20 Years Of National Champion And Heisman QBs: Do They Equal NFL Excellence?

Michael Keller@@MichaelK_NFLAnalyst IIIFebruary 16, 2011

20 Years Of National Champion And Heisman QBs: Do They Equal NFL Excellence?

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    Not that there has ever been any histrionics over whether a running or "hybrid" QB can make it in the NFL any more or less than a more traditional QB (has there?), but let's take a look at those run and gun guys and those "in the pocket" guys that have won an NCAA championship—and maybe a Heisman—and see how they fared in the NFL.

    As you might expect there are more than a few Heisman Trophy winners sprinkled in with these great college players. We will also review how winning this prestigious award does or does not predict greatness in the NFL at the QB position.

    I went back 20 years and researched all the winning QBs. Then I looked at their NFL success—or lack of—to see what correlation there was comparing a traditional pro-style QB in college to an Option or Spread type, and whether a Heisman on their mantle made any difference.

1991 Gino Torretta, Miami, Mark Brunell, Washington (Split Championship)

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    Gino Who?

    6'2" 215 pounds

    1992 Heisman Trophy winner

    He was a passing guy who couldn't run if a pack of wild dingos was on his tail.

    He had great college passing stats in his years at at Miami:

    555 of 7991, 7,690 Yards, 47 TDs, 24 INTs.

    His NFL career was short and he only played in one game for the Seattle Seahawks but did throw a TD pass and they came from behind to win that game against the Oakland Raiders.


    But Mark Brunell? An interesting story here.

    6'1", 215 pounds

    Although he wasn't known as a great runner in college, let's look at his stats and see what they reveal.

    College stats:

    Passing: 259 of 498 for 2,426 Yards with 23 TDs and 16 INTs.

    Rushing stats: 678 Yards, 19 TDs.

    Not a lot of rushing but Brunell made it count with the TDs..

    In the NFL, so far, he is:

    Passing: 2,790 of 4637, 32,045 Yards, 184 TDs and 108 INTs.

    Rushing: 2,433 Yards, 16 TDs.

    What this showed me was he learned to play within the system and only ran when it was judicious.

    Two other interesting facts about Brunell;

    One, he is left-handed, which seems to be a higher trait for running QBs.

    Two, he is still in the NFL after 19 seasons and 40 years of age.

    That says a lot about how he took care of his body by not running nearly as much on a percentage basis as he did in college.

1992 Jay Barker, Alabama

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    Jay Barker

    6'3" 220 pounds

    College stats;

    Passing stats: 402 of 696, 5,689, 26 TDs, 24 INTs.

    Running stats: 135 Attempts, -121 Yards.


    Was drafted by the Green Bay Packers (SB CHAMPS!) and played in the CFL for a while.


    Nuff said.

1993 Charlie Ward, Florida State

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    Charlie Ward,

    6'2", 195 pounds

    Heisman winner

    College stats:

    Passing: 473 of 759, 4757 Yards, 49 TDs and 21 INTs.

    Rushing stats:  170 Attempts, 889 Yards, 10 TDs.

    Little known fact; He also punted in his Freshman year and had a 37 yard average.

    One of the best all-around athletes to come out of Florida State and he chose to play basketball and was a very good Guard for the New York Knicks.

    No way to find out how good he could have been in the NFL.

1994, 1995 Tommie Frazier, Nebraska

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    Tommie Frazier,

    6'2", 205 pounds.

    Heisman Trophy runner-up 1995

    Frazier, out of Bradenton, FL, was one of the best option QBs to ever play the game.

    College stats:

    Passing: 232 of 495, 3,521 Yards, 43 TDs, 11 INTs.

    Rushing: 342 Attempts, 1,955 Yards, 36 TDs.

    Frazier still holds the Bowl record for the longest TD run, at 75 yards in the Fiesta Bowl against Florida in a 62-24 win for their second consecutive national championship. And he is the only player on this list to be the starting QB on two national champion teams.

    He was 33-3 as a starter, even with missing seven games due to a blood clot in his leg.

    Not a bad piece of college work. But even though he was coveted by a lot of teams in the NFL, blood clots in his leg, due to Crohns disease, caused him to briefly try playing in the CFL before turning to coaching.

    This is the same disease that Oakland Raider Rolando McClain has but the treatment has advanced and he could complete a long and successful NFL career.

    His was a story left untold, as he may have been one of the best Hybrid QBs in the NFL. But we will never know.

1996 Danny Wuerffel, Florida

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    Danny Wuerffel,

    6'1", 215 pounds

    Heisman Trophy winner

    College stats: 

    Passing: 708 Comp, 1,170 Att, 10,875 Yds, 114 TDs, 42 INTs.

    Rushing stats: 185 Attempts, -375 Yds, 5 TDs.

    Looking at those negative yardage for running, I won't include him in the Hybrid category, but he did have a great college career.

    In the NFL, not so much. A career backup, for the most part, he was drafted in the fourth round of the 1997 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints and also was on the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins rosters.

    NFL stats:

    Passing: 184 of 350, 2,123 Yards, 12 TDs, 22 INTs.

    Rushing: 31 Attempts, 189 Yards, 1 TD.

    There are some folks who have said they think he was the best QB to ever play at Florida as he brought the program back to legitimacy.

1997 Scott Frost, Nebraska

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    Scott Frost

    6'3", 225 pounds

    A story about a local boy going to Stanford but deciding to come home to play in front of his friends and family.

    And not a bad decision, either. In his career at Nebraska, he won a National championship as the starting QB and was on the roster for another one.and put up some decent numbers for a Hybrid QB:

    College stats:

    Passing stats: 192 of 359, 2677 Yards, 223.1 YPG 18 TDs.

    Rushing stats: 302 of 1778, 1,778 Yards, 127.8 YPG 28 TDs.

    Not bad career stats but those were for two years. If projected out for a four-year career, he would have had over 5,000 yards passing, 36 TDs and 3,600 Yards rushing for another 56 TDs.

    Those number would have put him close to the top of the Hybrid QBs coming out of college.

    He ended up being drafted by the NY Jets and played safety most of his six years in the NFL.

1998 Tee Martin, Tennessee

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    Tee Martin

    6'2", 225 pounds

    Martin was the backup to a guy named Peyton Manning while an Underclassman at Tennessee. He led the Vols to a National championship. He also broke the collegiate record for consecutive pass completions with 24.

    College stats:

    Passing: 324 of 584, 4,568 Yards, 32TDs, 16 INTs.

    Rushing stats: 600 Yards, 16 TDs.

    He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2000 NFL draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. He played a backup role with the Steelers and the Oakland Raiders as well as  stints in the CFL and NFL Europe.

    NFL Passing stats: 6 of 16, 97 Yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT.

    NFL Rushing Yards: 6 Attempts, 36 Yards.

1999 Chris Weinke, Florida State

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    Chris Weinke

    6'4", 235 pounds

    2000 Heisman Trophy winner (Oldest to win the trophy at age 28)

    Weinke was a two sport athlete like Charlie Ward—both were in the same Florida State recruiting class—but he decided to played professional baseball (Triple A) and then went back to college at age 25. He enrolled at Florida State University and took them to three NCAA championship games, winning it in the 1999 season.

    College stats:

    Passing: 650 of 1107, 9,939 Yards, 79 TDs, 32 INTs.

    Rushing stats: 63 Attempts, -4 Yards, 1 TD.

    He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2001 NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers and played four years with the Panthers and his last year with the San Francisco 49ers.

    NFL passing stats: 386 of 709, 3904, 15 TDs, 26 INTs.

    NFL rushing stats: 53 Attempts, 154, 6 TDs.

2000 Josh Heupel, Oklahoma

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    Josh Heupel

    6'2", 210 pounds

    2000 Heisman Trophy runner-up

    Heupel enrolled at the University of Oklahoma after a two-year career at Snow College in Utah. In his two years at Oklahoma, he amassed quite a list of statistics and a BCS Championship.

    College stats:

    Passing: 1,025, 7456 Yards, 53 TDs, 31 INTs.

    Rushing stats: N/A

    He was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the sixth round of the 2001 NFL draft. Due to shoulder injuries, he never made the active roster.

    He is now the Offensive Coordinator back at his Alma Mater, Oklahoma.

2001 Ken Dorsey, Miami (Florida)

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    Ken Dorsey

    6'4", 220 pounds

    Two-time Heisman finalist

    Dorsey was the winningest QB in the University of Miami history, going 38-2 as a starting QB. He took them to a national championship and still holds many of the school's passing records.

    College stats:

    Passing: 668 of 1153, 9,565 yards, 86 TDs, 28 INTs.

    Rushing: 59 attempts, 2 TDs.

    He was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the 7th round of the 2003 NFL draft. He played for the 49ers and the Cleveland Browns before moving the the CFL's Toronto Argonauts as a backup QB.

    NFL passing stats: 214 of 407, 2,082, 8 TDs, 18 INTs.

    NFL rushing stats: 11 attempts, 18 Yards, 0 TDs.

2002 Craig Krenzel, Ohio State

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    Craig Krenzel

    6'4" 228 pounds

    Krenzel was a backup QB at THE Ohio State University before the starting QB was arrested and suspended from the team. He went on to lead the Buckeyes to its first win over Michigan in Ann Arbor since 1987. He also was the winning QB against Ken Dorsey and the Miami Hurricanes for the 2002 BCS Championship.

    He graduated from Ohio State with a degree in molecular genetics, a good sign that Craig is smarter than the average football player, and probably most college professors.

    College stats:

    Passing: 326 of 574, 4,473 Yards, 28 TDs, 20 INTs.

    Rushing: 247 Attempts, 646 Yards, 6 TDs.

    He was drafted in the firth round of the 2004 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears. He also was on the Cincinnati Bengals roster before a severe elbow injury ended his professional career.

    NFL passing stats: 59 of 127, 718 Yards, 3 TDs, 6 INTs.

    NFL rushing stats; 18 Attempts, 41 Yards, 0 TDs.

2003 Matt Mauck, LSU

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    Matt Mauck

    6'2", 220 pounds

    Mauck played at LSU under Nick Saban and was the starting QB for their 2003 BCS season.

    College stats:

    Passing: 310 of 529, 3,831 Yards, 37 TDs, 18 INTs.

    Rushing: 149 Attempts, 345 Yards, 5 TDs.

    He was drafted in the 7th round of the 2004 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos but only played in one regular season game for the Tennessee Titans.

    NFL passing stats: 15 of 27, 136 Yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT.

    NFL Rushing stats: 7 Attempts, 39 Yards, 0 TD.

2004 Matt Leinart, USC

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    Matt Leinart

    6'5", 232 pounds

    Heisman Trophy winner

    Leinart had arguably the best career of any USC QB. He set all kinds of records, won the Heisman and had his jersey retired.

    And he came within a few confidential votes by the NCAA of having his BCS championship taken away because of Reggie Bush's antics.

    College stats:

    Passing: 807 of 1245, 10,693 Yards, 99TDs, 23 INTs.

    Rushing: 132 Attempts, 142 Yards, 9 TDs.

    Leinart was taken by the Arizona Cardinals with the 10th pick in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft.

    After spending a several years as Kurt Warner's backup, he was briefly given the starting role before being released in favor of Derek Anderson and subsequently signed a one-year contract with the Houston Texans to back up Matt Schaub. Where he will be in 2011 is still a mystery.

    NFL passing stats: 240 of 595, 3893 Yards, 14 TDs, 20 INTs.

    NFL rushing stats: 37 Attempts, 96 Yards, 2 TDs.

    As you can see, he has lackluster NFL stats but will likely end up competing for a starting job somewhere, assuming his playboy lifestyle doesn't totally consume him.

    And he is also a Leftie.

2005 Vince Young, Texas

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    Vince Young

    6'5", 235 pounds

    Heisman Trophy runner-up

    Young was a Houston, TX high school phenom and highly recruited for his college services. He had an incredible 3800+ yards and 58 TDs in his senior season!

    He chose to stay in state and signed with the University of Texas.

    Young had one of the most storied careers in Longhorns history. He was the first player in major school history to pass for over 3,000 yards and rush for over 1,000 yards in a single season.

    He was a two-time Rose Bowl MVP and had his jersey retired at Texas.

    College stats:

    Passing: 444 of 718, 6,040 Yards, 44TDs, 28 INTs.

    Rushing: 457 Attempts for 3,127 Yards, 48 TDs.

    After declaring for the draft after his Junior year, Young was drafted by the Tennessee Titans with the 3rd pick in the 2006 NFL draft. Some say he would have gone higher, but his first Wunderlic score was inaccurately reported to be a 6 (I think you get 5 points for filling in your name) and this may have raised a red flag or three. It was retaken and reported to have gone up to a 16, the same as Dan Marino's.

    Young started 13 games and was 8-5 for his rookie season. He then began several years of up and down play, both due to injuries and to personal issues. He finished the 2008 season as Kerry Collins' backup and would be that at the start of the 2009 season but came back to play and was voted to the Pro Bowl.

    But his injuries and his other issues caused a bad 2010 season that was made worse when he broke the NFL record for handing out souvenirs when he chucked his shoulderpads and jersey to some lucky fan in his potentially last game as a Titan.

    NFL stats:

    Passing: 689 of 1,190, 9,098 Yards, 42 TDs, 42 INTs.

    Rushing: 264 Attempts, 1,380 Yards, 12TDs.

    As much talent as Young possesses, his personal issues and his running causing injuries has most likely shortened and reduced the career of a true Hybrid QB. Will he rebound? Who knows, but his options are becoming more limited.

2006, Chris Leak, Florida

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    Chris Leak

    6', 200 pounds

    Leak was a tremendous high school player in Charlotte North Carolina where he set a state record for career yardage - 15, 590 - and TDs, 185. He was considered the third best QB out of high school and signed a scholarship offer to play at the University of Florida.

    He was a quiet leader and was elected a team captain in three of his four years there.

    And he took his team to an SEC and National Championship his senior year, winning the MVP in that game against Ohio State.

    College stats:

    Passing: 705 of 1,138, 8,788 Yards, 72 TDs, 31 INTs.

    Rushing: 243 Attempts, 190 Yards, 11 TDs.

    Leak went undrafted but was signed by the Chicago Bears, but ended up playing a few years in the CFL.

    He was a great all-around person as well as a very good college QB. Besides being voted captain 3 times he was a four time SEC Academic Honor Roll member and a finalist for the Draddy Trophy, the "academic Heisman".

2007 Matt Flynn, LSU

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    Matt Flynn

    6'2", 225 pounds

    Flynn signed with LSU after being courted by home state teams, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. He also has the distinction of redshirting his Freshman year at LSU along with fellow Freshman, Jamarcus Russell.

    He played behind Russell until his Senior year when Russell left for the NFL and the Oakland Raiders. And what a Senior season he had! He led LSU to the National Championship by beating Ohio State in the New Orleans Allstate Bowl and completing an undefeated season. And he was named the offensive MVP in that championship game, throwing for 179 yards and 4 TDs.

    College stats:

    Passing: 245 of 437, 3,096 Yards, 31 TDs, 13 INTs.

    Rushing: 128 Attempts, 340 Yards, 5 TDs.

    Flynn was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 7th round of the 2008 NFL draft. He has been the backup to Aaron Rodgers and has played sparingly so far.

    NFL stats:

    Passing: 49 of 83, 497 Yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs.

    Rushing: 18 Attempts, 25 Yards, 0 TDs.

    Considering the number of teams looking for starting QBs, Flynn's name comes up in several discussions. Whether he will or won't be a Packer next year is still up in the air.

    Little known fact: According to my research, he is the only QB in this article to have both a NCAA championship and a Super Bowl ring.

2008 Tim Tebow, Florida

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    Tim Tebow

    6'3", 240 pounds

    2006 Heisman trophy winner

    Tim Tebow is the best Spread QB to come along so far. His combination of size, strength and a perfect system has allowed him to set many NCAA records that may never be broken.

    Oh, and he also was on two National Championships, being the starting QB on the second one and was the first Underclassman to win the Heisman.

    College stats:

    Passing: 661 of 995 for 9,285 Yards, 88 TDs, 16 INTs.

    Rushing: 2,947 Yards, 57 TDs.

    Tebow was drafted with the Denver Broncos' second pick in the first round of the NFL 2010 draft.

    He played in several games throughout the 2010 season in situational plays and started the last three games of the season when starter Kyle Orton was hurt. 

    His NFL stats:

    Passing: 41 0f 82, 5 TDs, 3 INTs.

    Rushing: 227 Yards, 6 TDs.

    Tebow has the work ethic to develop his skills and to learn to be a NFL QB. But with new coaches, most likely a modified offensive scheme, it is too early to project how good he will turn out in his professional career.

    And he is also a Leftie, the third one on this list.

2009 Greg McElroy, Alabama

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    Greg McElroy

    6'3", 225 pounds

    McElroy was a high school phenom, throwing the second most TDs in Texas high school history with 56. His father played football at Hawaii and was the Dallas Cowboys VP of Marketing. So he does have some football in his genes.

    He de-committed to Texas Tech to play at Alabama and had a great career, leading them to the National Championship his Junior year.

    In the SEC Championship game against the (then) #1 Florida Gators, he was 12-18 for 239 Yards and a TD and won game MVP. Alabama then went on to play Texas, and even though McElroy was playing with two cracked ribs, Alabama switched to a running game behind Mark Ingram and they won the game.

    College stats:

    Passing: 436 of 658, 5,691 Yards, 39 TDs, 10 INTs.

    Rushing: 60 Attempts, -12 Yards, 1TD.

    These stats show a very consistent and mistake-free style and someone who has talent and can play within a system. It also shows that he is never going to be a rushing threat from the QB position.

    He cracked a bone in his hand in the Senior Bowl that has limited his ability to work out for scouts and is now projected as a late 4th-early 5th round pick.

    He should make a very good backup, as he is smart (SEC Scholar Athlete), has good size and plays within himself. And he could turn in to another Tom Brady, with the right team and right coaches.

2010 Cam Newton, Auburn

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    Cameron Newton

    6'6", 250 pounds

    Heisman Trophy winner

    Newton was a Georgia high school super star and was highly recruited. He ended up at the University of Florida and was the backup to Tim Tebow his Freshman year. After an alleged theft charge, which led to a suspension from the football team, and academic cheating allegations, he left Florida for the greener pastures of Blinn College in Texas.

    After one season, he and his Daddy shopped him and even though Mississippi State offered more money, Auburn came out the winner and Cam started his first professional football career with the Tigers.

    He had a great one-year career with the Tigers in a schemed up system to exploit his speed and size and led Auburn to an SEC and ultimately a National Championship over the Oregon Ducks.

    He then declared for the 2011 NFL draft, giving up his Senior year at Auburn.

    Auburn stats:

    Passing:185 of 280, 2,854 Yards, 30 TDs, 7 INTs.

    Rushing: 264 Attempts , 1,473 Yards, 20 TDs.

    If you project that over a 3-year career in the same system at Auburn, Newton would have had 8500 passing yards, 90 TDs, 4000 rushing yards and another 60 TDs.

    Newton is projected to go anywhere from the first to the third QB taken, depending on how trades and individual team draft boards are stacked.

    With his "issues," he is a high risk/high reward type of player. So it will be a few years before we know whether he will be a success or will resemble another player of similar physical attributes who played for LSU and was a #1 pick by the Raiders.

    Time will tell.

In Conclusion

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    Looking back at these last 20 years of NCAA Championship football, a few things stand out.

    One, there were a fairly high percentage of Heisman winners at the QB position for those teams winning the glass football:

    Gino Torretta

    Charlie Ward

    Danny Wuerffel

    Chris Weinke

    Matt Leinart

    Tim Tebow

    Cam Newton

    And there was a decent mix of "Hybrid" vs. traditional QBs as well, the most notable Hybrids being Frazier, Young, Tebow and Newton.

    But maybe the most enlightening thing I saw in doing this analysis was that none of these players have ever won the Lombardi trophy as a starting QB (Flynn was on the Packer roster this past Super Bowl).

    What this told me was that in addition to getting on the right team at the right time out of college, the skills it takes to win a championship in college is not always the same as the ones it takes to win at the NFL level.

    Of all the players here, Mark Brunell has had the most successful career in the NFL. With the jury still out on Young, Leinart, Tebow, McElroy and Newton, it still is a small percentage bet to assume the NCAA National trophy predicts NFL prowess and the Heisman added in does little or nothing to improve those odds.

    And as one of those players (Tebow) is currently on the Bronco roster, this article has a lot of personal meaning for me and the rest of the Denver fans.