July 22, 2024

The SEC’s top five Heisman candidates heading into 2016

An SEC player has won four of the past seven Heisman Trophies, the only conference in the nation with multiple winners. Here are five players most likely to continue the SEC’s dominance over college football’s most heralded hardware.

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 01, 2016 running back Jalen Hurd #1 of the Tennessee Volunteers during the Outback Bowl between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Northwestern Wildcats at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL. Photo By Hayley Pennesi/Tennessee Athletics

There is arguably no more coveted honor in sports than the Heisman trophy. Those who win enter an exclusive club that includes college football legends like Herschel Walker, Bo Jackson, Barry Sanders and Tim Tebow. Alabama running back Derrick Henry captured the award last season after rushing for 1,982 yards and 23 touchdowns during the regular season. The workhorse back eventually helped the Crimson Tide capture their fourth national title in seven seasons.

Since 2009, the only conference with multiple Heisman Trophy winners is the SEC — running back Mark Ingram won in 2009, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton in 2010, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in 2012 and Henry last season.

The SEC features no shortage of talent heading into 2016. Despite quarterback competitions plaguing the conference, the SEC is still the best conference to find the nation’s premier talent. While it’s no guarantee a player from the SEC will hoist the trophy come December, there are a handful of talented student-athletes with the ability to make it to New York.

No. 5 — Texas A&M DE Myles Garrett

Michigan’s Charles Woodson (1997) is the only primarily-defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy, but if any defensive player can cause enough chaos to warrant consideration, it’s Garrett. Dubbed college football’s biggest freak, if Garrett continues to increase his production — 22.5 sacks and 32 TFL over the past two seasons — and anchor the Aggies into contention for the SEC West crown, expect him to receive serious Heisman consideration.

No. 4 — Tennessee HB Jalen Hurd

Hurd has a giant hurdle to overcome if he wants to become the first Volunteer to win the Heisman. It isn’t due to a lack of skill or production, but rather the lack of opportunities that will ultimately hurt his production. With quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Alvin Kamara being productive runners in their own right, it’s inevitable that Hurd won’t rush for as many yards or score as many touchdowns as his counterparts in Baton Rouge and Athens. But make no mistake about it, Hurd is the guy on Rocky Top.

No. 3 — Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly

What two words cause sports journalists to instantly foam at the mouth? SEC quarterback. Ole Miss signal-caller Chad Kelly stands head and shoulders above a weak field of quarterbacks in America’s best (and most hated) conference. However, he also put up Heisman-worthy numbers last year, finishing with 4,042 passing yards and 31 touchdowns. The Rebels enter 2016 absent several pieces critical to the program’s success over the past few seasons. However, Kelly still has enough weapons around him on offense to claim the crown as the south’s premier quarterback again this season.

No. 2 — Georgia HB Nick Chubb

It’s unsure if Nick Chubb is fully healthy now after suffering a brutal leg injury against Tennessee last season. However, fans shouldn’t sleep on Chubb as a formidable Heisman candidate purely based on his level of production in what has essentially been two half-seasons. Since taking over for an injured Todd Gurley during the second half of the 2014 season, Chubb has gained 2,068 yards on the ground and scored 19 touchdowns, which is on par with the production of the SEC’s top Heisman candidate heading into fall.

No. 1 — LSU HB Leonard Fournette

At the midway point of the 2015 football season, Leonard Fournette was a virtual lock to win the Heisman. After seven games, Fournette had already compiled 1,352 yards on the ground and added 15 touchdowns. Then, November happened. Fournette’s Heisman chances plummeted after a 31-yard performance against Alabama. In hindsight, it was a predictable outcome given the lackluster play at quarterback and ineffective offensive line in Baton Rouge. Luckily for Fournette, LSU didn’t fall victim this offseason to its annual gutting of talent departing for the NFL. The Tigers return 17 starters, including quarterback Brandon Harris, who Les Miles hopes improves just enough to take some pressure off of Fournette’s shoulders.

Edited by Nathan Odom

Featured image by Hayley Pennesi, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics