All the offseason Heisman buzz has tended to focus on the names Luck, James and Moore…which makes sense since these three players finished 2-3-4 in last year’s balloting and were finalists in New York this past December.
But, the fifth-place finisher in last year’s Heisman race–Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon–is also returning.
Blackmon, Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles and South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery are the three most-talked-about receivers in college football.
But what are their chances of winning the Heisman in 2011?
In the two-platoon era, only three receivers have won the Heisman Trophy: Johnny Rodgers of Nebraska in 1972, Tim Brown of Notre Dame in 1987 and Desmond Howard of Michigan in 1991.
But Rodgers, Brown and Howard share one noteworthy characteristic. Namely, they were spectacular punt or kickoff return men who specifically used such returns to push their way to the Heisman.
Everyone remembers the Rodgers punt return for a touchdown in the ‘Game of the Century’ in 1971 that pretty much propelled him to the trophy the next season. Brown took back two punts against Michigan State in early 1987 to immediately distance himself from the rest of the field, while Howard’s spectacular return against Ohio State in 1991–complete with Heisman pose at the end–remains an iconic moment in college football history.
Without those returns, it is doubtful these players would’ve won the Heisman.
And so this is why I posit in Heismandment No. 1 that the Heisman winner must be a quarterback, a running back or a multi-threat athlete. And, to elaborate a bit further, the multi-threat aspect of the equation must be spectacular, or at least highlight-reel worthy, to garner sufficient notice.
So where does that leave pure wide receivers like Blackmon, Broyles and Jeffery?
Out in the cold.
[Note: I am aware that Broyles returned 34 punts last year and averaged 16 per return (with a touchdown) the previous season. But he isn't really known as a spectacular return man and it wouldn't shock me to see him relinquish those duties this year. If that changes, however, and he makes a jump in production back to his sophomore year numbers, he may have a shot at this thing, although the presence of Landry Jones on the same team complicates matters. Okay, back to the rest of the post...]
The closest a pure receiver–meaning a wide out who isn’t also a standout returning punts or kicks–has come to winning the Heisman in the modern era was Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. Fitzgerald finished 128 points behind Jason White of Oklahoma despite having the entire media in his corner for much of the campaign and even though White capped his season with a disastrous performance against Kansas State.
Therefore, it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which a Blackmon, Broyles or Jeffery can win the Heisman through their receiving skills alone. Recall that Michael Crabtree was also a massively productive end who even helped pull off a dramatic upset of No. 1 Texas in 2008 and for that he tallied three first-place votes and a fifth-place finish.
But he did win his second-straight Biletnikoff Award–not a shabby accomplishment.
And, realistically, that’s the trophy that Blackmon, Broyles and Jeffery will be fighting over in 2011, not the Heisman.