NCAA Football: Michigan at Ohio State

2014 Heisman Odds: Evaluating the Senior Candidates and their 2015 NFL Draft Futures

Arguably the most prestigious single-season award in sports, the Heisman trophy is always a focus for college football fans and media members. We’ve seen underclassmen win the award with remarkable frequency in recent years, including having two straight Heisman winners return for another season.

While finding a senior to win the award isn’t an easy task, evaluating these expectedly productive seniors as NFL Draft prospects is a more realistic focus. As these prospects chase football history, here’ arethe seniors with the best odds to win the Heisman (per Bodava) and their current scouting reports.

Underclassmen Not Included:
The two clear favorites to win the awards are two quarterbacks that are expected to declare for the 2015 NFL Draft: last year’s Heisman winner Jamies Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. With talented offenses around them, it’d be a surprise if at least one of the two isn’t in the race the whole season. Also, fellow quarterbacks Everett Golson of Notre Dame, Brett Hundley of UCLA and Trevor Knight of Oklahoma are all better than 18/1 odds. Hundley, if he declares, will likely be in the discussion for the top quarterback prospect. Top running backs Todd Gurley of Georgia and TJ Yeldon of Alabama are also better than 18/1 odds, with both expected to declare early for the draft. Finally, if I was a betting man, I’d take Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin’s 20/1 odds to win Heisman trophy. He’ll produce, and I doubt we’ll have a repeat winner.

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State (7/1)
The senior with the best odds, Braxton Miller was in the mix as a junior, but an injury and some inconsistent play pushed him out of the limelight. However, with Ohio State returning talented (yet unproven) offensive talent and a strong overall roster, the Buckeyes will be the favorite to win the Big Ten this year, with Miller at the helm. But if Miller wants to be viewed as a top NFL quarterback prospect, he’ll need to show more patience in the pocket, finishing his throws on the move (especially to his left) with tighter spins and more consistent placement, and expanding his repertoire of throws outside of the general Urban Meyer offense that doesn’t highlight future NFL quarterbacks.

Nick Marshall, QB Auburn (10/1)
After leading his team to the BCS National Championship game last year, Nick Marshall was already on Heisman radars. And with Gus Malzahn, who already boasts a Heisman trophy winner on his resume (Cam Newton), Marshall has the hype and coaching staff to having staying power in the Heisman discussion. But, as far as his NFL future is concerned, the undersized passer who’s limited in his arm talent will need to showcase a truly special cerebral and game-managing ability to be worthy of a draft pick at quarterback.

Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor (12/1)
Not only is Petty a favorite for the Heisman trophy after a tremendously efficient junior season in a well-respected Baylor offense, but he’s also firmly in the discussion to be the top senior quarterback taken, with the first round a legitimate possibility. His college system that leads him to so much production may also be a limiting factor in his draft evaluation, as the spot throws and reliance on quick decisions after his first read limits his NFL-level throws. He has the arm talent and moves well as a passer to have the upside to be deemed first-round worthy, but as of now, I wouldn’t put him in round one as a quarterback prospect.

Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (33/1)
Already viewed as one of the most polished runners in the country, Abdullah has a chance to utilize his NFL-level vision and body control to thrust Nebraska back into the national spotlight. He’ll be the featured player on the Nebraska offense that’s been hungry for a breakout player under Bo Pellini, and Abdullah could produce at a level similar to Andre Williams of Boston College last year, and possessing even more talent for NFL teams to consider him in the top-100 picks.

Karlos Williams, RB, Florida State (33/1)
While he has the same odds to win the Heisman trophy as Abdullah, Williams differs in two ways. For one, he’ll have a much tougher time competing with his teammate Jameis Winston for votes if he does have the type of elite season he’ll require. And secondly, he possesses more raw talent and NFL-starter upside than Abdullah. Williams has the unique upside as a running back to be a 20-25 carry a game runner who can contribute as a pass blocker and pass catcher, and may be one of the few running backs in the current state of the draft to be worth a top-50 pick if he has a senior season like I expect.

Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State (50/1)
With Brandin Cooks gone and Pac-12 defenses looking to be improved from a year ago, I don’t expect Sean Mannion to see his production stay at his 2013 level. But with plus-size and arm strength, he’ll have a chance to be one of the Pac-12’s best passers, and NFL interest will follow. His arm talent and touch across the field is a major plus, but based off his 2013 play, he still struggles when his first read isn’t available at times, and he forces too many passes inaccurately in the middle of the field. He’s graded as a mid-rounder by us as of now, but a strong senior season without Cooks could do wonders for his draft value.

Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall (66/1)
Not only is the non-FBS prospect a long-shot for the Heisman trophy, but he’s no lock to even be drafted. He lacks ideal NFL size, his arm talent isn’t special, and despite his efficiency, he doesn’t have any wow traits as a prospect. Cato also needs to clean up his mechanical issues that will need to make up for his lack of great size/arm talent. Overall, we view him as a late-round prospect thanks to his mental make-up and character.

Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State (66/1)
There is plenty of hype around Taylor Kelly thus far in the pre-season, but I’m not quite sold on him as an NFL prospect. His listed as 6’2 and 200+ pounds, but he’s probably closer to 6’1 and relies on his mobility and touch across the field to have success as a passer. The Arizona State program is growing nicely with plenty of talent in Todd Graham’s offense, and Kelly has a chance to emerge as a Heisman contender as a well as a legitimate quarterback prospect.

Other Seniors We Think Have a Shot:
I like Chuckie Keeton of Utah State and Cody Fajardo of Nevada top-four round quarterback prospects with even higher upside with a strong senior campaign. If they have the type of seasons in their offense like I expect, they’ll be in the Heisman discussion….Don’t rule out Ty Montgomery of Stanford as an option either. He’s a dynamic returner and the clear top weapon in the Stanford offense…As far as having a defensive player in the mix, Victor Beasley of Clemson produced at a ridiculous level last year, and he if he can improve off that, he’ll be a surefire first-rounder and viewed as a Clowney-esque Heisman candidate.