- Don't overthink this one. Even if his last two games were substandard, the Heisman Trophy should unquestionably go to Lamar Jackson.
This is the fifth 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, Deshaun Watson, Dede Westbrook and Baker Mayfield.
It seems like it’s human nature to do this: We declare a competition over only to talk ourselves into there being a late change that makes the race up for grabs again. It keeps things fun and adds late drama, even if it’s not grounded in reality.
You heard it with the College Football Playoff race. Everyone knew that if Clemson and Washington won their conference championship games, they’d stay in the playoff field, and the Big Ten title game wouldn’t matter. Then, that exact situation happens, and suddenly the talk focuses on whether Penn State should leapfrog one of the teams to get into the top four.
The Nittany Lions didn’t. The sage common wisdom prevailed. Expect the same in the Heisman Trophy race.
From late October through mid-November, the general consensus was that Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson had the trophy all but locked up. He’d have to choke big time while someone else played to perfection to have a chance. Now, with the regular season over, there’s a desire to inject more suspense so we’re waiting on the edge of our seats when the winner is revealed Saturday night.
But this is still unquestionably Jackson’s award. It’s true he didn’t finish on the highest note, and it’s true Clemson’s Deshaun Watson played some of his best games of the season down the stretch. But the Heisman doesn’t award who’s playing the best right now, and Jackson was clearly still the best over the course of the season.
He racked up nearly 5,000 yards of offense with remarkable efficiency, gaining 8.9 yards per pass attempt and 6.6 yards per rush. His 51 touchdowns put him even with or ahead of all but 38 teams.
Beyond the numbers, he took over games and made unbelievable plays in the ways we expect Heisman winners to do so. He was so good in fact that he often hurt his own campaign by building too large of a lead too quickly, allowing Louisville to take him out early.
But Jackson was clutch, too. Remember his game-winning pass against Virginia? Perfectly floated in to Jaylen Smith, he spared the Cardinals an embarrassing loss to the Cavaliers.
Anyone pretending Jackson isn’t the clear winner will fixate on his last two games, but let’s take a closer look. On the surface, his numbers in Louisville’s 36–10 defeat to Houston look pretty mediocre: 211 yards passing, 33 yards rushing and one touchdown. But the Cougars sacked Jackson 11 times as they repeatedly sliced through and around a dreadful offensive line. If anything, that makes Jackson’s season-long stats even more impressive; he did it behind a shaky and at times dreadful line.
As for the loss to Kentucky the next week, it’s important to remember that amid Jackson’s four turnovers (the final one coming on a last-second desperation heave), he also compiled 281 yards passing, 171 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Plus any discussion of turnovers has to consider that Jackson’s 16 this season are equal to Watson’s total.
Ultimately, these stats from ESPN ACC reporter David Hale put to rest just about any argument against Jackson’s case:
Jackson was better against good defenses, he was better in close games and he was better when he was at neither his best or his worst.
So don’t overthink this one. You’ve known it all along. No matter what you thought of Jackson’s final two performances, his complete season was simply extraordinary. He deserves to be rewarded for that.