- As quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence dominate the preseason hype, don't look past these potential Heisman contenders.
Tua or Trevor? That's been a key question of this college football offseason, as fans eagerly await the return of the wildly talented quarterbacks who squared off in January's national championship game. Likewise, Tagovailoa and Lawrence are the clear preseason favorites to win the 2019 Heisman Trophy, after the former was narrowly usurped by Oklahoma's Kyler Murray late last season and the latter shined while leading Clemson to a title as a true freshman. But the Heisman race can be a tricky thing to predict in the summer, with unexpected top candidates emerging once the games start seemingly every year.
So we asked our writers: entering the 2019 season, who's your Heisman sleeper?
Ross Dellenger: Did you know last year's winner, Kyler Murray, wasn't even on most preseason Heisman Trophy betting boards last August? The sleepers have a way of winning this thing, and there's no better sleeper than a guy who's overshadowed on his own team: Clemson running back Travis Etienne. The Louisiana product is +2000 in the betting odds right now. For comparison sake, his teammate Trevor Lawrence is one of the favorites at +275, according to Sports Betting Dime.
Scooby Axson: Kellen Mond, Texas A&M. During SEC media days, Mond said he considered himself to be the best quarterback in the conference. Honestly, what else was he supposed to say? He has a chance to prove it this season, with trips to Clemson, Georgia and LSU on the horizon plus the rest of the gauntlet in the SEC West. Mond threw for 3,107 yards and 24 touchdowns last season, adding 474 yards and seven scores on the ground, and has all the tools it takes to make noise in the Heisman race. A&M must be in the playoff hunt for Mond to even have a chance at the award.
Joan Niesen: Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins set a freshman record for the Buckeyes in 2017, when he racked up 1,403 yards—and he also averaged 7.2 yards per carry, best in the Big Ten. He was in the conversation with Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor as the best freshman rushers in the game, guys who looked poised to do big things. And then he regressed. Last season, Dobbins had just 1,053 yards, and his per-carry average dropped off, too, to 4.6 yards. Why? Dobbins claims he was pressing, but Ohio State’s offense also radically changed behind Dwayne Haskins, a quarterback who was not himself a running threat. With Justin Fields under center this fall, the scheme will continue to evolve, and if Dobbins can get back on track, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to pile up yardage and impress on the national stage.
Laken Litman: Purdue’s Rondale Moore was the most lethal playmaker in the Big Ten last year and he was only a freshman. He led the conference with 1,258 receiving yards, scored 14 touchdowns, had some big returns, and is poised for a stellar sophomore season in 2019. Moore is a guy who is unafraid of the spotlight, too, which will bode well for a Heisman campaign. Last year he had his best performance when he caught 12 passes for a career-high 170 yards with two touchdowns in a shocking 49–20 upset of Ohio State. The best part for Boilermaker fans is he’s only just getting his college career started. And even if opponents are more familiar with Moore this season, he’s too powerful to stop completely.
Michael Shapiro: It will be difficult to break up the quarterbacks’ stranglehold on the Heisman Trophy, but Alabama's Jerry Jeudy has at least an outside shot at becoming the first wide receiver to win the award since Desmond Howard in 1991. Jeudy is a speedster with plenty of big-play potential, and he’s also among the crispest route runners in college football. Expect him to receive plenty of targets from Tua Tagovailoa in 2019.
Jeudy posted 68 receptions for 1,315 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2018. Those numbers may be enough for a second-straight Biletnikoff Award, but he’ll need to up his production to steal the Heisman from a myriad of QB candidates. Jeudy should earn an invite to New York if he adds a few more touchdowns and reaches 80 receptions. Regardless, he remains the Crimson Tide’s top weapon, entering 2019 as a likely top-10 pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
Tim Rohan: In recent years, the Heisman winner has typically been a quarterback on a title contender who puts up gaudy numbers. That describes Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence perfectly, but watch out for Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm, too. He’s a very efficient passer who’s entering his third year in the Bulldogs offense. Plus, he doesn’t have to worry about fending off Justin Fields anymore, as Fields has moved onto Ohio State. If Fromm beats Alabama in the SEC title game, he should have as good a case as anyone for the Heisman.
Molly Geary: It feels weird to call Justin Herbert a sleeper, but the Oregon QB has only the seventh-best Heisman odds in Vegas among quarterbacks and barely makes the top 10 overall, per Sports Betting Dime. The senior is behind the likes of Jalen Hurts, who is learning a new system at Oklahoma, and Justin Fields, who has attempted 39 career passes and also switched schools this spring. For a guy who will lead a potential playoff contender, threw for 29 touchdowns in 2018 and is expected to be in the mix for the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL draft, Herbert is well worth keeping in mind.