College News & Analysis

PFF’s Heisman Rankings ahead of College Football Week 9

Oxford, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi Rebels quarterback Matt Corral (2) runs the ball during the first half against the LSU Tigers at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

November is just around the corner, which means College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings, intensified conference championship races and — everyone’s favorite — Heisman Trophy watch lists have arrived. So to get everyone prepared, PFF decided to update the world on its viewpoint of the most prestigious award in sports by publishing some fresh Heisman rankings.

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Below you will find the players who stand out the most when marrying the tape and the data at their respective position in two distinct tiers. Please note that these Heisman rankings are solely for PFF’s rendition of the award and have no association with the actual trophy that will be voted on at the end of the season. 


1. QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss Rebels

Corral has been timely, accurate and a heady player in Lane Kiffin’s offense. He ranks 12th or higher among all FBS quarterbacks through Week 8 in negatively graded throw rate, accurate pass rate (66%) and turnover-worthy play rate (1.4%). Pair that with the kind of athleticism that adds value to the ground game, and he’s been shredding defenses. Corral is tied for fourth among Power Five quarterbacks in runs of 10-plus yards (20) and leads that group in total big-time throws on passes traveling 40 or more yards through the air.

2. QB Bryce Young, Alabama Crimson Tide

After an up-and-down start to the year from a grading perspective, Young has found his groove and is playing well beyond his years. He’s on a streak of five straight games with a passing grade above 78.0 and is sixth among FBS quarterbacks overall in that metric this season. What’s most impressive about that level of play is that Young has done it despite spending over a third of his dropbacks under pressure. His ability to make plays and stay calm when knocked off rhythm is special for his age.

3. QB CJ Stroud, Ohio State Buckeyes

Stroud has been a decidedly different quarterback over the course of his last three games, which has skyrocketed him up PFF’s Heisman rankings. The accuracy issue he had during the first three games of the season is nowhere to be found now, and Ohio State’s offense is firing on all cylinders as a result. Stroud owns a Power Five leading 93.1 passing grade since Week 5, which features zero turnover-worthy plays. Not only will he challenge for the PFF Heisman if he’s able to sustain this level of play, but the Buckeyes’ national title aspirations will also be revived.

4. QB Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh Panthers

No quarterback is playing cleaner football than Pickett right now. He owns the lowest negatively graded throw rate in the entire country and has just one turnover-worthy play from a clean pocket. When free from pressure this season, Pickett has posted an FBS-best 93.7 passing grade. He has yet to earn a passing grade below 75.0 in 2021 and is fresh off posting the highest PFF grade of any quarterback to face Clemson this year (80.3).


5. QB Malik Willis, Liberty Flames

There isn’t a more dangerous quarterback in college football than Willis. He can shred defenses with his arm and legs at levels we have rarely seen. Willis — who began his career at Auburn — has a lively arm and is the best running quarterback in the country due to his elusiveness and overall athleticism. His 10.9% big-time throw rate is the highest in the FBS by over two percentage points. On the ground, Willis has posted a 95.4 rushing grade, 51 broken tackles and 33 explosive runs of 10-plus yards — all of which rank No. 1 among FBS quarterbacks.

He can, however, get sloppy at times, as he did against UL-Monroe a couple of weeks ago when he earned a 39.5 passing grade. That performance hurt his PFF Heisman stock, but he’s still in the hunt thanks to his top-three PFF grade for the season.

T-6. RB Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State Spartans

Walker III and Bijan Robinson are too close to separate in the PFF Heisman rankings, as both backs have been dominant this season. Walker has quite easily been the best transfer addition from this past offseason. He has earned an elite rushing grade for the Spartans and ranks top five nationally in both broken tackles per attempt (0.41) and yards after contact per attempt (4.8).

T-6. RB Bijan Robinson, Texas Longhorns

As for Robinson, he currently has the honor of being the highest-graded ball-carrier in the Power Five (92.7). He’s been the best running back at evading defenders, breaking 0.45 tackles per attempt this season. Not only does that lead every running back in the FBS, but that’s on pace to be the second-best of the entire PFF College era (Javonte Williams in 2020, 0.48).

8. EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan Wolverines

Hutchinson has been a force to be reckoned and nearly unblockable each week he has taken the field. He has three elite-graded games on his profile this season and owns a 93.3 mark for the entire year — the highest in college football. His grade is also on pace to be one of the three best by a Power Five edge defender in the entire PFF College era, behind only Chase Young in 2019 and Nick Bosa in 2017. Young garnered Heisman hype in that historic year, so it’s time for Hutchinson to receive the same treatment.

9. RB TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State Buckeyes

Henderson has been putting up rare numbers on the opportunities he’s received this season. The true freshman has recorded an explosive run (10 or more yards) on 27% of his carries this season — the highest in the Power Five by over three percentage points. Six of his explosive runs have ended in touchdowns (second-most in the Power Five). His big-play ability has also shown up in the passing game, where he has hauled in all of eight of his targets for 168 yards and three scores en route to a 77.0 receiving grade. If his big-play ability remains throughout the rest of the year, Henderson should climb up this list.

10. EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon Ducks

Thibodeaux missed some time due to injury earlier this year, but he’s back on the gridiron and wrecking games like everyone expected. The projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft has produced double-digit pressures in back-to-back games and is fresh off winning PFF's Defensive Player of the Week in Oregon’s win over UCLA on Saturday. Thibodeaux has earned an elite pass-rush grade (above 90.0) in three of his four outings with at least 10 pass-rushes this season. Now, Thibodeaux ranks top three among Power Five edge defenders in pass-rush grade, win rate and pressure rate.

11. C Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa

No offensive lineman in college football is playing better than Linderbaum. The Iowa center's 93.1 grade is the highest among all FBS offensive linemen and on pace to be one of the best since PFF College’s inception in 2014. Linderbaum pairs his athleticism with nastiness in the run game that paved the way for him to attain such a special PFF grade.

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12. WR Drake London, USC Trojans

London is the engine of USC’s offense. He’s been targeted on 38% of his routes this season — the highest rate of any Power Five receiver. London has made the most of those reps, as evidenced by his Power Five leading 91.0 receiving grade. He’s bringing the physicality week-after-week and dominating in single coverage. London’s 19 contested catches are the most in the country and closing in on the PFF College record. 

13. QB Tanner Mordecai, SMU Mustangs

Mordecai has been one of the best quarterbacks in college football. The Oklahoma transfer has earned a PFF grade above 75.0 in each of his seven starts as a Mustang, paving the way for a 91.4 overall mark that ranks seventh in the FBS this season.

14. QB Sam Hartman, Wake Forest Demon Decons

Hartman has been the model of consistency in 2021 and now owns an elite PFF grade after shredding Army last week. He earned a 93.5 grade that day, earning him PFF Offensive Player of the Week honors. Hartman has been deadly accurate throwing the deep ball this season, as evidenced by his No. 2 completion rate in the Power Five on 20-plus yard throws (55%). He’s connected on an FBS-leading 11 deep passing touchdowns so far this season.

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