Four Things We Learned from the 2016 Heisman Decision

It’s mid-December, and Lamar Jackson just earned the greatest Christmas present in college football: the 2016 Heisman Trophy. The competition wasn’t even close. Jackson garnered nearly twice as many first place votes as his nearest competitor, Deshaun Watson, who finished second.

To most, Lamar Jackson’s selection this year came as no surprise. However, the final Heisman results do indicate four key points going forward.

  1. Start strong

This year more than ever, the Heisman Committee showed us that how you start is more important than how you finish. This finding stands in stark contrast to how the College Playoff Committee evaluates teams’ playoff rankings and seems to go against common sense, as well.

It’s undeniable that Lamar Jackson fizzled out towards the end of the season. Jackson boasted a healthy 86.8 Adjusted QBR through the first half of the season but only a mediocre 75.0 through the second half. Moreover, his Adjusted QBR fell to just 58.0 in his final three games. Those final numbers certainly aren’t Heisman worthy, but it appears Jackson did enough in the first half to sway public opinion to his side and keep it there despite his late-season dip.

  1. Team success is irrelevant when there’s parity

Of the five Heisman Finalists, Lamar Jackson’s Louisville Cardinals finished with the lowest ranking. Five teams separated the #13 Cardinals from the next lowest ranked Heisman candidates’ team, #7 Oklahoma. Obviously team success matters to Heisman voters. Unranked Texas and San Diego State’s D’Onta Foreman and Donnell Pumphrey finished just 8th and 10th in the final Heisman rankings, respectively. Louisville’s #13 ranking must have simply been close enough to that of the other Heisman finalists teams, all in the Top-10, not to be disqualifying. That, or Lamar Jackson was just too good individually for his team’s minor shortcomings to matter.

  1. Dominate your position

This finding mostly concerns Jabrill Peppers, who finished 5th once the votes were tallied. An argument could be made that each of those who finished ahead of him were the best at their position. Peppers, not so much. Peppers has no singular position in which to distinguish himself. I compare him to a multitool. His main advantage is convenience and versatility, not necessarily functionality. A fold-out pocket knife has nothing on a steak knife. A tiny screwdriver has nothing on it’s full-sized counterpart. I don’t really know anything else about multi-tools but the point is, in this case, all of Pepper’s efforts at each of the ten positions he played was not enough to surpass a player unquestionable dominant in one.

  1.  Offensive bias persists

In 82 years of Heisman history, only once has a defensive player won the award. In other words, offensive players have won the award 99.4% of the time. The only primarily defensive player to win was Charles Woodson in 1997. Though he only finished 5th, Jabrill Pepper’s was the first primarily defensive Heisman finalist since Monta Te’o in 2012. But both Woodson and Peppers had to play other positions to distinguish themselves, Woodson playing Wide Receiver, and Peppers playing…well just about everything.

The point is, it’s just about impossible for primarily defensive players, let alone defensive purists, to win such a coveted award. Alabama’s Defensive Lineman Jonathan Allen won this year’s Bronko Nagurski trophy recognizing the nation’s best defensive player, but many would argue he was one of the nation’s best players in general, and certainly deserving of Heisman consideration.

The Heisman Committee broke tradition by selection five finalists this year, but all five played offense at some point, four of the five played only on offense, and three of the five were quarterbacks. If defensive players really had a chance, don’t you think they could have found room for at least one defensive player in the five at the expense of just one offensive player (I’m looking at you Baker Mayfield. The Big12’s defenses are appalling. Your stats are inflated.)

Offensive bias isn’t unique to college football. Think how rarely defensive standouts win NFL or even NBA MVP. The real culprit is statistics and our own psychology. We like things simple. The bevy offensive statistics help us grasp individual performance in a tangible, concrete way. Defensive play is a result of a lot more moving parts. Every action of every player in concert add up to the outcome of a play, even if that action isn’t recorded as a stat. And of the stats we do record, well, Tackles and Interceptions alone don’t tell us much.

So just how does one win the Heisman? Be a stellar offensive player on a stellar team. If you do play defense, consider adding another (or 9 more) positions to your repertoire.

Currently purchasing a multi-tool on Amazon Prime,

Evan Brown


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