College News & Analysis

PFF 2022 Preseason Heisman Trophy Watch List: Best player in college football

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud celebrates after a touchdown during the Buckeyes' comeback win over Utah on Saturday in the Rose Bowl. Syndication The Columbus Dispatch

This is a loaded year for preseason expectations in college football. So many young and talented players are returning to the scene, whether at their same programs or new ones via the transfer portal. Heck, even the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Alabama’s Bryce Young, is back and ready to take aim at history as a repeat winner.

With a loaded group to organize, here is our preseason Heisman Trophy Watch List for the 2022 season, with betting odds coming from DraftKings Sportsbook as of July 19.


QB C.J. Stroud, Ohio State (+250)

The true sophomore showed the college football world last year that he wasn’t just a product of the future NFL receivers he was throwing to; he looked like a future NFL player in his own right.

Stroud’s 91.6 PFF passing grade ranked fifth-highest in the FBS. As of now, he’s the betting favorite to win the award. That checks out with how well he plays, how successful Ohio State has been year in and year out and the fact that another great year while losing Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson to throw to will mean a lot to voters.

QB Bryce Young, Alabama (+350)

The only player to ever win the Heisman Trophy twice was Ohio State’s Archie Griffin back in 1974 and 1975. Bryce Young has a chance to be the second to accomplish the feat after winning the award as just a true sophomore last season.

In his first year as a starter, Young led Alabama to an SEC title to the tune of 47 passing touchdowns, just seven interceptions and a 91.9 PFF grade. Most impressive about the performance was that he ranked third in the FBS in total passing attempts (550) yet had a turnover-worthy play percentage of just 2.1%, one of the lowest of that same group.

Star wideouts Jameson Williams and John Metchie III are now in the NFL, but that will only help Young's case if he can succeed with new faces.

QB Caleb Williams, Oklahoma (+700)

At the start of 2021, Williams was a true freshman backup quarterback who was a long way away from being in the conversation for any major award. By the end of the year, there were some campaigning for him to win the most prestigious award of them all.

While at Oklahoma, Williams took over for a struggling Spencer Rattler, and over the course of the final few months of the season, he recorded an elite 91.7 overall grade. He stormed onto the scene by throwing for almost 300 yards and four touchdowns against TCU, then over 400 yards and six touchdowns against Texas Tech a few weeks later. His big-time throw rate of 7.1% was one of the highest marks among FBS quarterbacks.

Though Williams is now at USC, the head coach he was operating under, Lincoln Riley, is there with him, as is reigning Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison.

Best Non-QBs Bets

RB Bijan Robinson, Texas (+2000)

Robinson is already at a massive disadvantage for the Heisman Trophy simply because he does not play quarterback. That part is out of his control. But what he does control is just how good he is at his position.

Robinson rushed for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns to the tune of a 90.8 PFF rushing grade. But we all know common rushing stats have a lot to do with the offensive line. For a more individual look at how good Robinson was last year, we stand in awe of his 0.41 forced missed tackles per attempt rate, the top mark from last season and the fourth-best in college football over the past five years.

If Texas is good enough this year to have a player in the Heisman conversation, Robinson will be a big reason why.

EDGE Will Anderson, Alabama (+2000)

There were many around the country who were clamoring for Anderson to receive Heisman votes last year after he led the FBS in sacks (17.5), quarterback hurries (56) and total pressures (82). The 6-foot-3, 245-pound phenom is poised for another big year with the Crimson Tide. An encore performance in 2022 will make it hard to keep him off voters' ballots.

WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State (+2500)

With Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson on to the NFL, Smith-Njigba’s role and emphasis in the Ohio State offense should only increase. That’s scary levels of potential production, as he already led the group last year in receptions (95), receiving yards (1,606) and yards per catch (16.9), all while playing mostly from the slot (545 snaps). His nine receiving touchdowns should also increase with the added attention and versatility of him perhaps playing a bit more on the outside.

If you’re making a case for a receiver to win the Heisman, Smith-Njigba’s potential volume makes him a good bet.

Hail Mary QBs

If you’re a quarterback for a major college football program, you always have a chance to hit it big and make it into the Heisman conversation.

There are two interesting transfer quarterbacks who, with plenty of unknowns about their output at their new spots, have the potential to join the conversation. The first is Dillon Gabriel, who threw for over 7,000 yards, 61 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions as just a freshman and sophomore at UCF before transferring to Oklahoma. The second is Spencer Rattler, who transferred from Oklahoma to South Carolina and is one of the most talented players in the country.

Two dual-threat talents who could really light up a scoreboard are Hendon Hooker and Anthony Richardson. Hooker, the former Virginia Tech Hokie, threw for 31 touchdowns and just three interceptions last season. Richardson played sparingly behind Emory Jones, but a totally new coaching staff and no Jones in front of him on the depth chart could mean big things in 2022.

Finally, there's Will Levis, Tyler Van Dyke and DJ Uiagalelei. Levis, a transfer from Penn State, started for the first time in his college career last season and led the Wildcats to a 6-0 start while throwing for 24 touchdowns and recording over 3,200 all-purpose yards in the air and on the ground.

Van Dyke took over for D’Eriq King and threw for almost 3,000 yards in just 10 games. His big-time throw percentage of 7.7% ranked fifth-best in the FBS.

As for Uiagalelei, he was touted as the latest and greatest Clemson quarterback following Trevor Lawrence’s departure to the NFL. But since then, he and the program overall have taken a step back. The Tigers are still a very talented group, and with that comes Heisman potential. But throwing just nine touchdowns to 10 interceptions last season means 2022 will have to be by far Uiagalelei's best year yet.

Skill Players With Outside Shots

Only four non-quarterback have won the Heisman Trophy since 2000, but if we’re going to shout out some longshot skill position guys, this would be our list.

Henderson didn’t start the season as Ohio State’s No. 1 back, but the freshman rushed for 270 yards and three touchdowns in the Buckeyes' early-season game against Tulsa, and it was hard to keep the ball out of his hands after that.

Jahmyr Gibbs will get the Alabama watch list bump, as the former four-star recruit transferred from Georgia Tech to the Crimson Tide this summer.

My favorite sleeper pick is Braelon Allen. As a true freshman at Wisconsin, he didn’t start until mid-October but went on to rush for over 100 yards in eight of his final nine games, including seven in a row.

To round it out, if any receiver can win the award, Addison — the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner now in the Lincoln Riley USC offense — feels like the safe bet.

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