These 5 Heisman winning QBs couldn’t handle the beast called the NFL
It’s no surprise to anyone that the NFL is an entirely different animal than the NCAA. Every player in the NFL can confirm that. Some players, like Charles Woodson, who won the Heisman trophy in 1997 with Michigan became an extremely successful NFL star. He had a career 65 interceptions, which is tied 5th on the NFL’s all-time list. Eleven of those were pick sixes, just one shy of the NFL record.
Then you have a player like Barry Sanders, who won the Heisman with Oklahoma State in 1988. Sanders is a 10-time pro bowler, four-time NFL rushing yard leader and 2004 NFL Hall of Fame inductee. Unfortunately, not every Heisman winner leaves their mark in the NFL. Many Heisman trophy winners recently have been flops in the NFL who don’t last more than five seasons.
Here are 5 Heisman winners who have turned a star college career into a mess of an NFL one. These players didn’t have what it took to adapt to the NFL and its pace. Every year there are players who just don’t what have it takes to make it and here are five of them.
- QB Matt Leinart
Former USC quarterback who took the Heisman in 2004 played on three different teams over seven career seasons. Over his tenure in the NFL, he played on the Arizona Cardinals for four seasons, the Houston Texans for two and the Oakland Raiders for one. He has a career 33 games started, and only four of those seven seasons he played in did he have more than four starts in a season. Never surpassing 11 TDs in a season, which was his first year, Leinart threw a total of 15 career touchdowns, and 21 interceptions. In 2010, Leinart didn’t even start a game for the Houston Texans. He only played in four games, of his last three seasons in the NFL.
In college, Leinart never threw less than 3,200 yards in a season, or had any fewer than 28 touchdowns. He has a career passer rating of 159.5 in his three years of starting at USC. He had 98 total touchdowns, and only 23 interceptions. He was a dominating QB in college, but he just couldn’t take that step up into the NFL to survive.
- QB Robert Griffin III
The Washington Redskins dealt out four high valued draft picks to move up four spots in the 2012 NFL draft to select Robert Griffin III. In the beginning, that trade paid off as Griffin led the Redskins to the top of the NFC East and their first playoff game in five years. Then, Griffin became plagued by injury. A late season knee injury was damaged even further in the playoff loss to the Seahawks. In 2015, he didn’t play a single snap as Washington turned the reigns over to Kirk Cousins. After the 2015 season, the Redskins released RGIII and he signed with the Cleveland Browns. In week one, he suffered a broken bone in his non-throwing shoulder.
He started a career 42 games, with 8,983 yards but also rushed for 1,670 yards. He had a total of 52 touchdowns (42 passing, 10 rushing) and 26 interceptions. His best season was 2012 where he had 27 total touchdowns, 4,015 total yards and only 5 interceptions. Unfortunately, that is just about where the tracks ended for the scrambling quarterback. He didn’t start a single game in 2015 and only started five in 2016 with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Griffin III had a totally different story in college. At Baylor, RGIII won the 2011 Heisman trophy with 37 touchdowns, 4,293 yards and only six interceptions. He had a passer rating of 189.5. He threw a career 10,366 yards in four seasons and 41 games. He played in only one game less than his NFL career and the production difference is a landslide. March 10, 2017 RGIII was released from the Browns. This appears to be the end of RGIII which finishes off another Heisman star who couldn’t survive.
- QB Tim Tebow
Tim Tebow is a media magnet. The man is now in the New York Mets farm system playing baseball. He isn’t doing awful either. Sadly, his NFL career was just that. Tebow was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the 2010 draft. His career has been less than impressive where he only played three seasons. In that time, Tebow recorded 3,411 yards in 35 games played. He had 29 touchdowns and 9 interceptions which isn’t a terrible ratio by any means. Regrettably, he only had a career 47.9 completion percentage. There was one memorable moment in the 2011 season where he had a game winning touchdown pass for the Broncos.
Through four years at Florida, Tebow racked up 9,285 passing yards with 88 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He was a sophomore Heisman winner in 2007 with a passer rating of 172.5, six interceptions, 3,286 passing yards, 895 rushing and 55 touchdowns combined. Unluckily his accuracy issues caught up with him in the NFL that didn’t allow him to remain a valuable asset to any team.
- QB Johnny Manziel
A 2012 Heisman winner from Texas A&M, Manziel was drafted by the Browns who traded up to the No. 22 spot in the first round of the 2014 draft to select him. There was a buzz of excitement that came from the Browns drafting him. There was a belief that he would be what the team needed to start the process of reaching a winning record and more. Unfortunately, his off field actions caused an unnecessary amount of drama. Saying Johnny was a party boy would be an understatement. He was extremely open about it on social media as well.
Manziel played two seasons where he played in 14 games where he threw for 1,675 yards, and had seven touchdowns. His 2015 seasons was his only successful one where he threw 1,500 of the 1,675 yards and had his only seven touchdowns. In five games during the 2014 season, he had 18 completions with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
After a stellar freshman year including 3,706 passing yards, another 1,410 rushing yards with a total of 47 touchdowns and a passer rating of 155.3 Manziel won the Heisman trophy. He had another 4,114 passing yards with 759 rushing yards in 2013. You can see that he switched to throwing more often than running. He had 37 passing TDs and only 9 rushing. After his sophomore year, he elected to enter the draft.
That decision to participate in the draft as a sophomore could’ve been the thing that ruined his chance at an NFL career. He entered the NFL as a starting QB coming out of his sophomore year in college, leaving him vastly under experienced. He also entered with a big attitude from that as well. His downfall was all the partying he did.
In March 2016, Manziel was released from the Browns as he couldn’t control his off field antics and partying. Now, Manziel just had a workout with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the CFL. The team decided against signing him as they were convinced he wasn’t ready to resume his professional career. The team was hoping he’d be able to put his past behind him and return to his college playing ability. It was a resounding no.
- Troy Smith
Yes, the Ohio State QB that no one has heard the name of in years is obviously on this list. The 2006 Heisman winner who had 2,542 passing yards and another 204 rushing was a dictating player on the field. He had 31 touchdowns his Heisman winning year and only six interceptions. His college career was never outstanding stats wise, but the trophy was his regardless. Mistakenly for him though, the NFL is a force to be reckoned with.
Smith played from 2007 to 2010 never starting more than 6 games in a season. In 20 total games over the four years, he threw only 1,734 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions. For 16 games in a season, those aren’t even good numbers. His highest year for yardage was 2010 where he threw for 1,176 yards. There were two seasons, (4 games played in both) where he threw 82 yards in 2008 and only 24 yards in 2009. Troy Smith was a played that never really even made it to the NFL so it’s easy to put him as the number one flop for Heisman winners in the NFL.
With another year, comes another round of rookies. This past year’s Heisman winner isn’t even in the NFL this year. Quarterback Lamar Jackson out of Louisville became the youngest player to win the award. He is a 19-year-old sophomore. He beat out now Texans QB DeShaun Watson and Browns LB Jabrill Peppers. Heisman trophy winners that are still currently successful include Carson Palmer (2002), Cam Newton (2010), Jameis Winston, who is coming into a huge projected year. As we watch these college players attempt to acclimate themselves, we will see some thrive and some fail.
Who will be next? Who do you think belongs on this list?