By J.P. Scott, 5/30/18, 11:00 AM EDT
In college football, there is no greater individual honor than winning the Heisman Trophy. It puts you in elite company, a fraternity if you will, of the greatest players in the history of the game. It does not, however, guarantee success in the NFL. This has especially been the case at the quarterback position since the turn of the century.
Since 2000, the Heisman has been awarded to a quarterback every year except 2005 (Reggie Bush, since vacated), ’09 (Mark Ingram), and ’15 (Derrick Henry). Of the 15 signal-callers that took home the stiff-armed trophy during this span, only one (Jason White) was not drafted. But just because the others were drafted (and most of them went in the first round), it does not mean their college success carried over to the pros.
Below are the 15 Heisman-winning quarterbacks since 2000 grouped into five categories in accordance with their NFL careers – “Booms,” “Busts,” “Jury Still Out,” “Way Too Soon to Tell” and “It Was Never Going to Work.”
Note: Order within each category is by Heisman Trophy-winning season, starting with the most recent.
After overcoming some injuries and settling into his role, Mariota has turned the Titans into a contender. He got them to the playoffs last season where they even won a game. The future looks bright for both Mariota and the Titans.
Despite the controversies surrounding his departure from Florida and his subsequent signing with Auburn, Newton has gone on to have one of the better careers any Heisman-winning quarterback has ever had. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, Newton was the league MVP in ’15, the same season he also led his team to the Super Bowl.
The first pick of the 2003 draft, Palmer’s career had its share of ups and downs. A three-time Pro Bowler, Palmer played 14 seasons for three different teams, battling his share of injuries along the way. The only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards for three different teams, Palmer called it a career in January. He finishes with 46,247 passing yards, 294 touchdowns and a completion rate of 62.5 precent.
Drafted in the first round of 2014 to be the quarterback who would pull the Cleveland Browns out of the seemingly permanent spot they occupy in the NFL’s basement, Manziel spent the first two seasons of his career in the tabloids. It’s as though the only skill Manziel possessed during his college career that carried over into his professional life was his ability to party. The Browns cut him in March 2016 and Manziel recently signed a two-year deal with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL as he hopes to show some NFL team he’s worthy of another shot.
RG3 seemed to have the whole world in his hands after being named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012. Then, almost overnight, recurring injuries led to what appeared to be a regression in talent and subsequent on-field decision-making. It culminated in September 2015, when Griffin fell to third on Washington’s depth chart and stayed there for the remainder of the season. He’s now with the Baltimore Ravens, where he’ll likely fill a role as a mentor for rookie and fellow Heisman winner, Lamar Jackson.
The Rams drafted Bradford No. 1 overall in 2010 to be the face of the franchise. It was always a risk, as Bradford had missed most of 2009 with a shoulder injury. After a couple of pedestrian NFL seasons, Bradford suffered back-to-back, season-ending ACL injuries in 2013 and ’14. He was traded to Philadelphia in 2015, where he turned in yet another average campaign. He had a stop in Minnesota and is now in Arizona. His career hasn’t been a complete failure, but it’s tough to call a former No. 1 overall pick-turned-journeyman anything but a bust.
Tebow finished his career as arguably the greatest player in the history of college football. Former Denver head coach Josh McDaniels took a chance on Tebow, selecting him in the first round of the 2010 draft. Tebow worked his way into the starting role in Denver as a rookie — even winning a playoff game. He was then traded to the Jets shortly after the Broncos acquired Peyton Manning in 2012. The Jets released Tebow after the 2013 season and he has since been cut after tryouts with New England and Philadelphia. He is now a minor league baseball player in the New York Mets organization.
Smith beat out Darren McFadden to win his Heisman. Granted, few expected him to be an elite NFL quarterback, as evidenced by his fifth-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft. Nonetheless, he played five total seasons in the NFL for three different teams, interrupted by a short stint with the Omaha Nighthawks of the now-defunct UFL. He wrapped up his football career as a member of the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes.
Leinart won his Heisman while quarterbacking one of the most dominant and controversial college football dynasties in recent memory. Many had him pegged as a sure-fire starter in the NFL who would have a long career. He was taken 10th overall in the 2006 NFL Draft by Arizona. He beat out Kurt Warner (who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017) for the Cardinals’ starting gig, only to lose the job later on. He eventually became a journeyman backup with Houston and Oakland before finishing his playing career as a member of Buffalo’s practice squad in 2013.
Weinke won the Heisman at age 25. The start of his college football career was delayed due to a short stint playing minor league baseball. He led Florida State to two consecutive BCS Championship Game appearances – winning the first against Michael Vick’s Virginia Tech Hokies. He was drafted by Carolina and started as a rookie, only to lose the starting job to Jake Delhomme the following season. He remained with the Panthers through 2006 before finishing up his career after one season with the 49ers in ’07. He is now the running backs coach for the University of Tennessee.
It felt like many were expecting him to fail based on things that happened while he was in college that really had little to do with what was happening on the field. As a professional, he has shown flashes of brilliance but has failed to turn his team into a true threat in the NFC. That could very well change in 2018.
Mayfield was drafted No. 1 overall by the Brown in this year’s draft. There is a lot of young talent around him, but he carries the hopes of a franchise and fan base on his shoulders. If he can make it work in Cleveland, he’ll end up with a statue in his honor.
Jackson (above, right) is in a decent situation in Baltimore. He’ll get to sit behind Joe Flacco while being mentored by Robert Griffin III. There is value in that, and if John Harbaugh can build an offense around Jackson’s skill set, the young signal-caller from Louisville should succeed.
White is pretty much the new Gino Torretta. You’ll be having a conversation about college football and his name will pop up. Everyone will be all “Oh yeah, what ever happened to that guy?” Well, what happened was, White had terrible knees and quit football shortly after college. His only involvement with the game since leaving Oklahoma came via a brief stint as co-owner of an Indoor Football League team.
Crouch was arguably the best running back in college football during his time at Nebraska. The problem was that he played quarterback. The Rams drafted him as a receiver, but he walked away from the game in the middle of preseason due to an injury. He made a couple of attempts to get back into football over the years, but eventually hung up his cleats in 2011. He has since been involved in broadcasting, including serving as an analyst for FOX Sports, as well as running his Omaha-based playground and recreation equipment business with his wife, Nicole. Crouch also recently was hired as an assistant coach for Division II Midland University, which is located in Fremont, Nebraska.
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.