With their combination of agility, power, and talent, these preseason Heisman Trophy candidates should wow the crowds on campus this fall.
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Christian McCaffrey, Stanford, RB
The 6’0”, 201-pound running back has proven himself as one of the top offensive threats in all of college football. McCaffrey uses his combination of speed and power to muscle through tacklers, and he attacks opponents in a number of ways—rushing, receiving, and on kick returns. The Heisman Trophy candidate was electric during the 2015 campaign for the Cardinal, zig-zagging and juking his way into the record books by crushing the all-purpose yards mark set by legendary running back Barry Sanders—he put up 3,864 last season, beating Sanders’ record by over 500 yards.
The Denver native won the AP College Football Player of the Year award for 2015 and was runner-up for the Heisman behind Alabama running back Derrick Henry. McCaffrey’s defining performance came in the Rose Bowl against Iowa after the 2015 regular season—he set a Rose Bowl record with 368 all-purpose yards and became the first player to have over 100 yards rushing and receiving in the game. Check out the highlights here and you'll see why McCaffrey is such a stud.
Leonard Fournette, LSU, RB
The Louisiana State running back has emerged as a star in college football after two very productive seasons, rushing for nearly 3,000 yards in just 24 games. Fournette was a top-ranked player in high school and that hype followed him into college. Scouts raved about his potential in the NFL, which caused some in the sports media to wonder whether Fournette should sit out his junior season to avoid any potential injuries. The running back opted against that—and now he has Tigers fans thinking about a national title. The former track star has blazing speed—he once posted a 10.68-second mark in the 100 meters—and at 6’1’, 235 pounds, Fournette can smash past even the biggest linebackers in college football.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson, QB
The dual-threat quarterback showed off his electric skills during the 2015 season while leading the Tigers to the national title game against Alabama. Watson went 14-0 as a starter and combined to throw and rush for over 5,000 yards, the first time a player has done that in FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) history. With a cannon for an arm and surprising footspeed, Watson is equipped to meet sky-high expectations once again—and the 6’2”, 210-pound quarterback could be a top-five NFL pick in 2017.
Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, RB
Samaje Perine is strong—really strong. The Sooners running back has wowed teammates with his strength over his first two seasons in college, so much so that Perine has had to answer questions from reporters about his exploits in the weight room—including one time when he bench-pressed 225 pounds for one hundred—not a typo—reps. Perine confirmed the story, and then mentioned that he maxes out at 440 pounds and can power clean 380 pounds. It shows on the field, too—Perine muscled his way to 1,713 yards as a freshman in 2014 and set the NCAA FBS single-game record with 427 rushing yards against Kansas. Perine’s success isn’t a total shock—in high school he was a star track athlete, competing in the 100-meter dash, triple jump, long jump, and sprinting relay events.
Myles Garrett, Texas A&M, DE
The Aggies defensive end is an athletic freak who has the speed and power to simply will his way to get opposing quarterbacks. The 6’5”, 262-pound former discus thrower put up a 4.6-second 40-yard dash in high school—one reason why he’s being projected as a potential No. 1-overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft. Garrett led the SEC with 12 sacks in 2015, and over two years he’s had stellar production, averaging one sack per game for A&M.
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
With Ezekiel Elliott now in a Dallas Cowboys uniform, Barrett becomes the unquestioned centerpiece of the Ohio State offense—and that could mean some explosive plays for the Buckeyes quarterback. Barrett is an all-around athlete—he also played basketball and ran track in high school—and in two seasons with The Ohio State University, the 6’1”, 223-pound speedster (he once recorded a 12.10-second 100-meter dash) has put up 67 total touchdowns in just 23 games while gaining over 5,000 total yards. Defenses may have a hard time keeping up with the QB.
Jabrill Peppers, Michigan, DB
The 6’1”, 210-pound safety is one of the reasons Jim Harbaugh went back to college football—Peppers is just fun to coach. He's a Swiss Army knife-type player who can line up anywhere—during the 2015 season, the defensive back played offense, defense, and special teams for Michigan. The former five-star recruit was a track star in high school, posting a blazing-fast 10.51-second personal best in the 100 meter, and in college he has given the Wolverines production yards in receiving, rushing, kickoff returns, and punt returns. Peppers is one reason why Michigan is a popular national title pick in 2016.
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma, QB
Mayfield had a stellar season for the Sooners in 2015 after throwing for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns, making him a Heisman Trophy favorite in 2016. The 6’2”, 212-pound quarterback knows how to deal with pressure—Mayfield became the first walk-on true freshman to start a season opener at an FBS school when he was at Texas Tech—and after transferring to Oklahoma, he won the starting job from Trevor Knight despite sitting out a full year.
Royce Freeman, Oregon, RB
It's no surprise that the Ducks running back has been as productive as any player in college football over the last two seasons—Freeman has added 15 pounds of muscle since entering school in 2014. The 5’11, 230-pound tank has had over 3,700 total yards from scrimmage with Oregon in two years, scoring a combined 38 touchdowns in that time. Freeman has the athletic ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and the power to barrel through tacklers in the gridiron trenches.
Josh Rosen, UCLA, QB
The Bruins quarterback spent the offseason adding slabs of muscle to his frame—he bulked up from 205 pounds as a freshman to over 220 pounds for his sophomore season. Rosen earned plenty of attention in 2015 after setting school records while winning the Pac-12's Offensive Freshman of the Year award and in 2016 he’s looking to take another step. The 6’4” starter has the prototypical NFL size for a quarterback and he could be a sleeper Heisman candidate for 2016.
Brad Kaaya, Miami, QB
The Hurricanes quarterback said “Bye, Felisha” to the competition as a freshman when he won the starting job in 2014. Kaaya, whose mother played the character “Felicia” in the movie Friday—every time a commentator mentions it, DRINK—has been wildly productive for the 'Canes over the past two years, throwing for over 6,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in 25 games. At 6’4”, 215 pounds, Kaaya has the power to hit his wideouts deep down the field, giving new head coach Mark Richt the offensive threat he needs to turn “The U” back into a college football powerhouse.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC, WR
The Trojans wideout plays his position with ferocity and toughness—probably because he also played safety in high school along with his offensive duties. At 6’2”, 220 pounds, Smith-Schuster has a video game-like stiff arm can knock down opponents, and he has the size to overpower cornerbacks to get to the ball when it’s in the air. Smith-Schuster was the most productive wide receiver for Southern Cal in 2015, putting up 89 catches for 1,454 yards while making the All-Pac-12 team.
Desmond King, Iowa, CB
The 5’11”, 200-pound cornerback set a school record in 2015 with eight interceptions while bringing home the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in the nation. King’s combination of speed, agility, and strength makes him a defensive force, but he adds more value as a weapon on special teams as Iowa’s best kickoff and punt returner. King came back to Iowa for his senior season despite having a breakout year, and that could put him on the radar for the Heisman Trophy after helping Iowa reach the Rose Bowl following the 2015 season.