Will Winston/Mariota break the Heisman curse?

Since 1990, how many Heisman winning quarterbacks have led their team to NFL playoff wins? Two: Tim Tebow and Cam Newton. So is there a “Heisman curse”?

One may think that a “Heisman curse” is ridiculous, but the career numbers for quarterbacks over the last 15 years suggests otherwise. How many Heisman quarterbacks have made the Pro Bowl over that time? Only three: Cam Newton twice, Robert Griffin in his rookie season, and Carson Palmer twice. Robert Griffin has been a massive disappointment since his rookie season. The jury is still out on Cam Newton who always deals with nagging injuries. Drafted number one overall, Carson Palmer has never won a playoff game.

The Heisman trophy is annually awarded to the best player in college football. In recent years the award has been dominated by quarterbacks. Since 2000, only one non-quarterback, Mark Ingram, has won the award. But does the Heisman predict NFL success?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are fortunate to land the number one overall pick in the draft with two top quarterbacks, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, available. However, Tampa Bay fans need to hold their excitement, below are the career passing statistics for all Heisman winning quarterbacks since the year 1990:

Charlie Ward, Eric Crouch, and Jason White never played a down in the NFL. Ty Detmer was a career backup. He actually managed to stay in the NFL for 10 years unlike many of the other quarterbacks who flamed out. Gino Torretta never started an NFL game. Danny Wuerffel spent six years as a backup. Chris Weinke led the Panthers to a 1-14 record in the only season he was given a starting job. Matt Leinart spent most of his career as a backup to Kurt Warner. He then lost his starting job to Derek Anderson before losing his roster spot to two rookie quarterbacks. Troy Smith was a backup for three years in Baltimore; he got a chance to start for San Francisco before losing his job, and then tried playing football in the United and Canadian leagues. Sam Bradford has been the most overpaid quarterback in football on the old rookie pay scale for years.

Why do quarterbacks struggle after winning the most prestigious award in college football?

1. Most of these quarterbacks come from national power house programs. The list is filled with players from Florida, FSU, Ohio State, and USC. These quarterbacks are very talented, but in most cases they’re playing behind offensive lines that are mauling the opposition. The quarterback position becomes easy when you have five seconds to throw every drop-back. Johnny Manziel scrambled and made a lot of plays out of nothing, but his offensive line was incredible. Luke Joeckel won the Outland award, given to the best interior lineman in all of college football and drafted number two overall. Fellow tackle Jake Matthews was an All-American and drafted number six overall. And Patrick Lewis was a four year starter at center.

How about their wide receivers and running backs? Manziel was throwing to Mike Evans, drafted 7th overall by Tampa Bay - recorded 1,000 yards receiving as a rookie. In 2004 Matt Leinart threw to Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett, both drafted in the second round. His running back was Reggie Bush, another Heisman finalist and the 2005 Heisman winner (eventually taken away). Who wouldn’t succeed in that offense? Heisman quarterbacks are usually surrounded by some of the best skill players in the country on offenses that cater to the QB.

2. The Heisman trophy is a media attention and stats driven award. The award is not given to the most NFL ready quarterback or player. The award is given to the player in a fast-paced offense that has the most impressive stats. The award is not voted on by scouts or talent evaluators; it is voted on by sports writers and past Heisman winners who don’t watch every game, but hear the hype that is generated through the media. That is why so many dual-threat quarterbacks have won the award in recent seasons. Johnny Manziel put up impressive passing statistics: 68 completion percentage, 3,076 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, and only 9 interceptions. But even more impressive were his rushing numbers: 1,410 rushing yards, a 7.0 average, and 21 touchdowns. Other Heisman winners in a similar mold are Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, and Robert Griffin. The ability to run is valuable in college, but it is not what makes you successful in the pros.

3. The NFL is simply a much harder game than college football. Elite athletes can dominate the college game with their speed and size. They’re in a different class compared to most of their opponents. Cam Newton is 6 foot 5 inches and 245 pounds, and faster than most defensive players on the field in college. Newton doesn’t have that same advantage in the NFL. The quarterback position in the NFL requires much more preparation, knowledge of the defense, and pre-snap reads.

4. Quarterbacks need a different physical skill set in the NFL. Tim Tebow had a very long release, and did not have an accurate arm. Arm strength is an issue because QBs are asked to throw outside the numbers on timed routes. Sometimes they need to throw a fastball to fit a throw between the corner and safety, throws that are not essential for success in college. The size of the quarterback is also important. NFL offensive linemen are huge, and scouts believe a quarterbacks’ height is crucial to see the field properly.

5. Most start their NFL careers on the worst teams in football. A QB goes from playing on one of the best teams in college with incredible playmakers and a strong o-line to a team that probably won two or three games. Not only are they drafted into a situation devoid of playmakers, but they’re under heavy pressure to perform because they’re a high first rounder and they were successful in college.

There may or may not be a curse, but if you hear “Heisman winning quarterback” when discussing NFL prospects, take it with a grain of salt.

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