On Saturday night in New York City, Baker Mayfield, DeShaun Watson, Jabrill Peppers, and Dede Westbrook will be present when the 82nd Heisman Trophy is awarded, but they will serve as nothing more than well-dressed, seat-fillers in what should be the long-awaited Lamar Jackson coronation ceremony.
From the outset of the 2016 season, Jackson captivated the college football audience with his arm, legs and eye-popping statistics. Eight touchdowns in Week 1 against a woeful Charlotte team got some people’s attention, but barely registered on the national scale. A slaughter of Florida State in Louisville’s third game got more heads turning both to the player and the team, but left viewers wanting more evidence there was some truth to what the Cardinals and Jackson were doing. It wasn’t until his valiant effort in a close loss against Clemson that everyone noticed Louisville as a national player and their dual-threat leader as a legitimate contender for the most recognizable individual award in all of sports. Through five games, Jackson accounted for 28 touchdowns and had his team very much in the playoff hunt.
A by-product of Jackson’s early season ascent to the forefront of the Heisman picture was that it left plenty of time for doubt to creep in regarding his candidacy, resulting in pundits over-analyzing his performance. A pair of losses to finish the season didn’t help Jackson’s case, as his team dropped out of the national title picture, but only one thing matters as the nation now awaits Saturday’s announcement. Lamar Jackson had one of the greatest statistical seasons in college football history and may have been the most valuable Heisman finalist to play quarterback in the last twenty five years.
In order to take a look at Jackson’s value, I compiled the raw statistics from every quarterback that finished in the Top 5 of Heisman voting since 1991. I took their total touchdowns (passing + rushing) and total yards (passing + rushing) and expressed both figures as a percentage of their team’s totals. The percentage of team points is on the horizontal axis with the percentage of team yards on the vertical axis. The circles of the previous Heisman winners are shaded in blue and Jackson’s own circle is outlined in red. The conclusion: Lamar Jackson is the most valuable quarterback within this data set.
Jackson was the only quarterback to finish in the Top 5 in both figures. Tim Tebow (2007, Heisman) and Brady Quinn (2006, 3rd) outpaced him in point percentage for very different reasons. Tebow, much like Jackson, ran and threw his way to 59.8% of his team’s points while Quinn, playing on a team that leaned heavily on the pass, arrived there through the air. Ahead of Jackson in percentage of team yards were Graham Harrell (2008, 4th) and Drew Brees (1999, 4th AND 2000, 3rd). Simple math will tell you that teams that rely heavily on the pass like Harrell’s Texas Tech team and Brees’ Purdue teams will be higher on this list, but Jackson being neck and neck with them is quite the accomplishment.
In the bottom left quadrant of the graph are those players that finished below average for both metrics in this data set. As you move farther and farther away from average, you’ll notice the names of players that served as signal-callers on more run-oriented teams, both option and pro-style. It’s interesting to see the name of Tommie Frazier all the way at the bottom. It would be intriguing to think about Frazier, who orchestrated Tom Osborne’s true triple option offense, handing the ball off more than running it himself, operating in a system like Lamar Jackson plays in every Saturday. Both players will go down as college football greats, but by this metric, the soon-to-be crowned Heisman Trophy winner rose above all others when it comes down to value to his team.