News & Analysis

College Football: PFF’s Heisman rankings through Week 4

A lot happened in Week 4 of the 2020 college football season, causing a big shuffle in our Heisman rankings. Entering Week 5, just one player stands in the same spot as last week, and we have no fewer than four new entrants. Using PFF’s advanced database and play-by-play grading — which is also available to PFF’s CFB Premium Stats+ subscribers — here are our top 10 Heisman Trophy candidates through Week 4 of the college season.

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1. QB TREVOR LAWRENCE, CLEMSON

PFF grade: 95.3

As of now, Lawrence is firmly in the No. 1 spot — and no one is particularly close. Through two weeks of play, the Clemson quarterback has earned a 96.6 passing grade while recording six big-time throws and no turnover-worthy plays. On throws of 10 or more yards downfield, Lawrence has been off-target just once en route to a near-perfect grade. And we have yet to see him really put his mobility on display outside of a few zone-reads in the red zone (largely because we haven’t had to see it). If he continues to put up these elite numbers, Lawrence could top the PFF College records that Joe Burrow set in 2019.

2. QB JUSTIN FIELDS, OHIO STATE

PFF grade: Season has yet to start

Ohio State's offense and its route-runners certainly make life easier for Justin Fields, but make no mistake: He is the real deal. Fields still has to find the open receiver and make the right decisions, and he checks both of those boxes. He can make plays inside and outside of structure with his mobility, too. If it weren’t for Burrow’s historically good season last year, the Heisman Trophy would have gone to Fields.

Ohio State generated positive expected points added on pass plays at the third-highest rate in college football last year, and a big reason why was Fields’ ability to attack downfield. He led all Power Five quarterbacks in average depth of target and finished the season ranked third in big-time throw rate.

3. QB D’ERIQ KING, MIAMI (FL.)

PFF grade: 88.0

King has now opened up his first year as a Hurricane with three straight PFF grades above 80.0. For perspective, there has never been a Miami quarterback in the PFF College era (since 2014) who has had three single-game grades above 80.0 in an entire season. The U is on pace to have the most efficient passing attack they’ve had in the PFF College era, and it’s not even close.

King's turnover-worthy play rate is the second-lowest in the country (he's recorded just one on 105 dropbacks), and his ability to make tremendous throws outside the pocket has been on full display — he’s produced three big-time throws outside the pocket, the second-most in the FBS. As a runner, King has busted off seven runs of 10-plus yards on 25 carries and averaged 5.7 yards after contact per attempt (first among quarterbacks by nearly a yard).

4. QB SPENCER RATTLER, OKLAHOMA

PFF grade: 89.7

First off, Rattler did have some really bad throws in Oklahoma’s upset loss to Kansas State, one of which was the game-sealing interception. That being said, he still showed off the kind of arm talent we all fell in love with during his starting debut. Rattler is one of six quarterbacks in college football to rank in the top 15 in both positively and negatively graded throw rate. So far, just 16% of his throws beyond the line of scrimmage have been uncatchable, the second-lowest rate among Power Five quarterbacks.

Rattler has also been arguably the best deep passer in the country, as he has completed 9-of-12 attempts 20-plus yard downfield for 313 yards and five touchdowns. Only time will tell, but Rattler looks like the real deal and will likely remain one of college football’s highest-graded quarterbacks by season’s end.

5. QB DILLON GABRIEL, UCF

PFF grade: 89.6

After tying for the most big-time throws of Week 3 in his true sophomore debut, Gabriel had a near-flawless game in Week 4. His rate of negatively graded throws was the lowest of any quarterback that week, which helped him produce a 90.4 passing grade for the game — the second-best of his career. And Gabriel did that despite his deep ball not being in tune — it was actually just the second time of his career where he didn’t have at least one deep big-time throw. Gabriel had an outstanding true freshman campaign in 2018 and looks like he is taking that Year 2 leap to elite status.

6. QB MAC JONES, ALABAMA

PFF grade: 93.4

As evidenced by the grade above, Jones couldn’t have had a better 2020 debut. The Bama signal-caller had the best negatively graded and positively graded throw rate among Power Five quarterbacks in Week 4; he was the highest-graded player at the position of the week and deservedly secured a place on the PFF Team of the Week.

So far, it looks as though the fate of the Alabama quarterback position is in good hands.

7. QB KYLE TRASK, FLORIDA

PFF grade: 90.9

Trask kicked off his second year as a starter with a big Mike Breen bang, posting the highest PFF grade of his career. He also notched four big-time throws, which was nearly half of his 2019 total (nine). The Florida quarterback still made a couple of bad decisions — the kind we saw in 2019 — and still didn’t look completely comfortable under pressure, but it wasn’t to the degree at which we saw routinely a season ago.

While this was a great game from Trask, we still need to see it on a consistent basis. Remember, he recorded an 83.0 passing grade in his very first start last season, but after that, his next best game from a passing grade standpoint graded at just 70.4.

8. WR RONDALE MOORE, PURDUE

PFF grade: Season has yet to start

With Moore deciding to change course and opt back into the season, Purdue once again has one of the top wide receiver tandems in the country in him and David Bell. Moore’s after-the-catch ability makes it look like he is playing a video game. He’s incredibly elusive in an open field and can power through contact with his 5-foot-9, 181-pound frame. The Purdue pass-catcher missed almost all of his 2019 campaign due to injury, but he broke records as a true freshman in 2018 when his 37 broken tackles after the catch were the most ever in a single season by a Power Five wide receiver in the PFF College era. At the time, Moore’s 2018 season was the most valuable true freshman season we had ever seen from a non-quarterback.

9. QB KEDON SLOVIS, USC

PFF grade: Season has yet to start

Few people expected Slovis to find success as a true freshman last year after being thrown into the starting role due to a season-ending injury to J.T. Daniels, but here we are a year later naming him a top-10 Heisman Trophy candidate. Slovis' pinpoint accuracy rivals Joe Burrow for the best we have ever seen. He earned an 80.8 passing grade in 2019 and had the lowest uncatchable-pass rate on throws of 10 or more yards downfield. He has far from tapped into his full potential and is a star in the making.

10. WR JAYLEN WADDLE, ALABAMA

PFF grade: 79.1

Waddle has already seen a quarter of the targets he saw in 2019, and he’s played just one game. He made the most of those, though, hauling in eight for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Waddle has the speed to blow past defenses with ease, but on his two vertical-route targets, both were contested. Yet, the 5-foot-10, 182-pound receiver caught both of them in addition to another contested target on a non-vertical route.

Waddle was targeted on a screen or a sweep four times throughout the contest, and he turned two of those into at least a 10-yard gain, but it’s only a matter of time before we see Waddle take one of these to the house. He had 12 such targets in 2019 and averaged 20 yards after the catch. Waddle is going to get pumped a whole lot of targets with Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III out of town — keep an eye on him as the season progresses.

A SMALL SCHOOL GUY TO KEEP AN EYE ON: RB ULYSSES BENTLEY IV, SMU

I almost want to put an asterisk on this one because it’s going to be taken way out of context, but the redshirt freshman back Ulysses Bentley has put up crazy numbers through his first three games of 2020. He’s averaged 10.6 yards per attempt on 36 carries, nearly two yards more than any other back thus far. Bentley has also produced a 10-plus-yard gain on 39% of his carries, seven percentage points higher than anyone else. He has benefited from some wide-open holes thanks to his offensive line but has also done great things after contact.

We aren’t predicting that this play will continue at all, nor are we calling Bentley the best running back in college football (that’d be Mr. Travis Etienne). But we at PFF always want to give credit when credit is due, and Bentley is putting up astronomical figures on the ground relative to his counterparts.

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