My 2017 Heisman Trophy ballot: Louisville QB Lamar Jackson deserved No. 2
Explaining my 2017 Heisman Trophy ballot and Jackson's tremendous season
Earlier this week, I cast my vote for the 2017 Heisman Trophy, and in all sincerity, I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around being able to do so. It's an award I held in such high esteem while growing up as a college football fan, and the idea that I'd one day be voting for the award never crossed my mind.
The original dream was winning the Heisman, but I'll admit just being a voter is still pretty cool.
It's also a responsibility I take seriously, so as I did last year when I cast my ballot for the first time, I want to share my reasoning behind the way I voted publicly. I know not everyone will agree with my choices, but I want to share my thought process so at least those who disagree can see where I was coming from with my choices.
1. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
This didn't take a lot of thought to be honest. Every season sees potential Heisman winners come and go as the hype is built around them early, and so often we see them falter at key moments of the season. That never happened with Mayfield this year. In fact, it seemed Mayfield saved his best performances for the games that mattered the most. In Oklahoma's biggest games of the season, Mayfield was magnificent. In meetings with Ohio State, Texas, Oklahoma State and two with TCU, Mayfield threw for 1,862 yards, 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions while completing 68.24 percent of his passes. That's an average of 372.4 yards and 3.4 touchdowns per game in Oklahoma's biggest games.
It's those kinds of performances that cement a Heisman season, and that's what Mayfield had in 2017. Some may hold the flag-planting incident in Columbus or the crotch grab in Lawrence against him. Not me. I'll gladly take that kind of fiery competitor on my team anytime, especially when he performs the way Mayfield does so consistently. Plus, whether you consider those moments to be in good taste or poor, nobody was hurt by them, so I can't consider them to be a big deal.
2. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Barring some catastrophic finish to the season, I'd known Mayfield was going to be my first-place vote for a month, so I ended up putting a lot more thought into second and third place this season. While there were plenty of candidates for the spots (and I'll get to most of them), Jackson was destined for a place on my ballot. He made his way on in every scenario with every comparison to other players.
In the end, the comparison that clinched the spot for him was when I compared Lamar to himself. In 2016 (not including Louisville's bowl game), Jackson won the Heisman Trophy when he passed for 3,389 yards, rushed for 1,538 yards and finished the season with 51 total touchdowns. In 2017, Jackson passed for 3,489 yards, rushed for 1,443 yards and finished with 42 total touchdowns.
As you can see, the touchdown totals dropped, but the yardage totals were nearly identical. It was another remarkable season from an exceptional player with the only difference being that this year there was another player more deserving of my first-place vote.
3. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford
Third place was far and away the most challenging place on my ballot to fill out. I wouldn't mind having the option to vote for five players, but we only get three spots, and in the end I chose Love. What it ultimately boiled down to for me was Love's consistency. It wasn't just that he had a strong performance all season long, it's that he was reliable and posted those numbers every week.
Love missed Stanford's game against Oregon State due to an ankle injury, and the week after he had his worst performance of the season, rushing for 69 yards on 16 carries with that sprained ankle. Love never rushed for fewer than 100 yards in any of the other 11 games he played this season. In fact, in the five games Love played after the ankle injury, while still dealing with it (against four ranked opponents, no less), Love averaged 117.2 yards and 1.2 touchdowns per game. Putting up numbers like that while dealing with a high-ankle sprain that was so bad you'd see him gingerly limping to the sideline after carries was remarkable. By putting Love on my ballot, I felt I was not only rewarding his performance and consistency but his grit as well. It says a lot about his character that he was willing to deal with that pain to help his team achieve its goals.
Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State: Penny finished the season with more yards per game and touchdowns than Love did, becoming the second consecutive San Diego State running back to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. What ultimately kept him off my ballot was that his two worst games of the year game in San Diego State's two losses. He averaged only 3.39 yards per carry against Boise State and Fresno State.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: Barkley received all the hype early in the year -- and for good reason. He finished the season second in all-purpose yards behind Penny, but he was far more versatile as he was a real threat in the passing game. Much like Penny, though, Barkley didn't have the impact in Penn State's biggest games. He opened the Ohio State game with a kick return for a touchdown, which was terrific. After that, he was a non-factor in the game. In fact, in November, Barkley averaged 126 all-purpose yards per game after averaging 206.25 all-purpose yards in Penn State's first eight games. It was still an outstanding season, but it wasn't good enough for one of my top three spots.
James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State: Washington finished the season with more receiving yards than anyone else in the country, averaging a ridiculous 20.62 yards per catch. Still, in the current era, where passing attacks are so prevalent, it's hard for receivers to gain Heisman attention without truly eye-popping numbers.
Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia: I gave serious consideration to Smith because I want a true defensive player to win the Heisman one day, but I couldn't justify putting him on my ballot ahead of the other names on this list, even if he did have a fantastic season for the Bulldogs.
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