The 2017 season might not be over, and we still don’t know who’s staying around, but here’s who the hot names will be for the 2018 Heisman Trophy.
2018 Early Heisman Candidates
Last year we did this exact same piece, and outside of whiffing on a Bryce Love type here or there, we got two of the top three right, including the one on top.
Don’t expect anywhere near the same type of success this season.
Doing this last year was relatively easy with Lamar Jackson, and Sam Darnold, and Baker Mayfield, and Josh Rosen, and Saquon Barkley, and Derrius Guice, and J.T. Barrett, and a whole slew of other stars coming back.
Going into next year there’s … a lot of guesswork.
Of course, if any of the big stars like Darnold, Love, Barkley, Rosen, Guice, and/or Jackson return, this becomes easy. Throw any and all of them at or near the top of this list if they put off the NFL, but assume they’re all making millions next year at this time.
Also assume that Notre Dame RB Josh Adams, USC RB Ronald Jones II, and the Auburn backfield – Kerryon Johnson, Kam Pettway and Jarrett Stidham – are gone, too.
Remember, it’s almost impossible just to be a finalist – ask Darnold and Barkley – much less win it. To do this, a player needs the ridiclous stats, the championship-caliber team, and the big moments on the big stages. Just because a player is going to be good, that doesn’t mean he’ll be a part of the Heisman fun.
So before diving in further this offseason, here’s the first best guess on the top 2018 Heisman candidates.
All classes will be what the player will be next season
Five Heisman Sleeper Names – Just In Case
RB AJ Dillon, Soph, Boston College
BC’s Andre Williams became a part of the Heisman mix in 2013 with 2,177 yards and 18 scores. Dillon took over the second half of this year to finish with 1,432 yards and 13 scores.
QB Sam Ehlinger, Soph. Texas
It’s hardly a lock that he’ll be the full-time guy with Shane Buechele still around, but the team’s leading rusher and passer in 2017 should be Tom Herman’s statistical star at another level as a sophomore.
QB Justin Herbert, Jr. Oregon
Herbert playing this year – Oregon 6-1. Herbert out hurt – Oregon 1-4 and bad. The talent is undeniable, but the coaching change might be an issue.
QB Trace McSorley, Sr. Penn State
How is it possible to go almost totally unnoticed 1) on Penn State, 2) throwing for 3,228 yards and 26 touchdowns with just eight picks, and 3) with 431 rushing yards and 11 scores?
QB Shea Patterson, Jr. Michigan(?)
Yeah, it’s a big assumption that he’ll jump ship from Ole Miss to Michigan, but if he does, he’ll have a great young receiving corps to work with. He’ll have to beat out Brandon Peters, but he could be the one to take the Jim Harbaugh to another level.
Projected 2018 Heisman Trophy Also-Receiving Votes
10. QB Jake Browning, Sr. Washington
The numbers were down compared to the terrific breakout 2016 season, but the Huskies are going to be strong again, and they’ll be deep in the hunt for the Pac-12 title. If he can lead the way for a second College Football Playoff run in three seasons, he’ll be the signature star.
9. RB D’Andre Swift, Soph. Georgia
This whole Georgia thing isn’t going to stop Nick Chubb and Sony Michel after combining for well over 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns before the College Football Playoff. Next year, someone will have to fill the void. He’ll have to split time, but the explosive star of the SEC Championship might just put up huge numbers for another great team.
8. QB Nick Fitzgerald, Sr. Mississippi State
Put him higher if his leg really is okay and he really is all systems go by this summer, as he’s projected to be. The best quarterback in the SEC + Joe Moorhead as the head coach = wow. The comeback factor might play a big role, too.
7. QB Kyler Murray, Jr. Oklahoma
18-of-21 for 359 yards and three touchdowns, and 13 carries for 142 yards. The former Texas A&M super-recruit will have some historic shoes to fill, and while he might not be the passer Baker Mayfield was, he’ll be a more explosive runner.
6. RB Cam Akers, Soph. Florida State
It might look ridiculous ten months from now that he wasn’t in the top three of this. One of the nation’s most talented young backs, he ran for 931 yards and seven touchdowns behind a horrendous offensive line and with every defense geared to stop him. And now he’s Willie Taggart’s top running back? Look out.
2018 First Guess Heisman Trophy Finalists
5. RB J.K. Dobbins, Soph. Ohio State
Lost a bit in all of the Ohio State College Football Playoff discussion was the whale of a year the freshman had. He only ran for seven scores, but he exploded for a team-leading 1,364 yards and seven touchdowns with a receiving score. He’ll never be a workhorse, but he could be a 2,000-yard threat with more opportunities.
4. RB Jonathan Taylor, RB Wisconsin
The crazy part about Taylor’s giant true freshman season is that it could’ve been even bigger statistically. His fumbling issues took him out inside the ten a bit too often, but he still ran for 13 touchdowns to go along with his 1,847 yards. If he hangs on to the ball a bit better, he should be a 20-touchdown back.
3. QB Kelly Bryant, Sr. Clemson
Written before the College Football Playoff, what Bryant does in the Rose Bowl and, potentially, the national championship will set the tone for any sort of a 2018 Heisman campaign.
He only threw 13 touchdown passes, but he ran for 646 yards and 11 scores. Of course he’ll lose some of this year’s talent – Deon Cain is too good to stay around – but there’s just one senior among the top 21 current Tigers in receiving yards.
2. QB Khalil Tate, Jr. Arizona
The most explosive and exciting player in college football over the second half of the season, he needs to cut down on his interceptions – he threw eight – and his passing has to be a bit more consistent, but he’ll be appointment watching.
It would’ve been interesting in this year’s Heisman race if Arizona had beaten USC or Oregon down the stretch, but the guy ran for 1,353 yards and 12 touchdowns in just over half a year, while averaging over ten yards per carry. He’ll be the Pac-12’s IT guy who’ll get pumped up and promoted like crazy over the offseason.
1. QB Jalen Hurts, Jr. Alabama
Again, this is being done before the CFP. If Alabama wins, and Hurts is awesome, then he’ll not only be the heavy favorite going into 2018, but he’ll get a wee bit more respect for the brilliant touchdown run that should’ve won the Tide the national title last season.
His passing is a problem? He hit 61% of his throws for 1,940 yards and 15 touchdowns with just one interception – he’s good enough – to go along with 768 rushing yards and eight scores.
But even more than that, he might be the key player on the top team in college football. Going into his third year at the helm, it could just be his time.