Thursday December 8th, 2016

This is the third in a series of posts arguing why each of the five Heisman Trophy finalists deserves the award. For more, here is SI's case for Jabrill Peppers and Deshaun Watson.

For starters: Dede Westbrook is not going to win the Heisman. It’ll be shocking if he gets a first place vote. The last wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy was Desmond Howard in 1991 (in large part because of his special teams play) and the last finalist was Amari Cooper in 2014. Cooper finished a distant third, and Westbrook’s stats are inferior to his. The math is easy. Wide receivers almost never win (three in 79 years) and Westbrook had an outstanding, but not transcendent season for a wide receiver. He may lose credibility in the eyes of some voters because he was only one cog of one of college football’s top offenses with a fellow Heisman finalist (quarterback Baker Mayfield) and two of the Big 12’s best running backs (Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon).

As a result, the arguments for rewarding Westbrook with college football’s most hallowed individual award are ultimately philosophical and narrow. Those shouldn’t preclude him receiving a few first-place votes.

College Football
Heisman Watch: Ranking the finalists

Voters did well to choose Westbrook and Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers in the non quarterback-running-back division. The award is designed to go to the best player in college football, and if you’re looking for a high-usage, durable one who shredded opposing defenses and was central to the success of an elite offense, then Westbrook is your guy. Mayfield openly stumped for his best receiver to win after the Sooners beat Oklahoma State in the teams’ season finale because “Dede is the best player in college football.” Too often the award goes to the most important player on the most important team instead of the best individual talent. Derrick Henry was a great Alabama running back, but his victory last year over Deshaun Watson, Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook—all more deserving individual candidates—exemplified this discrepancy.

 

After a quiet first three games of the season, Westbrook became the central playmaker on Oklahoma’s 11th-ranked passing offense. Outside of a four-catch, 88-yard performance against Baylor (two of which were touchdowns), Westbrook exceeded 100 yards receiving and caught at least one touchdown in every conference game. Against the Cowboys in the Bedlam rivalry, he caught four passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns and juked this poor defender out of his knickers, all in one half, before leaving with the game with a concussion. His mid-October stretch (four games, 35 receptions, 776 yards, 10 touchdowns) was the most spectacular individual performance of any of the candidates all season. No sane voter will argue that Westbrook influences defensive gameplanning more than Lamar Jackson or Deshaun Watson, but he was the single-most influential playmaker in the Sooners’ attack.

College Football
SI.com's annual People's Heisman poll: Cast your Heisman ballot

College football thrives off of the electricity of individual playmakers, and Westbrook spent all season shedding double teams and piling up yards after the catch to help propel Oklahoma to its nine-game winning streak. When he has the ball, his shiftiness and speed make him one of the most dangerous open-field threats in the nation. His effectiveness is predicated less on the design of the offense (something that aids Jackson) as it is his own individual skillset. He’s damn near impossible to stop in single coverage, he rarely drops the ball, and he’s one of the nation’s most difficult players to tackle.

Break up the quarterback-running back bias of the award and hand it to a guy whose energy and individual talent pulsated every time he was on the field. Dede Westbrook for Heisman, even if it’s just a single first-place vote.  

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