Heisman Trophy Winners Who Were Disappointments In The NFL
The Heisman Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the top player in NCAA football. Some recipients of the prestigious award excelled at the next level, while others certainly didn’t. Some of the players even hail from some of the most storied programs in college football.
Although winning the Heisman is an excellent accomplishment, it also comes with a lot of added pressure. These players exited college with the prestigious award, but couldn’t find success at the next level.
Bellino was very versatile on the football field. The Navy alum rushed for 834 yards and caught 15 passes for 264 yards and three touchdowns. The halfback won the 1960 Heisman Trophy and his final game with the Navy was a loss in the Orange Bowl.
The Washington Redskins would draft him in the 17th round of the 1961 NFL Draft as did the Boston Patriots of the AFL Draft. He decided to join the Patriots, and played three seasons, primarily as a kick returner. He’s the lowest drafted Heisman Trophy winner in NFL history because of his commitment to the U.S. Navy after graduation.
The UCLA Bruins finished with a 7-2-1 record in 1967. Beban threw for 1,359 yards and eight touchdowns. A second-round draft pick of the Rams in 1968, his rights were traded to the Redskins.
The 1967 Heisman winner would play for Washington for two seasons. He wasn’t given much playing time as he was backing up future Hall of Famer Sonny Jurgensen. After the Redskins released him in 1970, Beban signed with the Denver Broncos. However, he was placed on waivers and retired immediately.
Huarte’s Notre Dame career only had one good season. In his senior year, he became the Fighting Irish’s starting quarterback and won all but one game during the 1964 season. Following his Heisman season, the Anaheim native was drafted by both pro football leagues.
He would sign with the AFL’s New York Jets over the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles. However, he was beaten out of the starting spot by Joe Namath, who finished eleventh in Heisman voting. Huarte did see action as a backup quarterback from 1966 to 1972.
Detmer’s junior season in 1990 is one of the greatest seasons for a quarterback in college football history. The BYU alum threw for 5,188 passing yards and 41 touchdowns in 12 games.
Despite his success in college, many analysts believed he was too small for the NFL. The Green Bay Packers drafted him in the ninth round, only to be the backup to Brett Favre. Detmer would play for four more teams, mostly in the backup role.
At quarterback, Baker lead Oregon State to a 9-2 record in his senior season. He would finish his college career with 3,476 yards and 23 touchdown passes. The Los Angeles Rams would take a chance on Baker as the first overall pick in 1963.
However, the Rams barely played him in his rookie season. The team would switch the Heisman winner to running back with very little success. After three seasons in the NFL, Baker headed up to the CFL to play for the Edmonton Eskimos.
Sullivan was a great quarterback for Auburn. In 1970, he led the NCAA in total offense, and in 30 games as a Tiger, he threw for 6,284 yards and 53 touchdowns. After winning the Heisman in 1971, the Atlanta Falcons drafted him as a second round pick.
He would serve as the team’s backup for four seasons and eventually, he ended up with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL. After football, Sullivan turned to coaching, and became the head coach at Samford University, a position he held from 2007 to 2014.
In 1994, the running back had one of the best seasons at his position. He became the fourth major college player to top over 2,000 yards, and he scored three touchdowns against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.
The Chicago Bears would use their 21st pick to draft Salaam, and his rookie season was a promising one at that. However, Salaam was notorious for fumbling, and he ended up breaking his leg and tearing an ankle ligament. He tried to come back a few times but ended up in the XFL.
In his junior season at Houston, Ware set college records by throwing for 4,699 yards as well as 46 touchdowns. After forgoing his senior year, many NFL scouts believed Ware was the real deal. Nevertheless, he never became a star in the NFL.
The Detroit Lions picked the Heisman winner in the first round of the 1990 draft. Ware never got off the bench in his four seasons and ended up playing in the CFL by 1995. He would win the Grey Cup with the Toronto Argonauts in 1997.
In 2004, the USC Trojans started the quarterback in his junior season. He would win the Heisman over teammate Reggie Bush, Oklahoma running back Adrian Petersen, and Utah’s Alex Smith. Leinart was considered one of the top prospects of the 2006 NFL Draft and the Arizona Cardinals drafted him tenth overall.
He would spend four seasons in the desert before playing in Houston, Oakland, and Buffalo. Leinart signed a deal with the Pac-12 Network as a studio analyst in 2014.
The Ohio State Buckeye is college football’s only two-time Heisman winner. Griffin was the first player ever to start in four Rose Bowls. In the 1976 NFL Draft, he was the first-round draft choice of the Cincinnati Bengals.
He would play seven seasons, all with the Bengals, but struggled throughout his professional career, failing to record a 700-yard season. Despite the mediocracy, Griffin played in Super Bowl XVI in 1981. After his playing days, the Archie Griffin Award was introduced as college football’s MVP of the entire season.
NFL teams weren’t too keen on the quarterback at the 1993 draft. After falling to the seventh round, the Minnesota Vikings picked him up. He failed to play at all after being drafted, and eventually, he was picked up by the Lions.
His only chance to play in an NFL game came during the 1996 season finale. He came off the bench for the Seattle Seahawks and threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Joey Galloway, leading the team to victory.
The 1996 Heisman winner was in the NFL for six seasons. After graduating from Florida, the New Orleans Saints drafted him in the fourth round. During his six-year career, he played for four different teams, finding limited success as a backup and an occasional starter.
In 2000, the Florida native would spend a season in NFL Europe, helping the Rhein Fire to a league championship. Plus, he was named MVP of the World Bowl. Wuerffel last played professionally with the Redskins in 2002, retiring in 2004.
The 1999 Heisman winner is the all-time leader in rushing yards in NCAA Division I FBS history. Dayne would be the 11th selection of the 2000 NFL Draft by the New York Giants.
Teaming up with Tiki Barber in the backfield, the combination of Dayne’s power and Barber’s speed became known as “Thunder and Lightning.” Over the next few seasons, Dayne’s carries slowly diminished, but he did play in Super Bowl XXXV, losing to the Baltimore Ravens.
The Florida State quarterback won the award in 2000. Weinke would become the starter for the Carolina Panthers in 2001, but it was a season to forget. The Panthers accumulated an atrocious 1-15 record. After the season, he was demoted to the backup to Jake Delhomme.
Weinke wouldn’t make another start in the NFL until 2006, in place of an injured Delhomme. Following brief stints in San Francisco and Cleveland, Weinke turned to coaching, where he’s worked with the Alabama and Tennessee coaching staffs.
The 2001 Heisman winner was seen as a better wide receiver than a quarterback. Crouch was a third-round pick by the St. Louis Rams in 2002, but never saw a down in a regular season. He would bounce around numerous teams and leagues.
In addition to the NFL, the Nebraska alum played safety for the Hamburg Sea Devils of NFL Europe. His chance to play quarterback came when he signed with the Argos of the CFL, but he was the fourth-stringer behind Damon Allen.
The 2003 Heisman winner led the Oklahoma Sooners to back-to-back National Championship Games. Despite a strong showing in college, the Sooners lost in both games. White was not selected for the NFL Draft and he didn’t receive any tryout from any NFL team in the first several weeks following the post-draft free agency.
He became the third Heisman recipient to not be drafted in the NFL after Pete Dawkins chose the military and Charlie Ward chose to play in the NBA.
Smith was the recipient of the Heisman in 2006, beating out running back Darren McFadden. In 2007, the Baltimore Ravens drafted the quarterback in the fifth round, but he only starting in two games in three seasons.
Afterward, Smith started six games for the 49ers and was out of the NFL by 2010. In August 2013, Smith would sign a two-year contract with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. Due to his poor play and Montreal’s struggles, Smith was unconditionally released from his contract in October 2014.
Robert Griffin III
The Baylor alum was the 2011 recipient of the Heisman Trophy. He was highly touted by the NFL scouts, and the Redskins dealt four picks to move up to the second in the 2012 draft.
The early results of the RGIII in Washington were outstanding, winning the NFC East Division along the way. However, a late-season knee injury damaged the Redskins playoff hopes. It went all downhill from there on. His struggles continued as he was released after the 2015 season.
In 2010, Denver Broncos needed a quarterback and selected the 2007 Heisman winner in the first round. Aside from his 2011 game-winning touchdown pass that won the Broncos a playoff game, Tebow’s career wasn’t that impressive.
His ability to throw the ball in the NFL was a major concern and the Flordia alum couldn’t brush off that weakness. Following his football days, the quarterback turned to another sport. He’s now pursuing a professional baseball career with the New York Mets.
The Browns traded up to the 22nd slot to draft for the 2011 Heisman winner. “Johnny Football” was expected to breathe life into a disgruntled Cleveland franchise. Instead, Manziel’s career was nothing more than some on-field moments as well as off-field drama.
His sophomore season was wasted following a stint in rehab in 2015. The Browns would move on from the quarterback as Manziel spent two years away from football. In 2018, he joined the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats before being traded to the Alouettes during the season.
With such a prolific career at Oregon, it’s shocking that Marcus Mariota hasn’t seen more success in the NFL. Drafted by the Tennessee Titans in the first round of the draft, the quarterback has failed to consistently find open receivers downfield.
The biggest problem for Mariota, however, has been his inability to stay healthy. He has fallen victim to numerous injuries in his NFL career, which has hurt his development as a passer. Not 30 years old yet, the good news is that there is still time for Mariota to turn things around.
Known for his big arm and even bigger personality, so far in his NFL career Jameis Winston has fallen flat. His knack for winning seems to have stayed at college, where he won the Heisman Trophy in his freshman year.
Winston’s biggest problem in the NFL has been his turnovers. There have been a lot of them, whether through interceptions or fumbles. If Winston could clean up his knack for giving the ball away, he might find more success with Tampa Bay or whoever he plays for next.
In the history of the NFL, it’s possible that no player has profited more off his Heisman win than Sam Bradford. Playing for Oklahoma, he was considered a can’t-miss prospect coming out of college. After a sensational rookie season in the NFL, the trouble began.
Bradford tore his ACL, and couldn’t get rid of the injury bug after he recovered. Still, because of his unquestioned potential, he kept cashing in on big contracts, earning over $100 million in his career.
Was Carson Palmer a good NFL quarterback? Absolutely! Did he live up to the hype bestowed upon him by winning the Heisman Trophy? Not really. Palmer was drafted by the Bengals, where he put up big numbers, but could never win the big game.
After the Bengal drafted Andy Dalton, Palmer went to Arizona, where he made it as far as the NFC Championship Game before succumbing to pressure. That is why he earns his place on this list.
Charlie Ward had his choice of careers when he left college. He could have played in the NFL or the NBA. He chose the latter, earning his place on this list. Ward was full of potential, and decided the NBA was where he could make the most of it.
Does he deserve to be on this list when he never actually played a down in the NFL? From a fan’s perspective, the answer is yes. We watch college stars and wonder how could they could be on our team. The fact that Ward never ended up on a team is what’s really disappointing.
Vinny Testaverde won the Heisman Trophy as a senior playing for Miami in 1986. He was then drafted with the first overall pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. By the time he retired, Testaverde had played for seven different franchises.
His best years in the NFL were spent with the New York Jets, where he led the team to a 12-4 record in 1998 and playoff berth. He ended his career with 275 touchdown passes and 267 interceptions.
Another solid NFL player who has failed to live up to the hype is Mark Ingram. After playing in the NFL for nearly a decade, the hard runner has only eclipsed 1,000 yards in a season twice.
Even more concerning is that Ingram has only played a full 16 game schedule three times. In 2019 he signed with the Baltimore Ravens, where his workload will be even more limited. He might play all 16 games, but he won’t get close to 1,000 yards.
Desmond Howard played his college ball at Michigan and won the Heisman as a junior in 1991. All the talent in the world couldn’t save him from having one of the most disappointing careers on this list.
Playing for the Washington Redskins, Howard’s best year came in 1994. He caught 40 balls for 727 yards and scored five touchdowns. If he had never won the Heisman those numbers might look okay. Since he did win the award, though, we expected to see at least one 1,000 yard season.
Mike Rozier left college as one of the most decorated amateur athletes of all time. He won the Heisman Trophy as a senior, putting a feather in the cap of his college hall of fame career. His time spent in the NFL would not be seen in the same light.
Before entering the league, Rozier spent two years in the United States Football League playing for the Pittsburgh Maulers. When he transitioned to the NFL, he only managed to reach 1,000 yards rushing in a season once.
In seven seasons in the NFL, George Rogers rushed for 7,176 yards. He scorched the league with more than 1,600 as a rookie. So why does the 1980 Heisman winner make this list? Because he only played for seven years.
Part of being successful in the NFL is having longevity. Rogers, while he was amazing on the field, had trouble staying healthy. When he announced he was retiring after the 1987 season, he cited his aching body as the reason why.
Charles White took home the Heisman Trophy as a senior out of USC in 1979. Following his big win he was taken in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. For the next four years he disappointed the fans and his coaches, rushing for a total of 942 yards.
After leaving the Browns, White signed with the Los Angeles Rams, where he led the league in rushing once. During his time in the NFL, he also competed on American Gladiators, winning both times he appeared.
Another athlete who’s career was stalled by injury, Billy Sims spent five strong seasons in the NFL before blowing out his knee. At the time, the injury was career ending. In today’s game, modern medicine would have given him a chance to finish what he started.
Sim was drafted by the Detroit Lions and revitalized the team for five seasons. He made the Pro Bowl three times and ran the team to the playoffs twice. He retired with 5,106 yards and 42 touchdowns.
John Cappelletti was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in 1974 after winning the Heisman Trophy at Penn State. His career lasted ten seasons, although one was lost to a nagging groin injury. He never rushed for 1,000 yards.
Cappelletti’s best season came in 1976, when he carried the ball 177 times for 688 yards. The next year he carried the ball 178 times, but only rushed for 588 yards. He retired after only playing in one game during the 1983 season.
Johnny Rodgers was taken in the first round of the 1973 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers, where he was expected to contribute right away. Instead, he spurned the Chargers and signed with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
Rodgers played for the Alouettes for four years before finally making his NFL debut. Unfortunately, he only spent one injury-riddled season in the NFL when a freak knee injury forced him to retire very young.
Known more for his coaching career than his playing career, Steve Spurrier was a bust when he entered the NFL after winning the Heisman Trophy. Taken with the third overall pick in the 1967 NFL Draft by the 49ers, he was supposed to lead the team out of their misery.
Spurrier got a handful of starts but never impressed the coaches enough to take over the job full-time. In ten seasons, Spurrier started 38 games and threw more interceptions than touchdowns.
Cam Newton – 2010
Cam Newton is one of the most special talents college football has ever seen. After a controversial start to his collegiate career, he arrived at Auburn right on time. His creative and athletic play style was perfect for their system.
He became the first player in SEC conference history to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 in a single season. He was out there making defenders look like high school JV teams. With 30 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing to go along with only seven interceptions, Newton was a sure-fire winner. The National Championship victory was only the icing on the cake.
Doug Flutie – 1984
Doug Flutie looked as interesting as he played. That’s because he was undersized with a running back’s number. Say goodbye to dull when he had to improvise outside of the pocket. You would have thought he’d have more than three rushing touchdowns his Heisman year.
His most famous play was the Hail Mary that beat Miami and is still known as one of the greatest plays in college football history. He was far from a one-hit wonder. He always made big plays and helped Boston College lead the nation in scoring offense (37.4 points per game). He nearly doubled the second-place finisher in first-place votes.
Charles Woodson – 1997
Charles Woodson is an NFL legend and a college football hero too. His Heisman year was one of the most debatable victories in the past decades. Many believed Peyton Manning should have won that year, but it was not to be.
Woodson winning over Manning adds to the greatness of it. He is still the only defensive player to ever claim the honor. He played a little on offense too, bringing in three touchdowns, but it was his defense that mattered. His last game of the season cemented his campaign after he talked smack to an opposing team’s receiver and returned a punt for a touchdown.
Roger Staubach – 1963
In the modern era, Roger Staubach’s stats don’t translate that well. In his time, however, he redefined the quarterback position. With only 128 of 192 passes completed and seven touchdowns that year, it seems like anyone else on this list could do that in a single game.
Known as Roger the Dodger thanks to his uncanny scrambling skills, he paved the way for future pocket scrambles during his time at Navy. He carried his team to the National Championship game but ended up losing. He still was the story of the year.
Marcus Allen – 1981
There are workhorses and then there’s Marcus Allen. During his Heisman year, USC had the audacity to give him the ball a whopping 477 times. He turned all those touches into a Heisman trophy. He still holds the record of 200-plus rushing yard games with eight.
His 212.9 rushing yards per game still also ranks number two behind the top player on this list. Despite USC losing to an unranked Arizona and Washington before losing in the Fiesta Bowl, his stats were impeccable.
O.J. Simpson – 1968
Well, we weren’t going to leave The Juice off the list. Prior to his run-in with the law, O.J. Simpson had the world going crazy over his abilities, and rightfully so. Simpson was the first college star who garnered attention the way superstars do today. Defenses dreaded having to gameplan for The Juice.
He led the nation in rushing yards and carried two years in a row. 1968 was when he made dominating look like a piece of cake. He also led in touchdowns that year with 23. His margin of victory still remains the largest in Heisman Trophy history.
Eddie George – 1995
Eddie George played quite well as a junior for the Ohio State Buckeyes. But it wouldn’t be until his senior year that he became more than the nation could handle. He helped lead the team to a flawless 11-0 start and the National Championship game.
George ran all over opponents and had at least 100 yards in every game minus the opener because his coach subbed him out due to the score being 38-6. No need to beat a dead horse.
Ricky Williams – 1998
The year was 1997 and Ricky Williams had put the nation on notice. If not for Peyton Manning and eventual winner, Charles Woodson, Williams would have been the clear winner. The next year was all Williams. He saw his touches go up from 279 to 361, and he became an efficient workhorse.
During this season, Williams ended up breaking the FBS career rushing record. Running towards 6,083 yards was the story of the season and the play that captured it was amazing. He burst through the hole, bounced off a tackle, and sprinted his way to a 60-yard touchdown.
Tony Dorsett – 1976
Tony Dorsett’s 1975 campaign was quite strong, but his team’s record was not as spectacular, sitting at 8-4. Dorsett responded by putting Pittsburgh in the National Championship talks the very next season. Moreover, he made it to the game.
Dorsett led the nation in carries at 370 and in rushing yards with 2,150 yards. Pittsburgh started the year with a road win against a tough Notre Dame team where Dorsett took his first carry 61 yards. He ended the year with a National Championship victory.
Reggie Bush – 2005 *
We must include the asterisk next to Reggie Bush’s name because his miraculous Heisman trophy had to be vacated by the NCAA thanks to USC violating rules. Nevertheless, Bush pulled off an amazing collegiate career, but 2005 was his best. Many call it the best of the new millennium.
The master of the roundabout running, Bush became a megastar out in Los Angeles and it wasn’t fair for the competition. He led the country with 8.7 yards a carry, so he was basically an automatic first down. With 200 carries and splitting the work with another future NFL starter, Bush still managed to amass 1,740 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns.
Herschel Walker – 1982
In 1981, Herschel Walker’s amazing year became overshadowed by what would be Marcus Allen’s Heisman campaign. Then after Allen left college, the award was Walker’s for the taking in 1982. He even suffered a broken thumb, but that didn’t slow him down.
He somehow improved his yards per attempt while still taking fewer carries the the year before. The Bulldogs swept SEC play and went 11-0 right before losing in the Sugar Bowl. With 335 carries, he gained 1,752 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Barry Sanders – 1988
Something would be completely wrong with us if we didn’t include Barry Sanders. His 1988 Heisman year will never be duplicated and many can only hope to get within arms reach of it. He led the nation with 37 touchdowns (four less than the quarterback previous on this list), and set an FBS rushing yard record with 2,428 yards.
These days, bowl stats count and teams play between 12 and 15 games. Still, no one has passed Sanders 11-game totals.
Kyler Murray – 2018
Kyler Murray beat out some stiff competition to win the 2018 Heisman. The race was considered a neck and neck tie between him and Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa. Tua finished the year with a 202.3 efficiency rating. Murray set a college football record with, though, with a 205.72 rating.
To rise to his historic heights, Murray threw 40 touchdowns and ran for 11. He finished the year with 4,053 passing yards and 892 rushing yards. With such incredible stats, you’d think he would be a sure first round draft pick, but he might not play in the NFL at all after signing an MLB contract with the Oakland A’s!
Baker Mayfield – 2017
Before Kyler Murray was setting efficiency records, there was Baker Mayfield. On his way to winning the 2017 Heisman, the Cleveland Browns starting QB set a then efficiency rating record of 203.76.
To set the record, Mayfield threw 41 touchdowns while only surrendering five interceptions. He also completed 71 percent of his passes and led Oklahoma to the its third straight Big 12 title. It’s no wonder why the Brown took him with the first overall pick, then!
Howard Cassady – 1955
Howard Cassady is probably a name you don’t remember, which is a shame. During his era, he was one of the best college running backs. He blew away the competition statistically, rushing for 958 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns his Heisman winning season.
Cassady also played defensive back for Ohio State and was named an All-American. A giant among men in 1955, the bruising back crushed the enemy as Ohio State won the Big Ten title. Michigan never stood a chance.
Earl Campbell – 1977
What can be said about one of the few Heisman winners that also found his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Let’s try. During his Heisman winning year, Campbell rushed for over 1,700 yards and scored 18 touchdowns.
As if that wasn’t enough, he also caught five passes for 111 yards and one touchdown. Just because he could. When he went to the NFL, he continued to be great, getting voted to five Pro Bowls and winning one Most Valuable Player award.
Derrick Henry – 2015
In 2015, Derrick Henry became a surprise Heisman winner. No one really new his name at the start of the college year, and he was still a relative unknown halfway through. Then he ran for nearly 2,000 yards and everyone opened their eyes.
His big game came against LSU and Heisman favorite Leonard Fournette. He outrushed the NCAA superstar, ending the day with 210 yards and three touchdowns. After that, it wasn’t hard to see who the best running back in college football was.
Bo Jackson – 1985
Bo Jackson had a chance to be the greatest athlete of all-time. Many analysts consider the greatest college player of all-time. He ran with passion and could hit defenders like a dump truck. He was perfect for college, and his career was topped off with his Heisman win in 1985.
When he went pro, he played in the NFL and in the MLB. Sadly, he was too fast for his own good and ended up blowing out his hip on a routine run. Go back and watch his college tape, though, and you’ll wish he was still playing today.
Lamar Jackson – 2016
Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy despite being one of the most underrated quarterbacks in college football. He was a revelation at Louisville under center, but most analysts believed he was better suited to play wide receiver.
Jackson defied them all and refused to change positions in the NFL. The move to not move didn’t affect his draft stock and the Ravens took him at the end of the first round. Halfway through his first NFL season, he usurped Joe Flacco as Baltimore’s starter.
Tim Brown – 1987
Tim Brown put Notre Dame back on the college football map in the late 1980s. The legendary wide receiver played for some lower end teams, but made high school players see the school as a hot spot destination.
It’s no wonder Brown became a stud in the NFL. Playing for the Oakland Raiders, Brown never had the best QBs throwing to him, but he always made the most of it. Also, near the end of his career he got to play opposite Jerry Rice, which is pretty cool.