Every year, the Heisman Memorial Trophy is awarded to the best player in NCAA football. It is a huge honor to be the recipient, but it comes with a ton of pressure! Most of the time, it goes to someone from the greatest college football programs out there. Some of them continued to impress all of us when they joined the NFL, although others failed to meet our expectations. This list of players earned the coveted award but failed to distinguish themselves in the big leagues.
This Navy alum was versatile on the green. He rushed for 834 yards and made 15 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns. This halfback received the Heisman Trophy in 1960, even though his last game resulted in his team’s loss in the Orange Bowl. He was a 17th round pick by the Washington Redskins during the NFL Draft in 1961. On the other hand, he was picked by the Boston Patriots at the AFL Draft. He went with the former and served as a kick returner for three seasons. He is the lowest drafted winner of the Heisman Trophy in the league’s history due to his Navy’s commitment.
In 1967, the UCLA Bruins ended the season with a 7-2-1 record. Gary Beban had eight touchdowns and 1,359 yards! The following year, the Rams chose him as a second-round draft pick. However, he was traded to the Redskins. He played for Washington for two seasons but did not get a lot of playing time since he was backing up Sonny Jurgensen. In 1970, he was released by the Redskins and then joined the Denver Broncos. Sadly, he was put on waivers and chose to retire right away.
During his time at Notre Dame, John Huarte only had a single good season. He became the starting QB of the Fighting Irish in his senior year and won nearly all games in the 1964 season. After his Heisman season, he was drafted by the two pro football leagues at the time. He chose to sign with the New York Jets of the AFL instead of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. Sadly, Joe Namath beat him out of the starting spot. This was the reason Huarte was simply the backup QB from 1966 to 1972.
In 1990, Ty Detmer served us one of the best seasons of any QB in college football history. The BYU grad threw for 5,188 passing yards and made 41 touchdowns in 12 games. While his junior year was spectacular, many analysts found him too small for the big leagues. The Green Bay Packers drafted him in the ninth round. He went on to be a backup for Brett Favre. He played for four other teams after this.
As QB, Terry Baker led Oregon State to its 9-2 record during his senior year. He finished his college career with 23 touchdown passes and 3,476 yards. The Los Angeles Rams took a chance on him as the first overall pick of the 1963 Draft. Sadly, he barely saw any action during his rookie season. In the end, they switched him to running back with little success. Three seasons later, Baker moved from the NFL to the CFL to join the Edmonton Eskimos.
Without a doubt, Pat Sullivan was a fantastic QB for Auburn. In 1970, he had the best total offense in the NCAA. In 30 games, he had 53 touchdowns and 6,284 yards as a Tiger. In 1971, he won the Heisman Trophy. The Atlanta Falcons picked him during the second round of the draft. He was a backup for the team for four seasons until he moved to the CFL Saskatchewan Roughriders. Once he left football, he started coaching instead. He was the Samford University head coach between 2007 and 2014.
This running back had one of the best seasons for the position in 1944. Rashaan Salaam made history as the fourth major college player to go past the 2,000-yard mark. He also earned three touchdowns against the Notre Dame team at the Fiesta Bowl. He was the 21st pick by the Chicago Bears. His rookie season seemed promising, but he was infamous for fumbling and went on to break a leg and tear an ankle ligament. Even though he tried to make several comebacks, he wound up in the XFL in the end.
When he was a junior, Andrew Ware set college records with 4,699 yards and 46 touchdowns for Houston. He forewent his senior year, so a lot of scouts thought he would do brilliantly in the NFL. Sadly, he did not reach his full potential. The Detroit Lions took him on as a first-round pick at the 1990 draft. For four seasons, he remained on the bench. By 1995, he was playing in the CFL instead. On the bright side, he did bag the Grey Cup as a member of the Toronto Argonauts two years later.
The USC Trojans started Matt Leinart in his junior season in 2004. The QB went on to win the Heisman Trophy over the likes of Reggie Bush, Adrian Petersen, and Alex Smith. He was deemed one of the best prospects during the 2006 NFL Draft. The Arizona Cardinals ended up drafting him as the tenth overall pick. He spent four seasons with them but went on to play for Houston, Buffalo, and Oakland. In 2014, he signed a contract to serve as a studio analyst for the Pac-12 Network.
Did you know that the Ohio State Buckeye is the only school with a two-time Heisman winner? This is all thanks to the talents of Archie Griffin. In 1976, he was a first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals at the NFL Draft. He went on to play all seven seasons of his pro career with the team, but it was not easy for him. He failed to make a 700-yard season. While it was a mediocre run, he did play in the Super Bowl in 1981. After retiring, the Archie Griffin Award was launched as the MVP award in college football.
The truth is that the NFL had not been too keen on Gino Torretta at the 1993 NFL Draft. In the seventh round, the Minnesota Vikings chose him. He did not get to play with them at all. Not long after this, the Lions picked him up. He only had one chance to play in the league, which was the season finale of 1996. With the Seahawks, he threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Joey Galloway. It led them to victory!
For six seasons, Danny Wuerffel played in the NFL. The 1996 Heisman Trophy winner graduated from Florida. After this, the New Orleans Saints picked him during the fourth round of the draft. During his short run, he was on four teams and found limited success as an occasional starter and backup. In 2000, he spent a season in NFL Europe and helped the Rhein Fire win a title. On top of that, he became the MVP of the World Bowl! In 2002, he started playing for the Redskins but retired two years later.
This 1999 Heisman Trophy winner holds the record for rushing yards in the NCAA Division I FBS history. The New York Giants swooped in on him at the 11th pick at the 2000 NFL Draft. He and Tiki Barber teamed up in the backfield. The two became known as “Thunder and Lightning,” which is a nod to his strength and Barber’s speed. Sadly, his carries gradually diminished within the next few seasons.
In 2000, this Florida State QB won the Heisman Trophy. The following year, Chris Weinke went on to be the starter for the Panthers. Sadly, it was a rather forgettable season. Carolina had a terrible 1-15 record that season. After this, he was made the backup to Jake Delhomme. He stayed in the bleachers for years and only got to make a start when Delhomme was injured in 2006. He had brief stints in Cleveland and San Francisco but started coaching instead. In the past, he has worked with Alabama and Tennessee.
The 2001 Heisman Trophy winner was thought to be a better wide receiver than a QB. The St. Louis Rams took him in as a third-round pick in the 2002 draft. However, he did not see a down in a regular season. He joined a couple of teams and leagues during the course of his career. Aside from the NFL, he was also safe for the Hamburg Sea Devils in NFL Europe. He also played QB with the Argos in the CFL.
In 2003, Jason White won the Heisman Trophy. He went on to lead Oklahoma to back-to-back National Championship Games. Even though he had a great track record in college, the team lost both games. He was not picked for the NFL Draft and did not receive tryouts from any team during the first few weeks after the post-draft free agency of the NFL. This made him the third Heisman winner who was not drafted in the NFL. The ones that came before him were Pete Dawkins and Charlie Ward.
By winning over Darren McFadden, Troy Smith brought home the Heisman award in 2006. The following year, he was a fifth-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens. Sadly, he just got to start two games during those three seasons. He later started six games for the 49ers. By 2010, he was no longer in the NFL. In August 2013, he signed a contract to play for the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL. It was a two-year contract, but the team chose to release him in 2014. This was thanks to the internal difficulties of the team and his poor showing.
Robert Griffin III
This BYU alum was awarded the Heisman Trophy in 2011. NFL scouts chased after him, but the Redskins eventually picked him. Early in his career, he delivered amazing figures for Washington. RGIII even won the NFC East Division at one point. Sadly, he suffered a knee injury in the late season, which dealt a blow to the team’s playoff hopes. Things started to go downhill after that. He continued to struggle, so he was released by the team by the end of the 2015 season.
The Denver Broncos had been looking for a QB in 2010. They ended up picking the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner during the first round of the draft. Apart from his game-winning touchdown pass in 2011, Tim Tebow did not really have an awe-inspiring career. In the NFL, his ability to throw the ball became a big deal. It was sad that the Florida alum was unable to get over this weakness. After his time on the field, he tried his hand at a different sport. He is now a pro baseball player with the New York Mets!
The Browns drafted the 2011 Heisman winner by trading up to the 22nd slot. They hoped that Johnny Manziel would breathe new life into the Cleveland franchise, which had been in hot water. Instead, he only had a couple of on-field moments and off-field drama to go with them. His sophomore season went to waste after a rehab stint in 2015. The team moved on from the QB since he was away from the field for two years. In 2018, he entered the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL until he was traded to Montreal.
After a great college career at Oregon, we are shocked the Marcus Mariota did not see more success in the big leagues. The Tennessee Titans picked him during the first round, but he had trouble looking for open receivers downfield. However, his biggest issue was that he could not stay healthy. During his time in the NFL, he fell victim to various injuries that made it impossible to improve as a passer. However, he is still pretty young. He is still a few years shy of 30, so he might still be able to turn things around.
This is a guy known for his big personality and big arms. Sadly, Jameis Winston has fallen flat thus far. He has not had the same luck for winning that he used to back in college. Some might find it hard to believe that he brought home the Heisman Trophy during his freshman year. His biggest problem would be his turnovers. He has been giving them away, both through fumbles and interceptions. If he could resolve this issue, we are sure that he is going to find a lot more success in the NFL.
We can’t think of any player in the NFL who profited more off his Heisman Trophy than Sam Bradford did. The Oklahoma player has been deemed a top prospect out of college. He had a great rookie season in the league, but something came up. He tore his ACL and could not pick up where he left off after the injury. But it was clear that he had potential, so he continued to cash in on over $100 million contracts.
Was Carson Palmer a good QB in the NFL? Of course. However, did he live up to all the hype about him as a Heisman Trophy winner? We don’t think so. The Bengals drafted him up, and he managed to deliver for the most part. However, he never won the big game. When the team drafted Andy Dalton, he went to Arizona and made it to the NFC Championship Game until he succumbed to pressure.
Once he was done with college, Charlie Ward had a lot of options in front of him. For one thing, he had the choice to play in the NBA or the NFL. He ended up going with the former, which is why he got a spot on our list. He indeed had a lot of talent and potential, but he chose to go pro in basketball instead. Many NFL fans had been sad to hear the news. It is hard not to wonder how well he would have done if he joined our favorite team instead. Sadly, we will never know the answer to that question now.
During his senior year in Miami, Vinny Testaverde was the Heisman Trophy recipient in 1986. He was the first overall pick during the draft! By the time he chose to retire, he had already played for a total of seven franchises. He played his best games with the Jets. During his time there, he led New York to a 12-4 record in 1998. His career came to a close with 267 interceptions, and 275 touchdown passes.
Here is another good NFL player who failed to live up to all the hype. Mark Ingram was in the NFL for nearly a whole decade. This hard runner only went past 1,000 yards in a season three times. It is even worse to hear that he only played a full 16 game schedule thrice. In 2019, the Ravens took him in. His workload was more limited than it already was, but he did exceed 1,000 rushing yards for the third time.
In college, Desmond Howard played for Michigan. He was a junior when he bagged the Heisman Trophy in 1991. While he was a talented guy, this did not save him from having among the most disappointing careers on the list. He had been with the Washington Redskins when he had his best playing year in 1994. That was when he caught 40 balls for 727 yards and made five touchdowns. To be fair, this is a decent record. However, we expected more from him since he was a Heisman Trophy winner.
By the time he graduated, Mike Rozier was among the most accomplished amateur athletes out there. As a senior, he brought home the Heisman Trophy. Sadly, he did not get quite as lucky during his time in the NFL. Before joining the league, he first spent two years with the Pittsburgh Maulers in the United States Football League. Once he left to join the NFL, he was only able to make 1,000 rushing yards once.
During the seven seasons he spent in the NFL, George Rogers clocked 7,176 rushing yards. As a rookie, he blew us away with over 1,600. Why is he on the list? This has to do with the fact that he was only in the league for seven years. If you ask us, longevity is a big part of any successful NFL career. While he was great on the field, he found it hard to stay healthy and retired after the 1987 season.
As a senior in USC, Charles White was the Heisman Trophy recipient in 1979. After the big win, the Cleveland Browns picked him during the first round of the draft. He disappointed his coaches and fans for the next four years. After all, he rushed for only 942 yards. After he left the team, he signed a contract with the Los Angeles Rams but only rushed once in the league. Once he retired from the NFL, he decided to compete in American Gladiators and won during both of his appearances.
Isn’t it sad when an injury derails a promising career? Billy Sims had been in the NFL for five great seasons when he blew out a knee. It pretty much ended his career. If he had been alive in this day and age, he could have recovered with modern medicine. The Detroit Lions drafted him, which was a great idea as he breathed new life into the team for five seasons. He reached the Pro Bowl thrice and led the team to the playoffs two times. At the time of his retirement, he had 42 touchdowns and 5,106 yards.
In 1974, the Los Angeles Rams drafted John Cappelletti after winning the Heisman Trophy during his time at Penn State. He had a run of ten seasons in the NFL but lost one of them to a groin injury. He did not get a thousand rushing yards in a year. His best season was in 1976 as he got to carry the ball 177 times for 688 yards! The next year, he carried it 178 times for 588 yards. He retired after the 1983 season.
In 1973, the San Diego Chargers took Johnny Rodgers during the first round of the NFL Draft. They had high expectations of him, of course. In the end, he spurned them by signing with the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League instead. He spent four years with them before he finally made his debut in the NFL. Sadly, he only got one season in the NFL since a knee injury ended his career at an early age.
In general, Steve Spurrier is better known for his career as a coach than a player. He won the Heisman Trophy but flopped in the NFL. He was the third overall pick at the 1967 NFL Draft. The 49ers hoped that he would take them out of their misery. Even though he got several stars, he did not impress the coaches enough to do it on a full-time basis. Over the course of ten seasons, he started 38 games but threw more interceptions than touchdowns. You have now seen which Heisman Trophy winners let us down, but it is worth checking out their college careers too. This time, let us talk about the best ones.
Cam Newton – 2010
No doubt, Cam Newton is among the most special players in the history of college football. He had a rather controversial start but got to Auburn on time. His athletic and creative play style was a perfect fit for the program. He was the first SEC conference player to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 in one season. He made defenders feel like they were on high school JV teams. He was a true legend with 20 rushing and 30 passing touchdowns to go with seven interceptions. Of course, there is no way that we can forget about his victory at the National Championship either.
Doug Flutie – 1984
It was fun to watch Doug Flutie on the field both for his appearance and play style. He was a smaller guy with the number of a running back. There was no boring game when he needed to improvise. You would have assumed that he would have over three rushing touchdowns during his Heisman year. Most people know him for the Hail Mary that took down Miami. It is still regarded as one of the best plays in the history of college football. Mind you, he was not a one-hit-wonder! After all, he made many important plays that granted Boston College the top-scoring offense at 37.4 points per game.
Charles Woodson – 1997
This NFL legend was a college football hero as well. His Heisman year was among the most controversial victories of the past several decades. A lot of people thought that it should have gone to Peyton Manning instead! In the end, Charles Woodson brought home the award. He remains the only defensive player to have received the award. Well, he did play on the offense by delivering three touchdowns. Even so, his defensive play mattered more to the team than that. His last game that season solidified his legacy after talking smack to the receiver on the opposite team and returning a punt for a touchdown.
Roger Staubach – 1963
Roger Staubach’s records do not translate well in this day and age. Still, he managed to redefine what it meant to be a QB. That year, he only made 128 passes out of 192 and seven touchdowns. The other people on the list could do this in one game. Also called Roger the Dodger, he had great scrambling skills and paved the way for more pocket scrambles in the future. He led the team to the National Championship Game, but they failed to stick the landing. Despite this, he was still the talk of the town.
Marcus Allen – 1981
Let us talk about Marcus Allen next. His team gave him the ball 477 times in 1981, his Heisman year. With these touches, he was able to bring home the coveted award. To this day, he holds the record for rushing more than 200-yard games with eight. In fact, his record of 212.9 rushing yards per game is also ranked number two! Even though USC lost to Arizona and Washington before the Fiesta Bowl, we can’t deny just how amazing a player this guy was.
O.J. Simpson – 1968
There was no way we could have left the Juice out of this list. Before the murder charges, the world was loco over his sports prowess. O.J. Simpson was actually the first college star to garner so much fame and attention. Defenses found it hard to draw up a game plan for him. He led the league in rushing yards and carried two consecutive years. In 1968, he made it look like it was easy to dominate the field! That year, he also led in touchdowns at 23. To this day, his margin of victory is still the biggest in Heisman history.
Eddie George – 1995
Eddie George played well for the Ohio State Buckeyes in his junior year, but he did an even better job in his senior year. He led the team to a great 11-0 start and the National Championship Game. He dominated his opponents and had at least a hundred yards in each game. The only exception was the opener since his coach subbed him out. The reason behind this move was that he only scored 38-6.
Ricky Williams – 1998
In 1997, Ricky Williams caught the eye of the nation. If Charles Woodson and Peyton Manning were not running that year, we are sure that Ricky Williams would have brought it home. It was a good thing that he got his chance the following year. His touches went up from 279 to 361 within that span of time as well. That season, he broke the rushing record in the FBS with 6,083 yards. No one could stop talking about his play. He came through, resisted a tackle, and ran his way to a 60-yard touchdown.
Tony Dorsett – 1976
Even though Tony Dorsett had a great run in 1975, his team’s record was not quite up to par at 8-4. He responded by taking Pittsburgh to the National Championship the following season! Aside from that, he did great with his personal record. He led in carries at 370, as well as rushing yards with 2,150 yards. The team kicked off the season with a road win against Notre Dame, in which Dorsett brought his first carry 61 yards. That year ended with a victory at the National Championship!
Reggie Bush – 2005 *
We added an asterisk to his name since the NCAA vacated his Heisman trophy due to USC’s rule violations. Despite this, Reggie Bush had an excellent college career. His play in 2005 had been the best of them all. A lot of people said that it was the greatest of the new millennium. The roundabout running master became a huge star out in Los Angeles. It was difficult to even compete with him. He led the nation with a record of 8.7 yards a carry, which made him an automatic first down. He was able to achieve 16 rushing touchdowns and 1,740 yards.
Herschel Walker – 1982
While Herschel Walker had a spectacular year in 1981, it was overshadowed by Marcus Allen’s success. After graduating from college, he was able to win the award the following year. He broke his thumb, but this did not slow him down at all. He was able to improve his yards per attempt while taking fewer carries than the previous year. The Bulldogs dominated the SEC play and had 11-0 before they lost in the Sugar Bowl. He had 1,752 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 335 carries. How impressive is that?!
Barry Sanders – 1988
You should not trust us if we did not include Barry Sanders to the list. His Heisman year is never going to be replicated. A lot of younger folks can only wish that they could get anywhere near it. He led the country with 37 touchdowns and set an FBS rushing yard record with his 2,428 yards. Bowl stats now count, so teams play anywhere from 12 to 15. Even so, no one has beaten his 11-game totals just yet.
Kyler Murray – 2018
To bring home the 2018 Heisman Trophy, Kyler Murray had to defeat the stiff competition. The race was very close between him and Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama, who finished that season with an efficiency rating of 202.3. It was a close call, but Murray set the record with his rating of 205.72. He grew even more popular after throwing 40 touchdowns and running for 11. At the end of the year, he had 4,053 passing yards and 892 rushing yards. With stats like those, it is easy to assume a shoo-in for a first-round draft pick. However, he ended up signing a contract with the Oakland A’s of the MLB instead.
Baker Mayfield – 2017
Before Kyle Murray, Baker Mayfield had been the one busy breaking efficiency records. Before he won the 2017 Heisman Trophy, the Cleveland Browns starting QB set a record of 203.76. He scored 41 touchdowns and only gave up five interceptions. Aside from that, he led Oklahoma to its third consecutive Big 12 title and completed 71 percent of his passes. We are not surprised to hear that the Browns went for him as the first overall pick.
Howard Cassady – 1955
We doubt that you remember his name. This is a huge shame. Back in the day, Howard Cassady was among the greatest college running backs. He trounced the competition, rushed for 958 yards, and scored 15 touchdowns in his Heisman year. As a defensive back for Ohio State, he was chosen as an All-American. The bruising back made defeating the enemy look easy! His alma mater also brought home the Big Ten title that year. Michigan did not even stand a chance.
Earl Campbell – 1977
Well, what can we say about one of the few winners who also landed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Let us see. During his Heisman year, Earl Campbell rushed for more than 1,700 yards and made 18 touchdowns. If this was not enough to impress you, we hope you know he caught five passes for 111 yards and a touchdown. When he entered the NFL, he did not disappoint! He bagged the Most Valuable Player award once and got voted to five Pro Bowls.
Derrick Henry – 2015
This guy was quite the dark horse. No one was familiar with his name at the beginning of the college year. Halfway through the season, he remained pretty unknown. Derrick Henry only piqued the interest of viewers when he rushed for nearly 2,000 yards! The big game was against LSU, which had Heisman candidate Leonard Fournette. He outdid the crowd favorite and ended the day with three touchdowns and 210 yards. After this, everyone figured out who the greatest running back in the NCAA was.
Bo Jackson – 1985
He had the opportunity to be the best athlete in history. A lot of analysts think that Bo Jackson was the greatest college player ever. He rushed with passion and hit defenders with ease. His college career had been going very well, so the Heisman Trophy was simply the icing on the cake. After he left college, he played both in the NFL and the MLB. Unfortunately, he was simply too fast for his own good. He blew out his hop during a routine run. It was truly tragic that this put an end to his career as a pro athlete.
Lamar Jackson – 2016
Even though he was among the most underrated QBs in college football, Lamar Jackson brought home the Heisman Trophy. He was quite the revelation. A lot of analysts thought that he would have been a better wide receiver than in under center. At any rate, he proved everyone wrong by refusing to change positions when he went pro. This did not affect his draft stock, so the Ravens got him as a first-round pick out of Louisville. Halfway through his rookie season in the NFL, he replaced Joe Flacco as the starter.
Tim Brown – 1987
In the late ‘80s, Tim Brown deserves credit for putting Notre Dame on the college football map once more. This iconic wide receiver played for lower-end teams. However, he helped the school by attracting promising high school football players. We are not surprised to hear how big he got in the NFL. During his time with the Oakland Raiders, he did not have the most talented QBs on his side. Despite this, he made the most out of what he got. Towards the end of his career, Brown got to team up with Jerry Rice.