|Clemson WR Sammy Watkins was suspended two games as a result of a drug-related arrest in May. (US Presswire)|
Clemson's Sammy Watkins had such a brilliant freshman season, it led some pundits to tab him as a potential dark horse Heisman candidate in 2012.
While it's rare for a wide receiver to figure prominently in the Heisman race, Watkins has all the prerequisites required to mount a serious run from the position. Not only is he (arguably) the best wide out in the country heading into the season, he's also an all-purpose dynamo, finishing fourth nationally in that category last year with 2,253 total yards.
One general rule to take into account when it comes to evaluating the Heisman race is that the closer a player is to the ball when it is snapped, the better his chances of having an impact on a game. Quarterbacks touch the ball on every play from scrimmage and thus have more control over their playmaking destiny. If a receiver is covered, he can still make something happen. Running backs aren't far behind in that respect, though they are usually dependent upon a handoff from the quarterback and the effectiveness of the big uglies up front. Not surprisingly, quarterbacks and running backs have comprised the vast bulk of Heisman winners and that's why Heismandment No. 1 is so relevant.
For a receiver to make a play, however, a lot more has to happen by way of execution. Not only must the quarterback deliver the ball through the air properly and accurately, the receiver must work his way around coverage just to have a chance to catch it. Both players must be on the same page. It is only after the ball is secured that the receiver gets his chance to make a play. Even the best wide outs, however, can be shut down by determined defenses who want to prevent them from touching the ball.
This is why we've never seen a pure wide receiver win the Heisman and why we probably never will. Larry Fitzgerald came the closest in 2003, finishing second to Jason White, but subsequent monster seasons by the likes of Michael Crabtree and Justin Blackmon made little headway with Heisman voters.
Only receivers who double as multi-purpose threats have a chance to actually win the Heisman. Tim Brown probably would not have won in 1987 if not for his all-around brilliance, not to mention a couple dazzling punt returns early in the season against Michigan State. Desmond Howard's classic stiff arm pose following a return of an Ohio State punt in 1991 all-but clinched his award.
Watkins had the potential to follow in their footsteps. He was dominant as a receiver, catching 83 passes for 1,225 yards and 12 touchdowns last year, but he also rushed for 231 yards and produced 826 yards and a touchdown on 33 kick returns. His kickoff return for a touchdown in Clemson's dramatic comeback win over Maryland was one of the highlights of his freshman season.
In other words, all the pieces were in place for a Biltenikoff run and a shot at the Heisman.
But a May arrest on drug charges and subsequent suspension for the first two games of the season changes all that. Even though Watkins can still rebound to have a fine year statistically, it's almost impossible to miss two games and still win the Heisman (much less the Biletnikoff).
Heisman winners in the past have missed games, or parts of games, due to injury, but none of them have been suspended for the first two contests. Not only will Watkins suffer in the stats department, he'll carry the stigma of his arrest and suspension with him all season. It will take a full year for voters to expunge his transgressions from their memories.
And, in the end, that's why Watkins will be the most prominent name missing from the CBSSports.com 2012 preseason Heisman Watch.
But there's always next year.