The most talked about player coming into the 2012 NFL Draft is not Andrew Luck – a player that could have came out last year, a player that most scouts and writers feel can step into a starting role immediately for just about any pro team. Luck, is basically being penciled in as the number one overall pick in the 2012 draft. A player of this supposed caliber while also being possibly selected by a team with a future no-doubt Hall of Fame quarterback would normally dominate media coverage. However, it seems that that 2011 Heisman Trophy Winner, quarterback Robert Griffin III from Baylor, seems to be eating up most of the media coverage.
He’s tough, smart, charismatic and had a great combine showing. But why is all the attention on the Heisman Trophy Winner? Do scouts believe he is like Luck, who will be able to immediately start in the NFL, just as Cam Newton was able to do in 2011? Is it because we are not as certain as we are about Luck in regards to what team he will play for? Is it because he went to Baylor, a school not known for producing NFL quarterbacks? Why is Griffin being interviewed on Mike and Mike, ESPN and The Dan Patrick Show?
The intriguing question to me is, what sort of Heisman quarterback will he become in the NFL? Taking a look at the last 10 Heisman winning quarterbacks, only four of them have managed to become regular starters in the NFL. Only two of them have played in a playoff game. Four of them have managed to fade into obscurity without even putting a dent in the NFL. One of them has managed to blow every chance they have received, while another, due to no real fault of his own, didn’t even play in the NFL.
Let’s examine the the last 10 Heisman winners at the quarterback position and how they have/did fare in the NFL.
2010-Cam Newton, Auburn:
Drenched in controversy about eligibility issues, it didn’t stop Newton from becoming the 2010 Heisman winner, out of Auburn. It also didn’t stop the Carolina Panthers from selecting him with the number one pick last season, or immediately penciling him in as their number one starting quarterback ahead of Jimmy Clausen. There’s no secret that there was a pretty good contingency of people that wanted to see Newton fail, or felt that his college game wouldn’t translate to the pros. It took Newton two games to shut everyone up. In both games he threw for over 400 passing yards, 432 against Green Bay which was a rookie record. The Panthers didn’t make the playoffs but Cam Newton managed to win Rookie of the Year over fellow rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, who did take the Bengals to the playoffs. Newton became the first rookie to rush for 10 touchdowns and pass for 10 touchdowns in a season. He also broke the record for most passing yards by a rookie with over 4,000 and most touchdowns with 35 (21 passing, 14 rushing). It’s safe to say that there are more good things to come from Newton, if Carolina can string together a complete team, Newton could possibly be taking the Panthers to playoffs in a few seasons.
2008 -Sam Bradford, Oklahoma: Bradford became the second sophomore to ever win the Heisman award and decided to skip the NFL draft and continue to play for Oklahoma for his junior year. Instead he became injured and missed most of it. However it did not stop the Rams from making him the number one pick of the 2010 NFL draft, and giving him a guaranteed contract of 50 million dollars, the largest ever given to a rookie. Bradford played remarkably well in his rookie season, setting a record for most completed passes by a rookie with a 354. He was the 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year in the NFL, and was close to getting the Rams into the playoffs. However in 2011 he ended up missing six games due to a high ankle sprain and did not play well, only throwing for six touchdowns and getting sacked 36 times. Other than Steven Jackson, Bradford didn’t have a ton of weapons on the offensive side of the football, but hopefully with a bit of an upgrade this off-season Bradford will return back to form.
2007-Tim Tebow, Florida:
Tebow became the first sophomore to ever win the Heisman award. He won two National Championships with the Florida Gators. He set countless records in the SEC conference, yet despite all the college accolades, he was and still not given a fair shake by many people. Mainly criticizing him for his awkward throwing delivery, and his supposed run first attitude. During the 2010 NFL Draft, analysts predicted him to go anywhere from the 1st to the 3rdround, more people leaning on a second or third round selection. However, Tebow was selected with the 25th pick of the 1st round by the Denver Broncos. In his first season he started the last three games, going 1-2. This last year, Tebow took over the team when they were 1-4 under Kyle Orton. Tebow helped the team finish with an 8-8 record, good enough to win the division and make the playoffs, where they knocked out the defending AFC Champs, the Pittsburgh Steelers, but lost to the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round. Tebow will enter next season as the starting quarterback for the Broncos, and it will be interesting to see him play a full season and if he can take the Broncos back to the playoffs.
2006-Troy Smith, Ohio State:
Smith was part of a very good Ohio State team that unfortunately got clobbered by Florida in the National Championship, which ended up hurting Smith’s draft stock. Also many scouts felt Smith was to small and viewed him as more a Antwan Randel El or Kordell Stewart type. He was selected in the fifth round by the Baltimore Ravens. Smith only got a chance to play when Kyle Bolier ended up injured, and than was reduced to a short-yardage quarterback when Joe Flacco was brought in. His three seasons with Baltimore were unremarkable and he signed with San Francisco in 2010. He appeared in six games with the 49ers, threw for over 1,000 yards with five touchdowns, but was again replaced by Alex Smith, and then later released. Last season Smith played in the UFL with the Omaha Nighthawks, where, again, he was a back-up and did not play until the final game of the year. He will enter the 2012 campaign in the Pittsburgh Steelers camp.
2004-Matt Leinart, USC:
Leinart’s career can be summed up in one word: “blown.” Whether by poor performance or injury, Leinart has yet to prove he belongs in the NFL. After winning both the Heisman and National Championship with the USC Trojans, he was selected with the 10th overall pick by the Arizona Cardinals to eventually replace the aging Kurt Warner. Leinart was given every opportunity in his three seasons with Arizona, so much so as he was penciled in as the number one quarterback in the 2008 and 2009 seasons, but eventually lost the jobs due to poor performance. His last season in Arizona, he was again, penciled in as the eventual number one quarterback, but shoddy play in pre-season led him to be cut in favor of Derek Anderson and John Skelton. He signed a one-year deal with the Houston Texans to back-up Matt Schaub. When Schaub went down, Leinart got the nod, but again his chance was cut short due to a season ending broken collar-bone, which became his third season ending injury he has sustained in his career. Leinart’s future is uncertain, especially since T.J Yates played fairly decent in Schaub’s and Leinart’s absence. I am sure Leinart will find a home, but who is going to take a chance on him? His is one of the most disappointing NFL careers from a former Heisman winner.
2003-Jason White, Oklahoma:
It’s hard to define Jason White’s career as sad. He won the Heisman award as a junior for Oklahoma, beating out Larry Fitzgerald and Eli Manning. He won the Dave O’ Brien award two years in a row. He played in two BCS National Championships, although they did lose both of them. He ended his career as Oklahoma’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. But he never got to play in the NFL. Due to ACL tears in both knees and reconstructive surgery, his final two years at Oklahoma, White could not scramble and they ran every play out of the shotgun. His lack of mobility kept him from being drafted or even receiving a tryout for several weeks. Eventually, he received a tryout from both Kansas City and Tennessee, with the latter offering him contract, but White turned it down. It’s sad he never got a shot to test his skills in the pros, but he had a phenomenal college career and the Sooners still hold him in very high regard.
2002-Carson Palmer, USC:
Palmer had a breakout senior year at USC which helped him become the number one overall pick by the Bengals. He did not however, play at all his rookie season and sat behind Jon Kitna. In 2004 he became the regular starter and has not looked back since. He spent eight years with the Bengals, throwing for over 4,000 yards two seasons in a row, taking the Bengals to the playoffs twice, and received Pro Bowl honors in 2007. In a contract dispute last season with the Bengals, in which he demanded a trade, he missed a chunk of the season last year and eventually signed with the Raiders, where it is assumed he will be next season. He has arguably been the most successful of the last ten quarterbacks to win the Heisman trophy. Part of this is due to his longevity, something that some of the others on the list have a had a hard time with. Time will tell with Newton, Tebow, Bradford and eventually Griffin, but for now Palmer is for sure the most successful.
2001-Eric Crouch, Nebraska:
Had a great career with Nebraska and was drafted in the 3rd round by the St. Louis Rams. However, due to his size, 5′ 11” 195lb’s, the Rams thought he would be better at wide receiver. Crouch contested and was eventually injured in practice, that caused him to miss the entire season. Crouch bounced around from NFL Europe, to the CFL, to the UFL. He played safety in NFL Europe and got his quarterback position back in the CFL, but nothing stuck unfortunately. Crouch is no longer in professional football.
2000- Chris Weinke, Florida State:
Weinke interestingly turned away from baseball to take a scholarship with Florida State. I say interestingly, because it has been noted he was only a few steps away from making it to the majors at a young age with the Toronto Bluejays as a first basemen. Instead, he won the Heisman Trophy award in 2000 with the Seminoles and became a fourth round draft choice by the Carolina Panthers. Weinke started right away and led the Panthers to a 1-15 record. After his first season, he was then demoted to back-up behind Jake Delhomme, where he would eventually live out his career. He played in 2008 with the 49ers, once again as a back-up but saw little action. Weinke now is one of the directors for IMG Madden Football Academy in Florida. He worked extensively with Cam Newton during the lockout and this year has been working with Russell Wilson, who was with the Wisconsin Badgers last season.
1996-Danny Wuerffel, Florida:
Wuerffel had a decorated college career at Florida. Two-time All-American, four-time SEC Championship winner, The Heisman Trophy winner, unfortunately he just couldn’t translate that success in the NFL. He was a fourth round selection by the Saints, and he spent three seasons there, as well as a season each as a back-up with the Packers, Bears, and Redskins. Wuerffel went and played in NFL Europe in 2000 and was the World Bowl MVP (the equivalent of our Super Bowl). Wuerffel retired from football in 2002 and now leads a non-profit faith based organization Desire Street Ministires in New Orleans. It was rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina destroyed it. Wuerffel, was well known for his spirituality while he was at Florida, not unlike fellow Florida Heisman winning quarterback Tim Tebow. They are very similar and one has to wonder why the media coverage is different between these two athletes. Growing up, I never heard much about Wuerffel’s faith, but I hear it all the time with Tebow. Is it because media coverage is different, or is is that Tebow has been a little more successful in the NFL than Wuerffel?
These are the last 10 Heisman winning quarterbacks. Some careers are to young too make a determination yet, while some have gotten off to a promising start, some have fizzled out, some just never got it going. Which category will Griffin end up in?
Originally published for www.footballnation.com