In recent years, the Heisman Trophy has become almost exclusively an award given to quarterbacks. But it wasn’t always like that and it doesn’t always have to be that way. Alabama wide receiver Devonta Smith proved that by winning the 2020 Heisman Trophy, beating out a slew of good but not great quarterbacks. Of course, in an age when a quarterback will win the Heisman most years, we thought we’d take a look at the best non-quarterbacks to win the Heisman.
Herschel Walker (1982)
Walker put up slightly better numbers the previous year but was denied the Heisman by Marcus Allen. However, he might have been more impressive in 1982, playing the early part of the season with a cast on his hand because of a broken thumb.
Once the cast came off, Walker took things to a new level, finishing the campaign with over 1,700 yards and 16 touchdowns while leading Georgia to an SEC title.
Desmond Howard (1991)
Serving as both a wide receiver and a returner, Howard had a legendary 1991 season. He had a few more receiving yards the previous year, but during the 1991 campaign, Howard had 19 receiving touchdowns, not to mention two rushing scores, one on a kickoff return, and one on a punt return.
He still owns one of the most lopsided Heisman votes in the history of the award, blowing the competition away.
Tony Dorsett (1976)
We knew that Dorsett was something special when he became Pitt’s all-time leading rusher as a sophomore. But he saved his best for his senior season, rushing for 2,150 yards and 22 touchdowns, averaging nearly 180 yards per game.
Plus, Dorsett showed up in the biggest games, rushing for 224 yards in the season finale against Penn State and then 202 yards against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to lead Pitt to a national championship.
Marcus Allen (1981)
Allen was something special in 1980, gaining over 1,500 yards. But he was somehow better in 1981, rushing for 2,342 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Along the way, he set over a dozen NCAA records, including five straight games with at least 200 rushing yards. As mentioned, Walker made a worthy run at the Heisman, but in the end, Allen’s performance that year was too good to ignore.
Barry Sanders (1988)
Sanders still owns what might be the most impressive Heisman season of all time. After spending two seasons as a backup, he exploded for 2,850 rushing yards, averaging 7.6 yards per carry and 237.5 yards per game.
He also set the NCAA record with 42 rushing touchdowns, not to mention two more as a receiver. For anyone lucky enough to witness it, Sanders had a phenomenal season that will likely never be matched.