More so than any other year we can remember, many of the nation’s elite players from last season are back. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey is looking to build on his record-breaking 2015 campaign; Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson hopes to take care of some unfinished business and lead the Tigers back to the National Title game; LSU’s Leonard Fournette figures to be the most dominant running back in the nation, but he’ll have some company from the likes of Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, the aforementioned McCaffrey, and Georgia’s Nick Chubb; other quarterbacks like Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett, and potentially even UCLA’s Josh Rosen look poised to have outstanding seasons as well.
All this begs the question: Who will hoist the Heisman trophy by season’s end? The Check Down staff weighs in.
JMac: Christian McCaffrey, RB Stanford
This is a wide-open Heisman race, chock-full of raw athletes who can do incredible things on the gridiron. However, none of these guys stand out to me more than Christian McCaffrey.
McCaffrey has established a reputation as a fast, fleeting back that could take a sweep or a pitch to the end zone in one fell swoop. However, two additional things we’ve seen over the past year are his commitment to the weight room and weight gain in general. McCaffrey actually had to try and slim down this offseason–not because he was gunning Oreos in his dorm room, but rather because his muscular physique was going to slow him down on the field. McCaffrey will kick off his junior season with improved speed and agility (as if he needed any more).
McCaffrey will flourish behind an excellent Stanford offensive line that should make for some eye-popping rushing statistics. Ultimately, I think the sheer talent the junior running back brings to the table will be enough not only to nail down the Heisman, but also to get this hungry Cardinal team to the College Football Playoff.
1 McCaffrey; 2 Deshaun Waston, Clemson; 3 Leonard Fournette, LSU
Hempdad: Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma
While all the Leonard Fournette and Deshaun Watson fans are watching their players put up some pretty good numbers, I’m going to be sitting back and watching Baker Mayfield set some college football records. After setting a school record last year with 572 yards of total offense in a game, Mayfield clearly has the ability to take over contests. With a tougher schedule on paper ahead of him, if Mayfield puts up comparable numbers as Deshaun Watson and leads the Sooners back to the CFP, he’ll be taking home the award for best college player in the nation. Sorry Christian McCaffrey: It’s a quarterback’s year.
1 Mayfield; 2 Deshaun Watson, Clemson; 3 Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
Pete: Josh Rosen, QB UCLA
This kid had an unthinkable amount of pressure last year as a true freshman, and rose up to give an impressive performance for the 2015 campaign. Not only do I think he is the best pure quarterback in college football, but I believe Rosen can get this UCLA squad to a top-5 finish. Despite losing some of the weapons around him (RB Paul Perkins, and WRsJordan Payton and Thomas Duarte), Rosen has enough talent to produce new offensive weapons around him. Expect some huge numbers from this guy.
1 Rosen; 2 Leonard Fournette, LSU; 3 Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Fronte: Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson
Normally I’m against picking the favorite, but the Heisman is Deshaun Watson’s to lose this year. Last season, Watson led Clemson to within five points of a national title in spectacular fashion. Not only did he throw for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns, but he also ran for 1,105 yards and 12 touchdowns. Those are tough numbers to best, but I like Watson’s chances. Hell, even Nick Saban thinks highly of Watson, calling him the best college quarterback since Cam Newton in a recent interview. Luckily for Watson, he will have a number of returning offensive weapons, like Artavis Scott, Wayne Gallman, and Jordan Leggett. In fact, he’ll even have stand out wide receiver Mike Williams back, who missed nearly all of 2015. With a lot of question marks facing Clemson’s defense, there is no doubt Watson will shoulder the load on offense.
1 Watson; 2 Dalvin Cook, Florida State; 3 Leonard Fournette, LSU
Mando: Christian McCaffrey, RB Stanford
McCaffrey should still feel a little slighted after he was wrongly beat out by Alabama’s Derrick Henry for last year’s honor. However, I think he will win the award in what should be an extremely crowded field. Sure, the junior running back will receive a lot of attention from opposing defenses, but isn’t that customary for every Heisman contender? I’m sure Iowa had their sights set on slowing down McCaffrey, but he proved to be too dynamic in last year’s Rose Bowl in both the running and receiving game as well as on special teams. Moreover, Stanford doesn’t play too difficult of a schedule this year, yet they fortunately have some primetime games (against Notre Dame, for instance) that will allow the country to fully appreciate what McCaffrey has to offer. Plus, by season’s end, I think McCaffrey’s stats–I’m predicting he tops 2,000 rushing yards again–will do all the talking.