DeVonta Smith became the first wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy in almost three decades last season. Smith had a sensational year, hauling in 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns to set numerous Alabama single-season and career records. He surpassed recent legends like Julio Jones and Amari Cooper to write his name all over the record book, becoming the second Crimson Tide player to claim the Heisman Trophy in the process.
Smith’s win is the exception and not the rule though. Quarterbacks have dominated the list of recent Heisman Trophy winners. Since 2000, 17 quarterbacks have won the award compared to just three running backs and one wide receiver.
Who Will Win the 2021 Heisman Trophy?
Given the love for quarterbacks, all the primary contenders for the 2021 Heisman Trophy are signal callers for title contenders.
Spencer Rattler is the overall favorite. Oklahoma came on strong at the end of the year, and Rattler shook off a rough start to post solid numbers. He led the Sooners to a 55-20 blowout of Florida in the Cotton Bowl, and he should be even better in 2021 with another offseason to improve under Lincoln Riley. Two of the last four Heisman Trophy winners (Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray) have come from Oklahoma.
We saw DJ Uiagalelei thrive against Boston College and Notre Dame when Trevor Lawrence was sidelined because of COVID. Uiagalelei is poised to pick up right where Lawrence left off. He was considered one of the most talented high school quarterbacks in recent memory, so Uiagalelei should thrive in this offense. However, he may not put up the numbers needed to win the Heisman Trophy as Dabo Swinney is known for bringing in his backups early.
Whoever lines up under center for Alabama has to be considered a favorite too after the season Mac Jones just had for the Crimson Tide. Bryce Young looks likely to step into the starting role with Jones declaring for the NFL Draft. Young was a five-star recruit out of high school that has had a year to learn in this offense, and his dual-threat ability has drawn multiple comparisons to Kyler Murray.
Sam Howell has thrived in his two seasons at North Carolina. He might be the first quarterback taken in the 2022 NFL Draft. Howell has thrown for over 3,500 yards with 30 touchdowns in each of the last two seasons, and he averaged 10.3 YPA last year. A strong performance against Clemson could be enough to put Howell over the top, and we saw the Tigers look shaky in the secondary against Justin Fields and Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl.
USC’s Kedon Slovis is a player to keep an eye on too. The Trojans largely flew under the radar as the Pac 12 season was stunted and no team was a title contender, but Slovis has the potential to put up big numbers in offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s offense. Harrell and the Trojans are going full Air Raid for the 2021 season though, so Slovis will receive a lot of attention if USC is a top ten team.
2021 Heisman Trophy Prediction
Another former USC signal caller is my pick to win this year’s Heisman Trophy. For whatever reason, it took Kirby Smart a while to realize that J.T. Daniels was the best quarterback on the roster, but Daniels is the clear starter for Georgia entering the 2021 season. This year should have been a wake-up call for Smart. The era of game managers leading their teams to national championships is over, and he might have had the same epiphany that mentor Nick Saban had a few years ago.
Daniels shined in his four games under center for Georgia. He completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 1,231 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. Daniels averaged at least 10.0 YPA in three of his four starts, and he three excellent young receivers in George Pickens, Kearis Jackson, and Jermaine Burton. Everything is in place for Daniels to thrive in this system, and offensive coordinator Todd Monken was known for letting it fly during his time as an NFL OC.