A lot has changed about college football in the 21st century, but the Heisman Trophy remains the same. The Heisman is still the most prestigious award in the sport and the ultimate goal of every player who steps on the field. Winning the Heisman remains a great honor for the yearly recipient, although not all Heisman winners are created equal.
Some who win the award stand out among others and those players deserve a little extra recognition. With that in mind, here is our list of the top five Heisman winners since the year 2000.
5. Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Jackson was a unique Heisman winner because he didn’t play for a national power and his team wasn’t in the running for a national championship. However, there’s no doubt that he took Louisville to another level. When the Cardinals played eventual national champion Clemson that year, Jackson led the Louisville offense to nearly 600 yards of total offense in a close 42-36 loss. When Jackson left Louisville two years later, the Cardinals went 2-10, which tells you everything you need to know about how much Jackson elevated the Louisville program.
Of course, if you just watched Jackson play that year, you would have likely seen a blur. If you thought he ran circles around NFL defenses during his MVP season in 2019, it was even worse for college defenses in 2016. Between passing and rushing, Jackson totaled over 5,000 yards in and 51 touchdowns in 13 games. He was a one-man wrecking crew, which is exactly what a Heisman winner should be.
4. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
In 2018, Murray was given the unenviable task of filling the shoes of a Heisman winner after Baker Mayfield won the award the previous year. But Murray not only matched but exceeded what Mayfield did the previous year. Before that season, a bulk of his playing experience had come at Texas A&M in 2015 when he threw more interceptions than touchdowns. However, it didn’t take Murray long to prove that he was a dynamic play-maker and clearly the best player in the country.
Murray’s athleticism is what made him stand out from the pack. He rushed for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging better than seven yards per carry. But Murray also showcased the arm strength and accuracy of a top-flight quarterback. He completed 69% of his passes, compiling over 4,300 passing yards and 42 touchdowns while carrying the Sooners back to the College Football Playoff. His performance was so captivating that he gave up his promising baseball career to focus on football, ultimately becoming the top overall pick in the NFL Draft.
3. Joe Burrow, LSU
Burrow’s Heisman campaign came out of nowhere. He put up aggressively mediocre stats as the LSU quarterback in 2018 and was nowhere near NFL draft boards or the Heisman conversation at the start of the season. However, it only took him a few games to emerge as a legitimate Heisman contender. From Game 1, Burrow was a completely different player than he was the previous season, catching the whole country off guard and carrying the Tigers all the way to a national championship.
Over the course of LSU’s 15-0 season, Burrow set the FBS single-season records with 60 touchdown passes and 65 total touchdowns. Not only did he rack up over 5,600 passing yards but he averaged nearly 11 yards per attempt while also completing 76% of his passes. Burrow was both unbelievably accurate and a threat to push the ball downfield. In the end, the numbers may not even do justice to the kind of season he had and how much Burrow dominated college football in 2019.
2. Tim Tebow, Florida
After being a part-time player when Florida won the national championship during his freshman season, Tebow stepped into the starting role as a sophomore in 2007 and put together one of the finest seasons in college football history. Questions about his abilities as a passer and whether he could handle the duties of a full-time quarterback lingered. But Tebow found emphatic answers to those questions while sticking to what he did best, which was running the ball.
Not only did Tebow pass for over 3,200 yards and 32 touchdown passes, but he limited himself to just six interceptions and was second in the country in passer rating at the end of the season. At the same time, he set SEC records with 23 rushing touchdowns and 55 total touchdowns in a season. Tebow was also the first player in FBS history to have at least 20 passing and 20 rushing touchdowns in the same season. While he remains one of the most distinguished players in college football history, his Heisman campaign in 2007 stands out as one of the best seasons by an individual in college football history.
1. Cam Newton, Auburn
After he won a national championship in junior college, more people should have seen this coming. However, he still took a few weeks for people to realize what an anomaly and what an absolute force Newton was in 2010. Few players in college football history have had the combination of size, speed, and athleticism that Newton possesses, and none of them have also had the arm talent to play quarterback. He was a freak of nature and was unstoppable for virtually the entire season.
While his passing totals were somewhat modest, Newton still threw 30 touchdown passes while averaging over 10 yards per attempt. On the ground, Newton couldn’t be contained, gaining 5.6 yards per carry and finding the end zone 20 times. He was the third player behind Tebow and Colin Kaepernick to have 20 or more touchdowns passing and rushing. With over 1,400 rushing yards, he was the second quarterback in SEC history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season and the first to also throw for more than 2,000 yards in the same season. Most importantly, he carried Auburn to a national championship. If we’re being honest, there are at least a couple of teams that would have won the national title that year if Newton was their quarterback. That’s how dominant of a figure he was during the 2010 season.