The Heisman Trophy is a quarterback's award -- or at least that's been the case over the past 20 years. Since 2000, quarterbacks have won the Heisman 17 times. A lot of that can be attributed toward how the game is wired as football now is geared to be more offense-friendly. Stats are inflating and quarterbacks, especially the dual-threat types, reap these benefits the most since they touch the ball on every play.
This year's Heisman race is quarterback-heavy again. Alabama's Mac Jones, Florida's Kyle Trask, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State's Justin Fields could theoretically make up the entire finalist group. As of this writing, Jones is the odds-on favorite, according to William Hill Sportsbook, though that could certainly change in the next couple of weeks.
That doesn't leave a lot of room for non-quarterbacks -- which is a shame because 2020 has produced some truly great Heisman-caliber players at other positions. With voters likely casting their ballots full of quarterbacks, now seems like a good time to shine a spotlight on those other players dominating at other positions. There aren't many -- to be a serious Heisman contender, you have to be the best of the best at your position -- but they are very much worth the consideration of the voters.
Alabama WR DeVonta Smith
Season stats: 80 catches, 1,305 yards, 15 TDs
Smith is the most obvious non-QB choice, to the point where it's fashionable to include him, but you can't say he hasn't earned it. He leads the nation in yards receiving and is tied for first in touchdowns. That's good enough by itself, though his season becomes even more impressive when you dig a little deeper. Per Pro Football Focus, 75% of Smith's 80 catches have gone for either a first down or a touchdown. That's the best percentage of any receiver with his level of production. The only receiver to compare is Jonathan Adams Jr. from Arkansas State (73.4% on 79 catches). Even with all his production, Smith has had just two drops on the season. His separation is insane given that he he's been pressed at the line of scrimmage on about 83% of his routes.
Few non-quarterbacks can make the Heisman case that they're the best or most valuable player on their team. Smith can. He accounts for about 40% of the catches and yards in Alabama's top-five passing offense by himself, and he's accounted for 53% of the touchdowns. He's taken on an even bigger role since Jaylen Waddle's midseason injury against Tennessee. Smith is averaging 187 yards per game since Waddle's injury -- he was averaging 111 yards per game before -- and 11 of his 15 touchdowns have come in the past four games, during which time he's also notched two 200-yard games.
Pound for pound, Smith is probably the most impactful player in college football. He has an argument to be the best wideout in Alabama history. Jones has a good chance of winning the Heisman, but if I had a vote, I'd give it to Smith.
Florida TE Kyle Pitts
Season stats: 36 catches, 641 yards, 11 TDs
Like Smith, Pitts' name comes up frequently among the non-QB Heisman contenders, and with good reason. He has been TE1 with a bullet in 2020 as such a rare athlete for the position. With a massive catch radius, a big body and breakaway speed, he's almost impossible to cover. Now for the numbers. Pitts has 11 touchdowns in just 26 quarters of play. That scoring frequency is matched by few others. In fact, he scores or converts for a first down on 91.7% of his receptions, which is second nationally and about 10% more frequently than the next leading comparable receiver. When Pitts is on the field, he's going to make plays.
Now for the downsides. The case for Pitts isn't as clear-cut as Smith for a few reasons. He doesn't have the raw numbers Smith does, though for what it's worth, he missed two games with injury. Florida's offense also spreads the ball around more in its passing game. The sheer number of options is a luxury for Trask, but it doesn't help Pitts' Heisman case. In fact, Pitts isn't even the leading wideout on his own team (Kadarius Toney is). But if the consideration is game impact, Pitts is an obvious choice.
Season stats: 51 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 4 INTs, 2 pick-sixes
Collins' claim to Heisman fame was his game-sealing pick-six against Tulane in November. That will be the first highlight on his reel if he's named a finalist. It's worth pointing out, though, that Collins also sealed a win against SMU the week before. The redshirt junior has four picks on the season, and he's one of just three players to record two pick-sixes. What separates Collins is his versatility. He's a playmaker in pass defense and he can put pressure in the backfield. His 11.5 tackles for loss already rank in the top 25, but keep in mind that Tulsa has only played seven games (their upcoming game against Cincinnati was canceled due to COVID-19). In fact, few teams have been dealt more scheduling blows due to the coronavirus than the Golden Hurricane. Only Iowa's Daviyon Nixon has more TFLs through seven games.
As noted in a profile by Chris Vannini of The Athletic, "Collins is the only player in the country to earn Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week (vs. Tulane), Chuck Bednarik Defensive Player of the Week (vs. Oklahoma State) and Bronko Nagurski Defensive Player of the Week (vs. SMU) national honors in three different weeks this season."
Being a defensive Heisman candidate typically requires a little more engineering. Many times, that means a coach will sparingly use them on offense to try and fluff up some numbers. But how Collins affects the game on defense alone speaks for itself.
Season stats: 222 carries, 1,357 yards, 6.11 YPC, 17 TDs
Iowa State's recipe for making its first Big 12 Championship Game has been a steady dose of Hall while leaning on its defense. In the past few weeks, however, quarterback Brock Purdy has played much better and the passing game has come together. Purdy has completed 77% of his passes for nearly 800 yards and seven TDs over the last three games. Purdy is now playing like the underrated signal-caller whom Cyclones fans have been clamoring.
But make no mistake, Hall is the bread and butter -- the identity -- of Iowa State's offense. He is having the most productive season of any back. His 1,357 yards leads the FBS and even at 222 carries, second nationally, he's averaging more than 6 yards a touch. He has rushed for first downs on 28% of his touches -- a solid number given his workload.
Being a receiving threat is also an important part of a running back's game. While Hall did not have big receiving numbers for most of the season, he hauled in three catches for 56 yards and a score in a decisive 42-6 win over West Virginia. His usage against the Big 12's best defense -- yes, Big 12 teams played defense in 2020 -- showed that even good game plans can't fully limit him.