Ranking the Heisman Trophy Winners & Finalists Who Have Played for the Saints

Will Osgood@@BRwillosgoodAnalyst IDecember 3, 2012

Ranking the Heisman Trophy Winners & Finalists Who Have Played for the Saints

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    On Monday, the 2012 Heisman Trophy Finalists will be announced. Expected among the group are Kansas State QB Collin Klein, Texas A&M Freshman QB Johnny Manziel and Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o. After those three, it's pretty much anyone's guess as to who else could be invited to New York for Saturday night's awards ceremony. 

    Just being a finalist for college football's most prestigious award is a tremendous accomplishment for a collegian. But, college success and being invited to New York to take part in the presentation does not guarantee NFL success. Many players have been finalists for the award and had little to no NFL success. 

    The New Orleans Saints have had 16 players who were finalists for the Heisman Trophy. Five of them won the award. Not all of them have had great success for the Saints, or in the NFL in general. 

    In fact, the group has had varying levels of success. Here are the rankings of each player based on their performance in the NFL, with weighted significance and value given to the player's accomplishments as a member of the Saints. 

    College statistics courtesy of sports-reference.com. 

    NFL statistics courtesy of pro-football-reference.com. 

16. Joey Harrington, QB, Oregon

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    Heisman Finish: Fourth, 2001. 

    2001 Statistics: 259/395, 3,896 yards, 34 TD, 12 Int. 

    NFL Statistics: 1,424/2,538, 14,693 yards, 79 TD, 85 Int. 

    Joey Harrington's NFL career was quite sad. The numbers were solid, but don't do justice to the horrid nature of watching Harrington play quarterback in the National Football League. 

    He was with the Saints about a hundred times going back and forth between the active roster and being on the streets. Joey Harrington landing 16th on the list has less to do with his overall career (others on this list had worse professional careers) and more to do with the fact he never actually saw the field in New Orleans. 

15. Heath Shuler, QB, Tennessee

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    Heisman Finish: Second, 1993

    1993 Statistics: 184/285, 2,354 yards, 25 TD, 8 Int

    NFL Statistics: 292/593, 3,691 yards, 15 TD, 33 Int

    Heath Shuler played quarterback at Tennessee at a time when quarterbacks were still allowed to wear numbers in the 20s (which frankly is more than a little odd). 

    At the professional level he settled down and wore No. 5, including in his lone season with the New Orleans Saints. Honestly there isn't much else to speak of in relation to Shuler's NFL career. 

    He started nine games for the Saints and won just four of them. He completed 52 percent of his passes and threw two touchdowns compared to 14 interceptions. In nine games! His career numbers have been outdone by Drew Brees in 12 games this season.

    Enough said. He was awful. 

    At least he has become a respectable member of the United States Congress. 

14. Chase Daniel, QB, Missouri

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    Heisman Finish: Fourth, 2007

    2007 Statistics: 384/563, 4,306 yards, 33 TD, 11 Int

    NFL Statistics: Don't be ridiculous. 

    Chase Daniel had one heck of a college career. Not listed in his 2007 junior season statistics is the immense number of rushing attempts and yardage he racked up through that mode of transportation. 

    Daniel was one of my favorite college quarterbacks, much like Drew Brees. It's funny that Daniel was brought in after being waived in his initial training camp by Washington to back up Brees. 

    The two share a great number of similarities in terms of physical and mental attributes and both carry them on to the field. For Daniel, those opportunities, though, are few and far between. 

    It is conceivable that Daniel could be the Saints' quarterback whenever Drew Brees retires, if he can wait that long to get an opportunity to start in the NFL. 

13. Troy Davis, RB, Iowa State

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    Heisman Finish: Second, 1996

    1996 Statistics: 402 rushes, 2,185 yards, 5.4 average, 21 TD

    NFL Statistics: 150, 446 yards, 3.0 average, 1 TD

    Mike Ditka apparently had a thing for Heisman finalists, especially in 1996. Between the undersized Davis (5'7", 191 lbs.) and Danny Wuerffel, Ditka dropped the ball on his third- and fourth-round selections in 1997 by basing his draft on college production. 

    This should be, and has been, a warning for franchises who put too high an emphasis on college production. Neither player ever became anything significant for the Saints. 

12. Danny Wuerffel , QB, Florida

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    Heisman Finish: Winner, 1996

    1996 Statistics: 207/360, 3,625 yards, 39 TD, 13 Int

    NFL Statistics: 184/350, 2,123 yards, 12 TD, 22 Int

    Danny Wuerffel ended his Florida career in New Orleans as he and his Gators got revenge on their rival, the Florida State Seminoles, to capture the nationaI title in 1996.

    Wuerffel may not be viewed by many Saints fans in a real positive manner. For his play in the NFL, it is totally understandable. He wasn't very good in the league, to say the least. He lasted three years in New Orleans after being picked in the fourth round, 99th overall, in 1997. 

    But Wuerffel was one of the finest college quarterbacks I've ever seen. Was he a great NFL prospect? No. Wuerffel deserves some love, though, simply because he has shown himself to be a true Saint. 

    The former Florida Gator has become known for his work with Desire Street Ministries, which according to its website is "transforming impoverished neighborhoods through spiritual and community development". 

    On June 15, 2011 Wuerffel was diagnosed with Guillane-Barre Syndrome, which is known to cause paralysis. 

11. Ki-Jana Carter, RB, Penn State

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    Heisman Finish: Second, 1994

    1994 Statistics: 198 rushes, 1,539 yards, 7.8 average, 23 TD

    NFL Statistics: 319 rushes, 1,144 yards, 3.6 average, 20 TD

    Ki-Jana Carter had one of the more quizzical careers in recent memory, especially among Heisman finalists. First of all, in my mind he should have finished his college career with the Heisman Trophy in his possession. Rashaam Salaam needed 100 more carries to pick up just over 500 more yards.

    Yes, that's a lot, but Carter's production was greater in terms of average (7.8 to 6.9) and TD/Attempt ratio (Salaam had 24 TD on 298 carries, just one more TD than Carter in exactly 100 more carries). 

    But the explosion he demonstrated at Penn State seemed to leave him upon arriving in the NFL as his average was literally cut in half. But the touchdown runs continued to develop. 

    The easy explanation is that the first pick of the Cincinnati Bengals became an effective short-yardage runner. But that is nowhere near what was expected out of the Nittany Lion star. 

    Carter spent two seasons in New Orleans to end his career, competing in 10 games and scoring one touchdown. 

10. Earl Campbell, RB, Texas

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    Heisman Finish: Winner, 1977

    1997 Statistics: 267 rushes, 1,744 yards, 6.5 average, 18 TD

    NFL Statistics: 2,187 rushes, 9,407 yards, 4.3 average, 74 TD

    Earl Campbell had some great seasons with the Houston Oilers. He was traded to the Saints in 1984, played six games and then retired in training camp in 1986 after playing just one full season in the black and gold. 

    It was a short and rather uneventful stay in New Orleans for Campbell. And it really did not bring the sort of results that Bum Phillips was hoping for after attaining so much success together in Houston. 

9. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

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    Heisman Finish: Winner, 2009

    2009 Statistics: 271 rushes, 1,658 yards, 6.1 average, 17 TD

    NFL Statistics: 220 rushes, 826 yards, 3.8 average, 8 TD, 16 receptions, 68 yards

    Mark Ingram is still less than two full seasons into his NFL career. In his rookie campaign, he failed to play the entire season. Yet, one would expect him to have surpassed the 1,000-yard mark by now. From that perspective the 2009 Heisman winner has been a disappointment. 

    A Mark Ingram apologist would point to the Saints' often poor use of the elusive, burst and vision-oriented runner who gets better with increased carries. But no matter, it is still too early to close the door on Mark Ingram as a New Orleans Saint. 

8. Craig Heyward, RB, Pittsburgh

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    Heisman Finish: Fifth, 1987

    1987 Statistics: 357 rushes, 1,655 yards, 4.6 average, 11 TD

    NFL Statistics: 1,031 rushes, 4,301 yards, 4.2 average, 30 TD, 177 receptions, 1559 yards, 8.8 average, 4 TD

    For those who are only casual football observers, or simply haven't been alive long enough to know much of New Orleans Saints history, Craig Heyward isn't a name to know.

    In fact, it's likely that the only way a new school football fan would know Heyward would be because of his name being thrown around in relation to him being the father of Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward. 

    But the history books make a much bigger deal of Craig Heyward and his football career. After being selected 24th overall in the 1988 NFL draft, he spent five years in New Orleans (which was the longest amount of time he spent with one team in his career). 

    But in just three years in Atlanta, he out-rushed the New Orleans version of himself. 

7. Billy Kilmer, RB, UCLA

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    Heisman Finish: Fifth, 1960

    1960 Statistics: 160 rushes, 803 yards, 4.9 average

    NFL Statistics: 1584/2984 (53.1 completion percentage), 20,495 yards, 152 TD, 146 Int, 362 rushes, 1509 yards, 21 TD, 27 receptions, 288 yards, 1 TD

    What an interesting career Billy Kilmer had in the National Football League. Not only did he begin his career at his college position (running back) but he eventually became a great NFL quarterback. 

    Those first four seasons as a running back were performed in a San Francisco 49ers uniform. At age 28, he found his way to the expansion New Orleans Saints in 1967. He was the Saints' first notable quarterback. 

    In four seasons as a Saint, Kilmer completed 592 passes on 1,116 attempts for 7,490 yards. He added to that 47 touchdowns compared to 62 interceptions. In fact, in only one season did he have more touchdown passes than interceptions. 

    By no means was Kilmer a preeminent member of this list, but Kilmer should not be dismissed as a member of the Saints' history and a noted historical Heisman finalist. 

6. George Rogers, RB, South Carolina

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    Heisman Finish: Winner, 1980

    1980 Statistics: 297 rushes, 1,781 yards, 6.0 average, 14 TD

    NFL Statistics: 1,692 rushes, 7,176 yards, 4.2 average, 54 TD

    In addition to the statistics listed here, George Rogers accrued over 7,500 scrimmage yards in his NFL career. This just in—that's a lot. 

    Unfortunately for Rogers, expectations were greater for the best player in South Carolina history and its only Heisman Trophy winner. South Carolina's 1980 season was nothing short of magical, especially for Rogers who earned spots on eight separate All-America rosters and of course culminated in a Heisman Trophy.

    His four seasons in New Orleans never quite lived up to the bill of his time in Columbia. And in fact, no season lived up to his rookie campaign, a year in which he ran for 1,764 yards on 378 attempts (good for 4.4 per attempt) and an average of 104.6 yards per game. 

    Still, Rogers' time in the NFL should be considered much better than average. 

5. Darren Sproles, RB, Kansas State

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    Heisman Finish: Fifth, 2003

    2003 Statistics: 306 rushes, 1,986 yards, 6.5 average, 16 TD

    NFL Statistics: 362 rushes, 1,874 yards, 5.2 average, 8 TD, 283 receptions, 2,545 yards, 22 TD, 158 punt returns, 1,360 yards (8.6 yard average), 3 TD, 312 kick returns, 7,960 yards (25.5 average), 2 TD

    You probably didn't realize Darren Sproles was a Heisman finalist at Kansas State. He was a wonderful player no doubt. Heisman finalist though? Surprising. 

    Yet, it's interesting to see that Darren Sproles' gaudy 6.5 yard per rush average hasn't shrunk tremendously in the pros. His efficiency as a runner is only trumped in impressiveness by the fact that he's truly one of the most effectively versatile players the NFL has ever seen. 

    His burst and explosion are nearly unrivaled. And he is a deceptively strong and tough runner when needed on carries up the middle. With all that in mind, it's slightly surprising to see Sproles has only garnered 362 carries in his seven-year career. 

    Then again he presents so much value in other areas of the game that it makes a little more sense. 

4. Reggie Bush, RB, Southern Cal

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    Heisman Finish: Fifth, 2004; Winner, 2005

    2005 Statistics: 200 rushes, 1,740 yards, 8.7 average, 16 TD

    NFL Statistics: 890 rushes, 3,838 yards, 4.3 average, 28 TD, 361 receptions, 2,627 yards, 13 TD

    It is interesting to see the level of impact that the San Diego area has had on the New Orleans Saints franchise. Reggie is one of four men on this list who had some sort of tie to San Diego. For Bush, it was that he grew up in "America's Greatest City" and played high school football at Helix High School in La Mesa. 

    That was intended only to be an interesting side-note. The real story behind the story is that Reggie had a similarly perplexing career in New Orleans, much like that of fellow San Diegan Ricky Williams. They are two of the five on this list who won the actual trophy. 

    More importantly, each was given the impossible task of carrying the Saints to respectability on their own, though the truth is that Reggie was bailed out by Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis' good luck of being able to acquire Drew Brees from San Diego. 

    It all comes full circle, doesn't it? The truth is that Reggie was a key contributor on the Saints' most successful team in franchise history.

    He played some of his best games in the postseason, and created the spark needed in the divisional round game against Arizona that helped the Saints erase their three-game losing streak and start a three-game winning streak that would culminate in hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in Miami, where ironically Bush now plays. 

    Much must be said about Bush because he is one of the greatest enigmas on this list, if not the greatest. He, of course, had his Heisman Trophy officially revoked in September 2010. But for the purpose of this list and the shameful actions of the Heisman committee in commanding Bush's Heisman be revoked (though officially he gave it away), we're proceeding as if the 2005 Heisman Trophy still belongs to Reggie Bush

3. Ricky Williams, RB, Texas

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    Heisman Finish: Winner, 1998

    1998 Statistics: 361 rushes, 2,124 yards, 5.9 average, 27 TD

    NFL Statistics: 2,431 rushes, 10,009 yards, 4.1 average, 66 TD

    OK, so Ricky Williams' career in New Orleans didn't exactly go as planned. Then again, Mike Ditka's odd obsession with him created an unhealthy type of relationship between Ricky, the team, and the city of New Orleans. Of course, giving up an entire draft just to get him didn't help either. 

    Still, in Williams' three years in New Orleans, he ran for 3,129 yards and 16 touchdowns. It's not as if Ricky was awful. Much like George Rogers, the expectations were simply too high. In Williams' case the pressure was insanely unfair. 

    Considering all that, Williams' time in New Orleans actually should be considered a success. And actually, his NFL career, as odd as it was, was quite successful. 

2. Archie Manning, QB, Ole Miss

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    Heisman Finish: Fourth, 1969; Third, 1970

    1969 Statistics: 154/265, 1,762 yards, 9 TD, 9 Int

    1970 Statistics: 121/233, 1,481 yards, 14 TD, 14 Int

    NFL Statistics: 2,011/2,642 (55.2 completion percentage), 23,911 yards, 125 TD, 173 Int

    OK, so the numbers aren't exactly pretty. Then again, the NFL was much more of a rushing league in Manning's time than it is now. 

    More importantly though, Archie Manning had very little talent around him while in New Orleans. He played 10 full seasons and one game in 1982 for the Saints. In that span, he threw 115 of his 125 career touchdowns and he only threw 156 of his 173 interceptions. 

    It is clear to see, then, that Manning was at his best in New Orleans, even though he possessed the least amount of talent around him. And it's clear that prior to Drew Brees arriving in New Orleans in 2006, Manning was the finest quarterback to play for the New Orleans Saints. 

1. Drew Brees, QB, Purdue

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    Heisman Finish: Fourth, 1999; Third, 2000

    1999 Statistics: 337/554, 3,909 yards, 25 TD, 12 Int

    2000 Statistics: 286/473, 3,392 yards, 24 TD, 12 Int

    NFL Statistics: 3,917/5,971, 65.6 completion percentage, 44,416 yards, 312 TD, 162 Int. 

    Is there any doubt that Drew Brees is the finest player in Saints' franchise history, not to mention the best Heisman finalist? No, there is no doubt. 

    Brees holds just about every passing record there is now in the NFL. It seems like every couple of games he's setting another record. 

    To write anymore would be kind of silly. We could talk for years about how amazing Drew Brees has been. It's unnecessary. 

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