In what will likely go down as one of the most contested Heisman races in history, the debate features not only three unique players but three contrasting arguments for selecting the award’s winner.
We break down each player and the “school of thought” they represent below:
The Best Player on the Best Team: RB Derrick Henry, Alabama
It wasn’t all that long ago that another feature running back from Alabama, Mark Ingram, fit this description and won the trophy in the closest vote in Heisman history. Henry gets the billing this year (yes, Clemson is ranked #1, but most feel the Vegas favorite Alabama is the best team) and appears poised to be in a similarly close battle for the crown. However, while Ingram is regarded as one of the weaker Heisman winners, the same would not be said for Henry, who far outpaces his predecessor.
In the first ever Breitbart recruiting rankings, we ranked Henry as #6 in the country—higher than anyone else competing for the award—due to his rare combination of size, speed, power, and productivity. He has certainly lived up to that billing. His 1,986 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns are eye-popping and he was forced to carry a heavy, heavy load for the Tide. In only four games, he failed to reach 20 carries, and he went over 30 the same number (with games against Auburn and Florida seeing him carrying the ball 46 and 44 times).
He lacks the highlight reel moments, but he’s a grinder who had only three games this season with a yard-per-carry of under five. There’s a reason Henry is the favorite (albeit by a slim margin). Two other strong players and a belief that Alabama would still be an elite team if you take Henry away are the only detractions for this elite back’s case.
The Best Performer: RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
If you make the case based on statistical output and highlight reel efforts, McCaffrey is your pick.
With the sophomore, the case begins with his breaking of Barry Sanders’ record for all-purpose yards. When you consider whose record McCaffrey broke that instantly puts him in the discussion. As a runner, McCaffrey’s stats are comparable to Henry’s with his 1,847 and 5.8 yards-per-carry putting him in the same discussion as the Alabama back who does far surpass the do-it-all sophomore in rushing touchdowns.
Where McCaffrey statistically separates himself, though, is in the other categories. He hauled in 540 receiving yards for four touchdowns. When you add in the 1,109 return yards, you get a total of 3,496 yards—the new NCAA record. Many who have watched closest are on the McCaffrey bandwagon. What could hurt him would be less than stellar performances in big games against Northwestern (a loss) and Notre Dame, playing on the West Coast, and competing on a team outside of the playoff. Still, he boasts 1,086 more total yards this year than the #2 player, and he tallied 416 yards in his last game, a conference title.
The Most Valuable Player: QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
The Clemson Tigers were well regarded early in the season, but few thought they would be the only remaining undefeated FBS team come playoff time. However, the hope at the beginning of the season was largely based on Deshaun Watson. The outperforming of those expectations is, again, due to Deshaun Watson.
The sophomore quarterback has been the heart and soul of the Tigers. Yes, they field a stellar defense, but the signal caller’s contributions to his team could be argued to be more vital to his team’s success outside of anyone but perhaps Leonard Fournette. Remove the Tigers’ quarterback, and there is no chance they are even in the playoff discussion, much less the #1 seed. Moreover, he’s picking up momentum having passed for more than 279 yards in each of his last six games and rushing in excess of 100 yards in four of those contests.
Watson, however, may be seen as the #3 option due to a statistical output that fails to match the two running backs. That’s not to say his numbers are not Heisman worthy. The past five winners are all quarterbacks, and Watson’s rushing yards surpass all but Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel in that category. His passing numbers, however, rank just above Newton’s, whom he narrowly passes in total yards. He also bests Jameis Winston in that category as well. Total touchdowns, though, rank fewest among the five, ten behind Newton and 17 behind Mariota.
All that considered, Watson may be at the lower end of the statistical consideration compared to the previous five winners, but he remains very much in the mix. Watson is a viable winner, but he may lose support for having some of his lesser games coming against Notre Dame and Florida State.
Who Will Win?
Smart money is on Derrick Henry with Christian McCaffrey just behind. Will this be the second time in recent memory an Alabama back edges one from the Cardinal? It will be a ceremony worth watching. All three are worthy, and all three appeal to each of these schools of thought.