Heisman Trophy 2012: Pro Comparisons for the Top 10 Candidates

Jonathan IrwinContributor IINovember 27, 2012

Heisman Trophy 2012: Pro Comparisons for the Top 10 Candidates

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    With the 2012 Heisman Trophy race down to its final days, it's time to take a look at how the top 10 candidates compare to the pros. From Troy Smith to RG3, there's a diverse group of talent here.

    Despite polarizing careers, the last five Heisman winners have all entered the NFL with big expectations. Some have achieved that top level of play, and others have not.

    Here are some comparable players for this season's batch of hopefuls.

Jarvis Jones

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    Pro Comparison: Clay Matthews

    At 6'3" and 241 lbs., Jarvis Jones' explosiveness doesn't exactly fit the bill of his size.

    But the Bulldogs linebacker has been one of the most dominating pass-rushers this season. He has 71 tackles on the season (19.5 for loss) and 10.5 sacks.

    His size and abilities are reminiscent of Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews. Matthews has the same kind of intense explosiveness Jones possesses.

    The only difference is that Matthews never had the pure talent that Jones has. Which means Jones' upside could land in the area between a Clay Matthews and a Von Miller.

Stepfan Taylor

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    Pro Comparison: Darren Sproles

    With Andrew Luck out of the picture, Stepfan Taylor became the primary option for Stanford's offense this season.

    He responded with 1,364 yards rushing, 215 yards receiving and 13 touchdowns.

    Taylor has all the skills you look for in a specialty back. He can run through and around tackles, with great hands and route-running ability.

    What better comparison than Darren Sproles, who's averaged 268 yards rushing and 357 yards receiving a season in his seven-year NFL career.

Ka'Deem Carey

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    Pro Comparison: Shane Vereen

    Ka'Deem Carey is having a prolific season at Arizona, rushing for 1,757 yards and 20 touchdowns. He also has 33 catches for 288 yards.

    Carey is a bit undersized at running back, but that doesn't slow him down. He has great speed, allowing him to break tackles left and right.

    Despite great vision and instincts, Carey still struggles with catching passes, however.

    Carey profiles a lot like Shane Vereen. The Pats running back doesn't have great hands, but blazing speed. He's used in specialty situations to break away with the ball and pick up yards with his speed for New England.

    And just like Carey, Vereen isn't particularly catch-savvy, with just seven receptions on the season.

Tavon Austin

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    Pro Comparison: Mike Wallace

    There's a lot of talk about Tavon Austin's overall effectiveness at the next level.

    The West Virginia wide receiver is having a fantastic season, posting 1,149 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns on 106 catches.

    The debate comes down to his skill set. Austin has ridiculous speed and is great at shaking defenders. But he is on the small side with questionable route-running abilities.

    The most conservative comparison would be Steelers receiver Mike Wallace.

    Wallace has never been a tremendous route-runner, but uses his insane speed to break away from the field and get open. He currently leads Pittsburgh with 572 receiving yards.

Kenjon Barner

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    Pro Comparison: LaMichael James

    Leading Oregon's prolific rushing attack, Kenjon Barner is enjoying a tremendous final season in green and yellow.

    Barner has been dominant, rushing for 1,624 yards and 21 touchdowns.

    The biggest issue with these tailbacks coming out of Oregon is no one knows if they're actually good players, or just a product of Chip Kelly's run-'n-gun system.

    That's why my best comparison is LaMichael James. Another Oregon product, James runs about the same size as Barner and has the same speed-plus-instinct tool set.

    James has yet to take a snap for the 49ers this season, so we've yet to see what he can really do in the NFL. If he does start getting some playing time, it would help shed some light on Barner's prospects.

Marqise Lee

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    Pro Comparison: Steve Smith

    Perhaps one of the great Heisman snuffs of this season, Marqise Lee is a long shot to win the award. It's unfortunate that USC's record will drag down his awesome production.

    Lee has been shredding opposing secondaries all season long, recording 112 catches for 1,680 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has also been electric in the return game, with 802 yards and one touchdown on kickoffs.

    On the smaller side of the average wide receiver range (6'0"-6'3") at 6'1" and 195, Lee has explosive speed and instincts. He reads the field really well and knows how to get the ball in his hands.

    His skill set and size are very similar to Carolina wideout Steve Smith. Smith is actually a few inches smaller than Lee, but still has 11,048 receiving yards and 60 touchdowns in his NFL career.

    Smith has also been used in the return game, averaging 24.2 yards per return on kickoffs, and 9.3 yards on punts.

Braxton Miller

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    Pro Comparison: Troy Smith

    Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller has come into his own this season, leading the program to their first 12-0 season since 2002.

    Miller has done it all as one of the best dual-threat players in the Big Ten. He finishes 2012 completing 58.3 percent of his passes for 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also has 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.

    Miller profiles a lot like another Buckeye QB, Troy Smith.

    Smith (no longer in the NFL) wasn't always the most accurate passer, but he was efficient. He could hurt opposing defenses through the air, or make good use of his speed on the ground.

    He finished his Ohio State career averaging 1,907 yards passing and 389 yards rushing per season.

Collin Klein

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    Pro Comparison: Tim Tebow

    Another great debate is looming over this NFL draft. Once again we turn to Tim Tebow, and wonder if there's a place for big-bodied runners as quarterbacks in the NFL.

    The reason for that is Kansas State's Collin Klein.

    Before an epic loss at the hands of Baylor, Klein was leading the Heisman race. He has 2,306 yards passing and 787 yards rushing on the season, with 34 total touchdowns.

    The problem with Klein is that despite his ability to win, he isn't the model of a pro quarterback. He lacks the arm and instincts of a next-level QB, and possesses the big body of a fullback or tight end (6'5", 225).

    Lo and behold, that's what everyone said/says about Tebow. Is Klein-mania just around the corner?

Manti Te'o

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    Pro Comparison: Lawrence Timmons

    There's a big debate over how good Manti Te'o really is, and whether or not he deserves to be a top Heisman candidate.

    My take is, say what you want about his candidacy, but don't ignore how good he's been.

    Te'o's having a great senior season, playing a key role in Notre Dame's defense and perfect record. The hard-nosed linebacker has 101 tackles on the season, along with two sacks and seven interceptions. Teo's recorded 10 or more tackles in six games this season.

    He's not the most explosive linebacker, which is why he isn't a huge threat rushing the passer, but Te'o does have amazing instincts and field vision. He always knows how to play the ball and is in on every play.

    Sounds a lot like Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons. Timmons possesses that same kind of vision with seven picks and 26 passes defended in his career. He also averages over 70 tackles a year.

    Te'o might not be the best defensive player in college football, but he still has great NFL potential.

Johnny Manziel

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    Pro Comparison: Robert Griffin III

    Now we get Johnny Football, and my personal pick for the Heisman.

    Just a freshman, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is having a prolific season to say the least. He's the youngest QB to ever put together a season with over 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing.

    To be specific, Manziel has 3,419 yards passing on the season and 1,181 rushing. He's thrown for 24 touchdowns, and rushed for 19.

    What better comparison than last season's Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III. Just a rookie, RG3 already looks like one of the best dual-threat QBs in the NFL. He has over 2,500 yards passing and 600 yards rushing on the season.

    In his final season at Baylor, Griffin three for 4,293 yards while rushing for 699. He finished his year with 47 total touchdowns.

    While a lot can happen to Manziel in his next few years at A&M, he already looks like one of the most dominating players in college football.