The 2021 Heisman Trophy Race

An overview of this year’s Heisman race and contenders.


Save for 2007, the 2021 college football season has been arguably the craziest of all time. The 13 week regular season saw 26 top-10 teams lose, with dozens of other upsets every weekend. Preseason favorites like Clemson, Iowa State, and North Carolina fell unranked. Meanwhile, new programs arrived to the college football forefront such as Wake Forest and BYU. And just recently, the free agency market for coaches has exploded with Lincoln Riley ad Brian Kelly leaving their roots for new schools. 


Amid all this drama, the race for the coveted Heisman trophy has been relatively quiet. However, the wildness of the season has largely affected the Heisman race as well. Because of the unsteady college football landscape in 2021, there has yet to emerge a clear favorite to win the award. In this article, I’ll analyze the Heisman trophy race and share my opinions as to who should (or should not) take home the hardware this year. 


Bryce Young – QB – Alabama

Prior to the SEC championship, the Heisman race was still up in the air. However, Bryce Young’s performance against Georgia essentially solidified him for the trophy. Entering the game having not allowed over 17 points all season, the Bulldogs were torched by Young for 41 points on 421 yards passing and 4 total touchdowns. On the season, Young ranks 2nd in the country in passing touchdowns, 4th in passing yards, and 5th in efficiency. In addition to undeniable stats, the Alabama quarterback has led his team to an SEC championship and #1 seed in the College Football Playoff. Bryce Young has constructed a nearly indestructible campaign and, barring any unforeseen changes, will deservedly be taking home the Heisman trophy in due time.


CJ Stroud – QB – Ohio State

It took CJ Stroud a few weeks to get his footing under him. However, after sitting out against Akron to rest his shoulder, Stroud returned with a vengeance. He put up video game numbers, finishing 7th in the nation in passing yards, 6th in completion percentage, and 5th passing touchdowns—all as a freshman. In my opinion, what holds Stroud back from winning the Heisman is his team. Stroud had the luxury of one of the best offensive lines in the country, as well as an elite running back corps led by Treveyon Henderson. But most importantly, he had an absolutely loaded group of wide receivers: Garret Wilson and Chris Olave will be 1st round picks in the 2022 NFL draft, and Jaxon Smith-Njigba will likely follow suit in 2023. As impressive as Stroud has been this season, it is the playmakers around him which will ultimately hold him back from winning the trophy.


Aidan Hutchinson  – DE – Michigan

Like his teammate Hassan Haskins, Aidan Hutchinson was a stud who became a household name during the Ohio State game. Hutchinson sacked aforementioned CJ Stroud 3 times against the Buckeyes alone, and is 3rd in the nation with 14 total sacks this year. He’s been a force all season for a Michigan defense that will anchor the Wolverines against Georgia in the college playoff. Hutchinson would be a very likely candidate to win the Heisman had Bryce Young not played flawlessly against the Bulldogs. Although the award is probably out of reach for Hutchinson, he will be equally happy to know that he projects as a top 3 pick in this year’s NFL draft.


Kenny Pickett – QB – Pittsburgh

Besides Bryce Young, there was perhaps no player in the country whose Heisman stock rose more during championship weekend than Kenny Pickett. He has the record: 11-2. He has the success: ACC Championship. He has the statistics: 5th in passing yards, 3rd in TDs, and 9th in efficiency. And best of all, he had his “Heisman moment” on a long touchdown run against Wake Forest in which he faked a slide in order to trick the defenders and dash into the endzone (If you ask me, the move probably should be illegal and I expect a rule change this offseason). Nonetheless, Pickett has a tremendous resume and would probably be a serious threat to win the award if Pitt was in the playoff conversation. 


Kenneth Walker III – RB – Michigan State

If Michigan State never played Ohio State, Kenneth Walker would more than likely be the best bet to win the Heisman trophy. Walker ranks 2nd in the country in rushing yards, 8th in rushing TDs, and had perhaps the single best performance by a player this year when he accounted for 208 yards and 5 touchdowns in a win against Michigan. Unfortunately, he was limited to just 29 total yards in an embarrassing 56-7 route of the Spartans by the Buckeyes. While Walker’s Heisman campaign is all but defeated, his 2021 season is no doubt one to be remembered.  


Jordan Davis – DT – Georgia

If the Heisman trophy was awarded to the player who is the absolute best at the position he plays, Jordan Davis would probably win it all. At 6’6” and 340 pounds, the goliath that is Davis has led Georgia’s elite run-stopping defense this season. Davis won’t show up on the stat chart with many tackles or sacks. However, his effectiveness lies simply in his presence: when Jordan Davis is on the field, teams don’t even bother trying to run the ball. He’s the ultimate clogger at the defensive tackle position and offensive linemen can only hope to hold him still because there’s absolutely no chance of pushing him backwards. If I were given a Heisman vote and Bryce Young didn’t exist, I would probably send it Jordan Davis’s way.


Desmond Ridder – QB – Cincinnati

Ridder’s stats pale in comparison to the other quarterbacks on this list. There’s essentially no chance he wins the Heisman. And frankly, the case for him to win the award is probably the weakest on this entire list. However, Ridder deserves to be in the conversation solely for the accomplishments of his team. In his senior campaign, Ridder has led Cinccinati to an undefeated season and the first playoff berth for a Group-of-5 team in CFP history. 


Hassan Haskins – RB – Michigan

Hassan Haskins was having a great season, but it was not until the Ohio State game that he was having a Heisman season. Haskins exploded onto the scene against the Buckeyes rushing for 169 yards and 5 touchdowns. On the season, he ranks 9th in the NCAA in rushing yards and 1st in rushing touchdowns. The biggest knock against his campaign is the fact that he must share the Michigan backfield with Blake Corum who could very well be in the Heisman conversation himself had he avoided injuries. 


Here’s how the Heisman trophy is likely to shape out, as well as my personal picks for the best players in the NCAA this season.


National Heisman Trophy Ranking

William’s Heisman Trophy Ranking

Winner: Bryce Young

Winner: Bryce Young

Runner-Up: Aidan Hutchinson

Runner-Up: Jordan Davis

3rd: Kenny Pickett

3rd: CJ Stroud

4th: CJ Stroud

4th: Aidan Hutchinson

5th: Kenneth Walker III

5th: Kenny Pickett

6th: Hassan Haskins

6th: Kenneth Walker III

7th: Jordan Davis

7th: Hassan Haskins

8th: Desmond Ridder

8th: Desmond Ridder