a game named after him. The “Camback”. Alabama led the game 24-0 in the second quarter, and in a stadium Nick Saban would only lose at 4 other times in the decade, Newton led a remarkable comeback to keep Auburn’s undefeated season alive as he threw for 216 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also added on a rushing touchdown for the day. About a month later, Newton helped Auburn secure a National Championship with a win over Oregon and finish off a perfect Heisman season.
Cam Newton dives for a touchdown against Arkansas (Photo: Auburn University Athletics)
1. Joe Burrow, LSU
This one should be a given. Joe Burrow had the single greatest season by a quarterback in college football history. To start, Burrow broke the FBS record for passing touchdowns in a season. There are some quarterbacks on this list that threw a lot of touchdowns. Mariota and Murray both threw 42, Baker threw 43, but compared to Burrow, those 3 had terrible seasons. Burrow threw a whopping 60 touchdowns. He averaged 4 touchdowns a game. Joe Burrow also did it while playing 7 of LSU’s 15 games against TOP 10 TEAMS. He threw for 5,671 yards for the season as well. Burrow won in Tuscaloosa, he beat Clemson by 17 and maybe most impressively, he won a semifinal game by 35 points. That performance included 7 touchdowns, all thrown in the first half. Joe Burrow is the undisputed best Heisman Trophy winner of the decade.
Joe Burrow represented LSU by having “Burreaux” on his jersey in his last home game as a Tiger (Photo: 1130 The Tiger)