I obviously prefer to focus on pro-potential when discussing college prospects rather than awards season. However, Heisman trophy candidates is a topic worth discussing. Like it or not, teams do list and note these honors when attempting to “sell” prospects to other members of the scouting department.
I certainly heard “but Sam Bradford won the Heisman” a handful of times during his first training camp with the Rams, commonly when other possible selections at No. 1 were discussed. Now, don’t read into that as a lack of confidence in St. Louis’ quarterback, it is an evaluator's job to run through different scenarios and ask questions.
With that said, the following names are the three prospects I consider to be at the top of the list heading into this season (outside of Johnny Manziel). Under each name I will briefly explain a certain aspect of each player's game that will help lead them to the Heisman presentation ceremony.
If you prefer video format, I sat down with Kay Adams to discuss some of the candidates:
1. South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
Many will cite Manti Te’o’s runner up status in last year’s Heisman race as evidence for Clowney winning this season. There’s one main difference: Te’o was able to frequently run free behind an outstanding talent in Louis Nix and his counterpart Stephon Tuitt. Clowney, on the other hand, will have to win his individual matchup on every snap. Double teams are fairly rare at the NFL level, but seem to be more prominent in college. South Carolina’s goal should be to limit those occurrences, including chip blocks on the edge.
I expect defensive end Chaz Sutton to take the next step in his development. In fact, I thought he was a better on-field talent than Devin Taylor last season. Kelcy Quarles also needs to win his individual matchups.
2. Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
Going into his second season as a starter, Miller needs to show patience. Last year he tended to press, resulting in poor pocket awareness. In fact, Miller displayed the two negative signs of pocket functionality: lead feet and antsy steps. Despite his notable running skills, heavy feet in the pocket can result in poor scrambling success. Miller’s comfort in the pocket reportedly improved during spring work.
I also expect the Buckeyes to work from the pistol more often. This will mainly help with the offense’s play action success.
3. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota
With summer evaluations coming to a close, I am shocked to see redshirt sophomores like Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and UCLA’s Brett Hundley receiving more buzz than Mariota. The redshirt sophomore quarterback generating the least buzz (somehow) is Kevin Hogan, but that is a post for another time.
My only guess is many lumped Mariota in with other Chip Kelly products without actually watching him. I truly think the Oregon quarterback can shine in the pocket, but he isn’t limited to it. Mobility and agility are great traits to have at quarterback, but unless they can consistently succeed in the pocket their window of success is smaller.
I expect the Ducks to throw more, and Mariota has some outstanding targets. Obviously De’Anthony Thomas is an all-purpose threat and Josh Huff is a senior wideout, but don’t sleep on tight ends Colt Lyerla and Pharaoh Brown. Mariota flashes great poise from the pocket and could be easily be No. 1 on this list if he consistently makes the correct decisions at the correct times in a very favorable offense.