Everyone knows that the Heisman Trophy goes to the best quarterback or running back on one of the best teams in the country. Since 1997, when corner back Charles Woodson brought home the award for Michigan, a player from a position other than quarterback or running back has not won the Heisman Trophy. This award is supposed to go out to the best player in college football, but defensive players are often overlooked. This shouldn’t be the case, as a lot of years the best player in college football isn’t even on the offensive side of the ball. With that being said, here are the players that have the best chance to win the Heisman Trophy, while PRIMARILY playing defense this season.
- Adoree Jackson, CB, USC
Jackson is one of the most athletic players in the country and proves that by playing defense, offense and special teams very well. He also had a chance at qualifying for the Olympics in Rio for track and field. At corner back he doesn’t make too much noise, because opposing quarterbacks are afraid to throw to where he is covering. He only recorded one interception last season, but that number should increase this season with the emergence of the corner playing on the opposite side of the field of him, Iman Marshall. No wide receiver will have a great game against him, but he will be tested in week one against Alabama.
USC doesn’t let Jackson play offense too much, but when he plays he is always a threat. Jackson hauled in 27 passes for 414 yards last season, while also rushing for 36 yards. These offensive statistics would increase exponentially if USC played him on offense more often this season.
He also is a play-maker on special teams with four career return touchdowns, two on punts and two on kick-offs. This is a huge key for a defensive player to win the Heisman, as Woodson also was a great returner for Michigan. If Jackson continues to do returns well, it could be the icing on the cake to get the Heisman voters to cast their ballot for him.
2. Jabril Peppers, LB/S, Michigan
Peppers is making a position change to linebacker this year after being successful at corner and safety last season. He will still play those positions sparingly, but will be mainly focused on the linebacker position to start the season. His coverage skills will be the best of any linebacker in the country, due to his history playing defensive back at a high level. Even though he is undersized for a linebacker, his range and closing speed will be unmatched. Michigan is hoping his run-stopping ability will hold up against some physical Big Ten offenses.
The position change makes this a little bit harder for Peppers, but he should see an increase in tackle numbers due to playing closer to the line of scrimmage this season. He will still be able to make plays at his new position, but will have to do a lot to impress Heisman voters. Peppers also played running back and was a returner for the Wolverines, but did both sparingly. If he really wants to be considered for the Heisman Trophy he needs an increase in numbers (on defense, offense and special teams) and have big plays for the voters to be sold on him.
3. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
The likely number one overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Myles Garrett has been dominating SEC offenses for the past two years. He had 11 sacks in 2014 and 11.5 in 2015, which makes him the nations premier pass rusher heading into this season. The 11 sacks in his freshman season broke Jadeveon Clowney’s record for sacks by a freshman in the SEC. He currently sits 13.5 sacks away from the all-time sacks leader in college football (records kept since 2005), as Hau’oli Kikaha totaled 36 in his career at Washington.
Garrett won’t have a chance to play on both sides of the ball like the other candidates, but with a record breaking season in his Junior campaign, the Heisman Voters could be won over.