Bleacher Report's All-Heisman Position Team

Michael CarrollFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2013

Bleacher Report's All-Heisman Position Team

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    We all know Heisman voting skews towards quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. Let’s push away reality for a moment, though, and consider this question: Which player, at each position, has the best chance of winning the 2013 Heisman Trophy?

    Behold Bleacher Report’s All-Heisman Position Team.

    Before discussing who should make the team, we must remember this: Simply choosing the best player at each position won’t cut it. Here are some reasons why, in no particular order.

    First, players on the same team sometimes steal votes from each other. Two players from the same team made the Top 10 in Heisman voting as recently as 2011, when Wisconsin’s Montee Ball finished fourth and Russell Wilson finished ninth.

    Second, the best players on the best teams don’t always win. No Alabama players finished in the Top 10 of the 2012 Heisman voting. Also, Notre Dame’s highest vote-getter in 2012, Manti Te’o, finished second. The Irish were the top team heading into the 2012 bowl season.

    Third, underclassmen haven’t fared well in Heisman voting throughout history. In 2012, the first freshman won the award (Johnny Manziel), and the first sophomore didn’t join the fraternity until 2007 (Tim Tebow). Though underclassmen have done better recently in the voting, upperclassmen still have the upper hand.

    Next, we’ll break down the team’s structure.

    OFFENSE: One quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, two offensive tackles, two offensive guards, one center.

    DEFENSE: Seven defensive linemen/linebackers, four defensive backs.

    SPECIAL TEAMS: one kicker, one punter.

    Any players who also are return specialists get bonus points, because they can affect a game’s outcome in more ways.

    Offensive and defensive systems will impact the production of players and therefore help determine who makes a push for Heisman. The traditional pro set on offense allows a player from each position to make the team, while the “seven defensive linemen/linebackers” accounts for both commonly used defensive sets (the 4-3 and the 3-4).

    Finally, let’s get to the team. Feel free to debate in the comments section below.

Quarterback: Braxton Miller (Ohio State)

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    Before you go on the attack for not seeing defending Heisman winner Johnny Manziel's name, consider the following arguments in support of Braxton Miller.

    Miller finished fifth in the 2012 Heisman voting, but he should get more love this season.

    Why?

    First, Ohio State is again eligible for postseason play. The Buckeyes would have played in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game if not for last year’s sanctions. The penalties likely hurt Miller’s chances of winning the 2012 Heisman.

    Second, nobody has won back-to-back Heismans since Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975.

    Third, Miller and Ohio State are favorites to reach the 2014 BCS National Championship Game. Though I mentioned earlier that the best players from the best teams don’t necessarily win, it doesn’t hurt.

    Fourth, Miller seemingly doesn’t have to worry about his teammates stealing votes from him. Miller is the only Ohio State player on the 2013 Maxwell Award Watch List, not counting Carlos Hyde, whom the team suspended indefinitely.

    Though Johnny Football might be the best quarterback in the game, Miller has a better chance of winning the 2013 Heisman right now.

Running Back: Ka'Deem Carey (Arizona)

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    Ka’Deem Carey couldn’t lead Arizona to a Top 25 ranking in 2012, but he did enough to get college football’s attention in 2013.

    Carey led FBS in yards from scrimmage in 2012 and placed fifth in total touchdowns. Another season with Carey pacing his peers in production could net him a Heisman.

    Arizona will bring in a new quarterback and five new offensive starters in total, meaning Carey could see a spike in production as everyone gets acclimated.

    Danny Flynn of B/R put Carey on the 2013 Preseason All-American Second Team at running back, but Carey gets the nod on the Heisman team because he doesn’t have to split votes with his teammates. Carey is the only Arizona Wildcat on the 2013 Maxwell Award watch list.

Running Back: Dri Archer (Kent State)

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    Dri Archer does it all for the Kent State Golden Flashes, and he does it all well enough to get nationally recognized.

    Archer led Kent State to the best season in program history in 2012. Now that head coach Darrell Hazell left for Purdue, Archer enters 2013 as the unquestioned leader of the program.

    Archer is a threat to score every time he touches the football. He placed sixth in FBS in total touchdowns in 2012, and he led the nation in both yards per rush and yards per kickoff return.

    Of course, Archer might fail to collect enough Heisman votes because he plays in the MAC. Those who like to see guys have elite production in many phases of the game will push Archer into the Top 10 of the 2013 Heisman voting, though.

    After all, Archer is the only Kent State player on the 2013 Maxwell Award watch list.

Wide Receiver: Marqise Lee (USC)

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    Of all the players on this team, USC’s Marqise Lee could have the best chance to win the 2013 Heisman.

    Lee finished fourth in the 2012 voting, which equates to second amongst returning players. USC was 7-6 last season, so Lee really stood out to the voters.

    Though he missed out on the Heisman, Lee won the 2012 Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best wide receiver. Lee led FBS in receptions, placed second in receiving yards and third in receiving touchdowns.

    He also contributes to the Trojans as a kickoff returner. Like I said earlier, this role gave Lee bonus points, but he didn’t really need them.

    The losses of quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receiver Robert Woods from the Trojan offense will put more pressure on Lee to be a leader. If he leads effectively enough to get USC back to the college football elite, then he’ll be a no-brainer to make the list of Heisman finalists.

Wide Receiver: Stefon Diggs (Maryland)

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    Stefon Diggs could’ve gone just about anywhere in the country coming out of high school in 2012, but he chose to stay home and help Maryland turn around its program.

    So far, so good for Diggs and the Terrapins.

    Diggs opens the 2013 season as one of two wide receivers (Marqise Lee) on Heisman Pundit’s Heisman watch list. Considering he overcame the obstacles of his class year and the strength of his team, Diggs' talent merits his inclusion on this team.

    Maryland will rely heavily on Diggs in 2013, like it did in 2012. The rising sophomore ran, caught, threw, and returned the ball for the Terps. Diggs’ versatility is his greatest asset, and his appearance on Heisman watch lists suggests he’s one of the most versatile offensive players in college football.

    Diggs helped Maryland go from two wins in 2011 to four in 2012. If that improvement continues—either by increasing the win total by two or doubling last year's wins—the Terps could reach a bowl game in 2013.

    Maryland won’t need double-digit wins to secure Diggs a spot in the Heisman race, but if Lee was able to place fourth on a 7-6 USC team, imagine how highly Diggs could finish on an eight- or nine-win Terp squad.

Tight End: Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Washington)

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    The last time a tight end finished in the top 10 of the Heisman voting was 1977, when Notre Dame’s Ken McAfee finished third.

    If any college football TE breaks through this season, it’s likely to be Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins.

    Seferian-Jenkins finished second in the 2012 Mackey Award voting. The Mackey Award goes to college football’s best tight end.

    ASJ's  production in the passing game gets him on the team. Amongst FBS tight ends in 2012, Seferian-Jenkins finished tied for first in receptions and second in receiving yards, and he was one of six to have at least seven touchdown receptions.

    Because he's a tight end, Seferian-Jenkins would need to rival the production of the nation’s top wide receivers to get Heisman recognition. Additionally, he’d likely need to beat out teammates Keith Price and Bishop Sankey for votes, as they’re the Huskies’ two representatives on the 2013 Maxwell Award watch list.

    In the end, though, Seferian-Jenkins makes this team as the tight end most likely to win the 2013 Heisman.

Offensive Tackle: Taylor Lewan (Michigan)

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    Taylor Lewan might have been considered a top 10 selection in the 2013 NFL draft, but he returned to Michigan for unfinished business. Lewan slightly improved his chances to win a Heisman with his decision.

    Lewan is one of two offensive tackles on the 2013 Maxwell Award watch list (see next slide for the other). It takes a lot to make a list littered with quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers, but Lewan has earned it.

    Lewan capped off an All-American 2012 season by holding Jadeveon Clowney without a sack in the 2013 Outback Bowl. Clowney won the 2012 Hendricks Award as the nation’s top defensive end, and he finished with 13 sacks, so that’s high praise for Lewan.

    Quarterback Devin Gardner joins Lewan as Michigan’s representatives on the watch list for the 2013 Maxwell Award, so vote stealing could be in order. Regardless, nobody’s more qualified at offensive tackle to bring home the Heisman than Lewan.

Offensive Tackle: Jake Matthews (Texas A&M)

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    In 2013, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews could be the nation’s best offensive tackle. In 2012, Matthews wasn’t even the best offensive tackle on his own team.

    Matthews and fellow Aggie Luke Joeckel had chances to get picked in the top 10 of the 2013 NFL draft. Joeckel took his chances, and he went second overall.

    Matthews decided to return to college football.

    Jake, the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, was an integral part of Johnny Manziel’s 2012 Heisman campaign. This season, he’ll shift to left tackle to fill Joeckel’s void.

    Manziel would definitely steal votes from Matthews, but the latter is off to a good start in making his own case for the award. Matthews joins Michigan’s Taylor Lewan as the only offensive tackle on the watch list for the 2013 Maxwell Award.

     

Offensive Guard: David Yankey (Stanford)

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    As the only offensive guard to make the 2013 Maxwell Award watch list, David Yankey of Stanford has the best chance to win the Heisman from the position right now.

    As versatile as they come in the trenches, Yankey saw time at every offensive line spot except center for the Cardinal in 2012. Stanford put Yankey wherever it needed him most, so expect that to happen again in 2013.

    Quarterback Kevin Hogan joins Yankey as the Cardinal’s representatives on the 2013 Maxwell Award watch list. This won’t help Yankey’s case for the Heisman itself, but he’s good enough on his own to make this team.

Offensive Guard: Gabe Jackson (Mississippi State)

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    Gabe Jackson won’t win Mississippi State’s first Heisman in 2013, but few offensive linemen have a better chance than him.

    Widely considered the best offensive lineman in the SEC, Jackson is one of few to have an answer for the top defense lines in college football. Too bad the Bulldogs haven’t done much to help him out.

    Jackson will have to overcome fellow teammates and 2013 Maxwell Award watch-list members LaDarius Perkins and Tyler Russell to generate enough votes. If Jackson plays as expected in 2013, though, he’ll get the next-best individual honors and a possible spot in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.

     

Center: Gabe Ikard (Oklahoma)

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    If Blake Bell, the only member of the 2013 Maxwell Award watch list from Oklahoma, continues to garner national attention in his first year as starting quarterback, he’ll have to thank Gabe Ikard.

    Luckily for Bell, Ikard could be the best center in college football.

    Ikard appears on B/R’s 2013 Preseason All-American Second Team at offensive line, but he’s the highest-rated center. This ultimately determined his placement at center on this team.

    All six finalists for the 2012 Rimington Trophy have left college football. It’s anyone’s guess as to who will fill those spots in 2013, but Ikard should be one of those guys.

     

Defensive Lineman: Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina)

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    South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney has a realistic chance to be the first Heisman Trophy winner as a defensive player since Michigan's Charles Woodson in 1997.

    Clowney, the only defensive player on Heisman Pundit’s 2013 preseason Heisman watch list, is perhaps the most dominant force in the college game today. The junior has been destined for greatness since high school, which he exited in 2011 as the nation’s top overall prospect. In fact, if he had been eligible for the 2013 NFL draft, Clowney might have been the first overall player taken.

    The defending Hendricks Award winner as the nation’s top defensive end finished sixth in the 2012 Heisman voting. That result places him fourth among players returning to college football in 2013.

    Clowney’s status as a purely defensive player hurts his chances to win the Heisman, but he’s more qualified than anyone on this side of the ball to pick up the hardware.

Defensive Lineman: Will Sutton (Arizona State)

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    Will Sutton of Arizona State had as many tackles for loss and sacks as Jadeveon Clowney in 2012, but he did it from the defensive tackle position.

    That’s quite a feat.

    Don’t let the presence of both Sutton and Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly on the 2013 Maxwell Award watch list deceive you. The list is full of quarterbacks, but Sutton is one of only four defensive players on it.

    Advantage Sutton.

    He was the 2012 Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and he helped Arizona State win its first bowl since 2005, taking home the defensive MVP of the 2012 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

    If the Sun Devils finish the 2013 season in the AP Top 25, then Sutton more than likely will have had an even more outstanding season than last year. And maybe he’ll crack the top 10 in the Heisman voting, should he have such a campaign.

Defensive Lineman: Aaron Donald (Pittsburgh)

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    Though Jadeveon Clowney and Will Sutton were no-brainers for the team, hold on as I explain the reasoning for Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald.

    Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt are both defensive linemen on the watch list for the 2013 Maxwell Award, and they both play at Notre Dame. Therefore, Nix and Tuitt would take votes away from each other and basically eliminate themselves from Heisman contention. Remember, this is the All-Heisman position team, not a preseason All-American team.

    Donald is the only Pittsburgh player on the 2013 Bednarik Award watch list. The senior finished tied for 15th in FBS in tackles for loss in 2012.

    Moving from the Big East to the ACC could be a blessing or a curse for Donald. The ACC offers much stronger competition, so either it will beat Donald down or elevate his chances.

    With nobody on his own team likely to cancel him out, Donald has one of the straighter shots to the Heisman for a defensive player this season.

Linebacker: Kyle Van Noy (BYU)

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    Kyle Van Noy of BYU is one of college football’s most complete linebackers.

    In 2012, Van Noy was all over the field for the Cougars. He made a mark just about everywhere on the defensive stat sheet, and he even returned a punt for eight yards!

    Fellow BYU defender Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah was picked fifth overall in the 2013 NFL draft, but Van Noy’s production shouldn’t suffer much in his absence. He hopes to lead the Cougars defense to another great year like it had in 2012, when it finished third in scoring defense.

    In 2013, a Top 25 finish in the AP poll for BYU and a top 10 finish in the Heisman voting for Van Noy isn’t as farfetched as you might think.

Linebacker: Anthony Barr (UCLA)

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    Anthony Barr of UCLA is one of college football’s most athletic linebackers.

    Barr played wide receiver in 2010, running back in 2011 and linebacker in 2012 for the Bruins. He found his most success on defense, and head coach Jim Mora Jr. would be foolish to move him again.

    Barr finished second in sacks and fifth in tackles for loss in FBS in 2012. He also defended passes and forced fumbles for UCLA.

    With fellow Bruin linebacker Eric Kendricks joining Barr as a candidate for the 2013 Bednarik Award, you might think Kendricks will steal some votes from Barr. It shouldn’t matter much at the end of the day, as pass-rushers are more valued than tackling machines when it comes to Heisman voting. After all, Jadeveon Clowney and Jarvis Jones made the top 10 in the 2012 Heisman voting for their work putting pressure on opposing QBs.

Linebacker: Ryan Shazier (Ohio State)

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    Ryan Shazier could get some Heisman votes if he can lead Ohio State’s defense into the 2014 BCS National Championship Game.

    Shazier used his speed and versatility in 2012 to enter the elite category for linebackers in 2013. With the Buckeyes clear of postseason penalties, expect Shazier to play more motivated football. Considering what he did last season, that’s a scary thought for his opponents.

    Cornerback Bradley Roby joins Shazier on the 2013 Bednarik Award watch list from Ohio State, but the latter plays a position that’s more favorable in the eyes of Heisman voters. Two linebackers made the top 10 in the 2012 Heisman voting, while none of the top 10 were defensive backs.

    Braxton Miller is the top Heisman candidate for the Buckeyes in 2013, but there aren’t many better all-around ‘backers than Shazier.

Linebacker: A.J. Johnson (Tennessee)

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    A.J. Johnson got overshadowed at Tennessee in 2012 by its potent passing game and better SEC teams.

    In 2013, however, it’s all about Johnson at Rocky Top.

    Johnson stood out on a bad Volunteers defense last season, as he led the SEC in tackles. New head coach Butch Jones should improve the unit in 2013, and this will help Johnson gain recognition as one of the conference’s best linebackers.

    Defensive tackle Daniel McCullers joins Johnson as Tennessee’s representatives on the 2013 Bednarik Award watch list, but the latter will put up the better numbers. McCullers is more of a monster in the trenches who helps guys like Johnson get to the ball-carriers, rather than someone who fills the stat sheets on his own.

    There are some linebackers in the country who will get more All-American votes than Johnson, but they’re part of elite defenses whose members will steal votes from each other. Johnson can’t be ignored in Heisman voting if he racks up 170 tackles and the Vols earn their first Top 25 ranking in the AP Final Poll since 2007.

    With Jones in charge, neither of these things is unrealistic.

Defensive Back: Jason Verrett (TCU)

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    Quarterbacks need to avoid TCU’s Jason Verrett at all costs. They didn’t know that in 2012, but they should now.

    Verrett tied for first in passes defensed and tied for fifth in interceptions in FBS in 2012. He also contributed on run defense with five tackles for loss.

    Teammate, defensive end Devonte Fields poses a threat to Verrett’s Heisman hopes. Both Horned Frogs are candidates for the 2013 Bednarik Award. Why, then, is Verrett on this team and not Fields?

    Verrett defines the term “shutdown corner” better than anyone in the country, while Fields has stiffer competition at defensive end for Heisman votes. Jadeveon Clowney, anyone? 

    The performance of the defense, including Verrett, is the main reason why TCU can compete for the Big 12 title in just its second season in the conference.

Defensive Back: Ty Zimmerman (Kansas State)

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    Kansas State has three returning starters on defense in 2013, and one of them is safety Ty Zimmerman.

    Fortunately for the Wildcats, senior is one of the nation’s best defensive backs.

    Zimmerman has been a rock for the program since 2010, when he was a Freshman All-American. He's adept as a center fielder and has shown consistency for three years straight.

    Coach Bill Snyder has coached three players into the top 5 of Heisman voting during his time at K-State: Michael Bishop, Darren Sproles and Collin Klein. Zimmerman probably won’t be that legitimate of a Heisman contender, but if he performs the way some expect in 2013, he could generate some votes.

    After losing a lot of talent from the 2012 Big 12 championship squad, the Wildcats are looking at a rebuilding year. If Zimmerman can help them stay in the Top 20 come Heisman voting time, he should get some consideration for the award.

Defensive Back: Craig Loston (LSU)

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    Recent history says LSU’s Craig Loston has a good chance of collecting numerous individual honors as a defensive back in 2013.

    If not for Tyrann Mathieu’s suspension in 2012, Tigers defensive backs could have the three most recent Thorpe Award winners. Mathieu also placed fifth in the 2011 Heisman voting.

    Even though Loston is a safety, and the other guys were cornerbacks, he has an equally good chance to win the Thorpe Award as they did.

    LSU lost seven defenders from the 2012 team to the NFL (eight if you include Mathieu). Though this would cripple most college football teams, the Tigers expect to reload on defense under coordinator John Chavis. Even if you want to call this year’s defense a rebuilding effort, Loston is someone whom Chavis will use to build his foundation.

    Loston is one of three Tigers on the 2013 Bednarik Award watch list, but the program’s success with defensive backs suggests he’ll get more attention than linebacker Lamin Barrow and defensive tackle Anthony Johnson.

    Nowadays, a Heisman position team would seem incomplete without an LSU defensive back, and Loston is the program's best candidate in 2013.

Defensive Back: Hakeem Smith (Louisville)

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    If the Louisville Cardinals meet the astronomical expectations bestowed on them for 2013, then the defense will have to improve a lot.

    Head coach Charlie Strong won two national championships on Florida’s defensive staff, so it was surprising to see the Cardinals' defensive unit not dominate the Big East in 2012.

    Hakeem Smith is the leader of the 2013 unit, and if he can bring it back to the level college football has come to expect from Strong, then he should get some Heisman votes.

    Any success the program has in 2013 will be credited to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but one player can’t bring a team into the BCS conversation alone. Smith has a good chance to shut down the mediocre offenses in the American Athletic Conference, and he’ll need to for the Cardinals to win the conference, let alone be called one of the top 10 teams in the country.

    Smith could reach 90 tackles this season, which is outstanding for a safety. He’ll likely need that many—and some good numbers in other areas of the stat sheet—to generate Heisman hype, but it’s possible that will happen.

    At the very least, Smith is one of the more qualified defensive backs in college football to make this team.

Kicker: Cairo Santos (Tulane)

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    Tulane’s Cairo Santos is the reigning Lou Groza Award winner as the nation’s best kicker.

    If Santos wins the Groza again, he’ll be the first repeat winner since Florida State's Sebastian Janikowski, who went in the first round of the 2000 NFL draft. Though Santos isn’t nearly of Janikowski’s caliber, this tidbit is worth noting.

    NFL Draft Scout pegs Santos as a sixth- or seventh-rounder in the 2014 NFL draft.

    Santos went a perfect 21-for-21 on field-goal attempts in 2012. Add that to his 26-for-27 clip on extra points, and he scored almost 35 percent of Tulane’s total points for the season.

    Tulane hasn’t made a bowl game since 2002, and it’s not expected to make any noise again in 2013. With quarterback Ryan Griffin having moved on, Santos could be the team’s only bright spot, and he’s bright enough to make this team.

Punter: Kirby Van Der Kamp (Iowa State)

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    Much like kicker Cairo Santos, Kirby Van Der Kamp of Iowa State has virtually no chance of receiving Heisman votes. Also like Santos, Van Der Kamp could be the Cyclones’ most viable candidate for the All-American Team.

    NFL Draft Scout thinks Van Der Kamp will get picked in either the sixth or the seventh round of the 2014 NFL draft.

    Van Der Kamp was one of FBS’ most active punters in 2012. Though a heavily used punter suggests a bad offense, Iowa State should be pleased to have one of the game’s best to finish off their three-and-outs.

    Though Florida’s Kyle Christy is the only 2012 Ray Guy Award finalist to return to college football, the Gators have plenty more Heisman candidates on their roster. Iowa State can’t claim a representative on the watch lists for either the 2013 Maxwell Award or the 2013 Bednarik Award, so Van Der Kamp has a slightly straighter path to the Heisman than does Christy.

    Hey, somebody had to be on here.