The Heisman Trophy. Aside from the trophy for the National Championship, the Heisman is the single most coveted award in college football. Schools expend a ton of money and energy on campaigns designed to bring attention to their athletes who are deemed Heisman candidates. One notable story surrounds former NFL great Joe Theismann – whose name is actually pronounced “Thee-seman.” According to Theismann, Notre Dame's PR department changed the pronunciation of his name in their press conferences so that it rhymed with “Heisman.” And it has been such ever since.
Most players are savvy enough in this day and age to avoid openly campaigning for the award on their own. Their school's PR departments, as well as their own circles, beat the drum hard enough that they don't have to. But it's a trophy most every player covets. For the players it's the culmination of the hard work and effort they put into their college careers, as well as the validation that they are indeed, the best player in all of college football.
For many of the fans out there, they believe that winning the Heisman is a guarantee of football superiority and success in the NFL. But nothing could be further from the truth. Winning the Heisman marks you out as the best in the college ranks, but the NFL is another animal entirely. And it has a nasty habit of chewing up and spitting out Heisman Trophy winners. Winning the Heisman is a guarantee of nothing but having a nice trophy on your mantle
In it's 78 year history, only 77 different people have won the Heisman – one player won the Heisman twice – and the 2005 award was vacated. And of that elite class of players, 14 never played in a single NFL game, 15 went undrafted entirely, while only 8 from that distinguished class made the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
If you're scoring at home, those aren't great odds.
While you have to be a fantastic college football player to take home the Heisman, that oftentimes doesn't translate to the NFL. With that in mind, here are 15 Heisman winners who were absolute flops at the NFL level...
15 Charlie Ward
You might remember Charlie Ward – he was a fantastic point guard for the New York Knicks. After throwing for more than 3,000 yards, 27 touchdowns, leading the Florida State Seminoles to a national title, and claiming the Heisman in 1993, Ward declared that he was ready for the NFL – with a caveat. Ward openly declared that if he were not a first round pick, that he'd take his ball and go to the NBA. Not surprisingly, not a lot of GM's in the NFL were willing to part with a first round pick on a guy who, if he didn't get his way apparently, might go play basketball instead. So while not technically an NFL flop, Ward certainly belongs on a list of Heisman disappointments.
14 Archie Griffin
Archie Griffin stands alone as the only two-time Heisman winner. He claimed college football's highest honor in back to back years, 1974 & 1975, and is widely considered to be one of the greatest college football players -- ever. The Cincinnati Bengals used the 24th overall pick of the 1976 draft on the Ohio State powerhouse running back. Unfortunately, Griffin's eye-popping success in college never quite translated onto an NFL stage. In 7 seasons -- all with the Bengals -- Griffin gained just 2,808 yards and scored just 7 times. For all of his success at Ohio State, Griffin never once topped the 1,000 yard mark in the NFL, with his high point coming in 1979 when he gained a meager 688 yards. His disappointing career ended following the 1982 season after a 12 carry, 39 yard season.
13 Jason White
If you like stats, go to Pro Football Reference.com and plug in the name of the 2003 Heisman Trophy winner, Jason White. If you do that, you will get a big nothing. That's because despite racking up some insane numbers at Oklahoma, 7,051 yards, 75 touchdowns, and a passer rating above 150 over his junior and senior years, White became the 3rd Heisman winner to go undrafted. Which is a pretty big accomplishment in a QB-hungry league. He eventually did receive an offer from the Tennessee Titans in 2005, but White opted to quit pro football instead.
12 Gino Torretta
Following a co-national championship in 1991, and a loss in the title game in 1992, University of Miami Heisman winning QB Gino Torretta threw his hat into the NFL waters. It didn't go well. Torretta was not taken until the 7th round of the 1993 draft – hardly an auspicious start to his pro career. Of course, there was little auspicious about his pro career in general. In his 7 years between the NFL and NFL Europe, Torretta didn't get off the bench. Not until Seattle tossed him into a game in 1996 where he proceeded to go 5-16 for 41 yards with a TD and a pick. That would literally be the zenith of Torretta's career.
11 Eric Crouch
It's hard not to feel bad for Crouch. At the University of Nebraska, he was a stud quarterback and a Heisman winner. Crouch was a dual threat who could run the ball as well as throw it. And do both things very well. So what did the St. Louis Rams do with him after drafting him in 2002? Converted him to wide receiver, of course. Crouch resisted, but an injury forced him to leave the team before playing a single snap. In 2005, Crouch signed with the Kansas City Chiefs – who converted him again, this time into a safety. He finished his NFL career with zero passes thrown, but racked up 25 tackles and 2 passes defensed. So there's that.
10 Rashaan Salaam
Rashaan Salaam was an unstoppable beast at the University of Colorado. In 1994, his 2,055 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns netted him the Heisman – which led the Chicago Bears to use the 21st overall pick on him in 1995. His rookie season wasn't completely unsuccessful. He did rush for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. Unfortunately for Salaam and the Bears, he had trouble holding on to the ball, fumbling 9 times that season alone. Salaam's butterfingers led the Bears to cut him after 3 seasons.
9 Andre Ware
Andre Ware has something nobody can ever take away from him – he was the first black QB to ever win the Heisman. Ware snagged the honors after an amazing season at the University of Houston. The Detroit Lions then used the 7th overall pick on Ware in 1990. Though a college stud, Ware never really caught on in the NFL and made just 6 starts over 4 seasons in Detroit. He was out of the game entirely by 1995.
8 Troy Smith
Smith put up some phenomenal numbers for Ohio State – which netted him the Heisman – but perhaps the Buckeyes' dismantling at the hands of Florida State in the National Championship game in 2006 may have taken some of the shine off his star. Some believed he'd still be picked high, but Smith fell all the way to the fifth round of the draft where the Ravens took him. To say Smith's career was undistinguished would be an understatement. In 4 seasons – and only 8 starts – Smith went an underwhelming 4-4. He was out of the NFL by 2011.
7 Matt Leinart
To many, 2004 Heisman winner Matt Leinart was a sure thing. He was believed to be the most NFL ready QB in the 2006 draft. Unfortunately, the Arizona Cardinals learned that a great college QB isn't necessarily going to be a decent NFL QB after drafting him in 2006. Leinart, who some believe was too caught up in the lifestyle and celebrity of being an NFL QB, could never stay healthy or effective enough to keep hold of the the Cardinals' starting QB job. The former 10th overall pick spent 4 years in Arizona and then bounced around the league as a backup for another couple of years before washing out completely.
6 Ron Dayne
Dayne was widely considered to be one of the most prolific college running backs ever. In his 4 seasons at Wisconsin, he carried the ball 1,220 times for over 7,000 yards. In three of his four appearances in a bowl game, he rushed for better than 200 yards. Dayne could play on a big stage – which is why the Giants made him the 11th overall pick in the 2000 draft. Paired with Tiki Barber, the Giants believed that “Thunder and Lightning” would take the NFL by storm. Unfortunately for the Giants, Dayne battled weight issues and never came close to replicating his college success. In his 4 years in New York, Dayne's role in the offense dwindled every season. Dayne was out of football by 2007 and has presumably been free to enjoy his food without having Tom Coughlin breathing down his neck.
5 Danny Wuerffel
After helping the University of Florida win a national championship and winning nearly every award possible for a college QB – including the Heisman (1996) – Danny Wuerffel believed that a long, productive career in the NFL was the next step. The fact that he wasn't drafted until the 4th round by the Saints should have been his first clue that things weren't going to turn out well for him. In 6 seasons in the league, Wuerffel made just 10 starts, compiling a 4-6 record and throwing 12 TD's against 22 picks. After a brief stint in Washington in 2002, Wuerffel was out of the NFL.
4 Reggie Bush
Some might think it's premature to call Reggie Bush a Heisman flop, but we have more than enough evidence to believe that it is an accurate assertion. Given all of the hype he received after his stellar, Heisman winning career at USC, Bush came into the league with the great expectations attached to the 2nd overall pick in the draft. 9 seasons later, we're still waiting for those expectations to be fulfilled. Bush has been average – at best. He's rushed for more than 1,000 yards just twice and has been relegated to being more of a situational back. Bush hasn't come close to living up to his hype and for that reason, he's a big Heisman flop.
3 Mike Rozier
As the featured back at the University of Nebraska, Rozier looked like an unstoppable force – one that would take on and destroy the NFL. After putting up some insane numbers in 1983 – 2,254 total yards (with over 2000 rushing), and 29 TD's, Rozier won the Heisman and after a year in the USFL, found himself playing for the Houston Oilers. In 8 years in the league, Rozier put up “okay” numbers – 4,462 yards, 30 TD's, 3.8 YPC – but never came close to matching the statistics (or potential) that nabbed him the Heisman.
2 Tim Tebow
Tebow is one of the most polarizing figures in sports. Love him or hate him, everybody has an opinion about him. Tebow was a fantastic college QB who was very highly decorated, there is no question. But the Broncos really reached by using the 25th overall pick on the guy. Though he obviously has a lot of heart and passion, he hasn't come close to being a quality NFL QB. Even his receivers in Denver – anonymously of course – told the media just how bad his mechanics and throwing motion were. Though athletically gifted, Tebow lasted just 3 seasons in the NFL – because he refused to play another position.
1 Steve Spurrier
The Ol' Ball Coach knows something about Heisman winning QB's – he's coached them, and even won one himself in 1966 after throwing for nearly 5,000 yards and 36 TD's in college. Unfortunately for Spurrier, the success he enjoyed in college never translated to the NFL despite being the 3rd overall pick by the 49ers. Over his 9 seasons in San Francisco, he made just 26 starts and made more of a mark as a punter – though that was even marginal. He was traded to Tampa Bay in 1976 where he started 12 games, helping lead the Bucs to a winless season and the perpetual tag of the “worst team in the history of professional football.”