Winning the Heisman Trophy certainly doesn’t guarantee success in the NFL. Throughout the years, numerous Heisman winners have fizzled at the professional level. Some never even received a real shot in the pros. But that certainly doesn’t stop college football players from trying to win the prestigious award. Some Heisman Trophy winners do excel in the NFL but don’t have that immediate success. But then there’s that special group of players that do find that immediate success, that group of 11 players that can all say they won the Heisman and NFL Rookie of the Year.
Let’s take a look at the list.
After finishing fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1975 as a junior, Tony Dorsett easily won the award the following season while also leading the Pitt Panthers to a national title. Dorsett rushed for 2,150 yards and 22 touchdowns and also added an additional score as a receiver.
Dorsett was taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the 1977 NFL Draft and won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year with 1,007 rushing yards and 13 total touchdowns.
Widely considered one of the toughest running backs of all time, Earl Campbell won the Heisman Trophy as a senior for the Texas Longhorns in 1977, rushing for 1,744 yards and 18 touchdowns and adding 111 receiving yards and a touchdown.
He was drafted with the first overall pick in the 1978 NFL draft by the Houston Oilers and earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors with a league-leading 1,450 yards and 13 touchdowns. Campbell went on to lead the league in rushing in each of the next two seasons as well.
At 6’2″ and close to 230 pounds, George Rogers was an unstoppable force for the University of South Carolina. He finished seventh in the 1979 Heisman Trophy voting and then won the award in 1980 with 1,781 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.
Rogers was taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1981 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints and led the league in rushing as a rookie with 1,674 yards, easily winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. His rushing total from that season was a rookie record and is still the highest single-season rushing total in Saints history.
Some people may not know that Marcus Allen was a defensive back in high school and didn’t switch to running back until he arrived at USC, a move that obviously paid off. Allen had one of the best seasons in NCAA history as a senior in 1981 and ran away with the Heisman Trophy with 2,427 rushing yards, 256 receiving yards, and 23 touchdowns.
The LA Raiders selected Allen with the 10th overall pick in the 1982 NFL draft. He won Offensive Rookie of the Year with 697 rushing yards, 401 receiving yards, and a league-leading 14 touchdowns. While those numbers may not look as impressive as some others, one has to remember that the 1982 NFL season was shortened to nine games due to a strike.
Easily one of the most elusive running backs in history, Barry Sanders won the Heisman Trophy as a junior in 1988 at Oklahoma State by putting together one of the most impressive seasons the world of college football will ever see. Sanders rushed for an incredible 2,628 yards and 37 touchdowns, both of which are still NCAA records.
He skipped his senior season in Stillwater and was taken with the third overall pick in the 1989 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions. Sanders won Offensive Rookie of the Year with 1,470 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. He would go on to rush for at least 1,115 yards in each of his 10 seasons in the Motor City.
Ohio State running back Eddie George made a real name for himself as a junior in 1994 and was then recognized as the best player in college football as a senior as he beat out Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier for the Heisman Trophy, rushing for 1,927 yards and scoring 25 total touchdowns.
George was taken by the Houston Oilers with the 14th overall pick in the 1996 NFL draft and earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors with 1,368 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
Since the inception of the Heisman Trophy in 1935, only one primarily defensive player has won the award with that honor belonging to Charles Woodson, who did it all in 1997 in leading the Michigan Wolverines to a national championship. As a defensive back, he recorded seven interceptions, including an amazing one-handed pick against Michigan State. Woodson also spent a little time at wide receiver and had 11 catches for 231 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran the ball three times that season, adding another touchdown, and amassed 283 yards as a kick returner, adding yet another score.
Woodson was taken with the No. 4 pick in the 1998 NFL draft by the Oakland Raiders and won Defensive Rookie of the Year with five interceptions (he returned one for a touchdown), two forced fumbles, and 64 tackles.
Sam Bradford is an interesting entry on this list. Not only was he the first quarterback to win both the Heisman Trophy and NFL Rookie of the Year but he was also the first player to not win the two awards in consecutive years.
Bradford won the Heisman Trophy in 2008 as a redshirt sophomore at Oklahoma, throwing for 4,720 yards and 50 touchdowns. But despite being projected as a high draft pick, he opted to return to the Sooners for his junior year but ended up missing the majority of the season with a shoulder injury. But that didn’t stop the St. Louis Rams from taking him with the top overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, which ended up being a good move as Bradford won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year with 3,512 passing yards and 18 touchdown passes.
After serving as a backup for Tim Tebow at Florida for two seasons and then a year in junior college, Cam Newton played just one season for Auburn in 2010 and certainly made the most of it. He led the Tigers to an undefeated season and the national championship and also won the Heisman Trophy. Newton threw for 2,854 yards and 30 touchdowns and also ran for 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns that season, easily winning the Heisman over second-place finisher Andrew Luck.
Newton was taken with the top pick in the 2011 NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers and won Offensive Rookie of the Year with 4,051 passing yards, an NFL rookie record that would be broken the following year by none other than Andrew Luck, and 21 touchdowns. Newton also ran for an additional 706 yards and 14 scores.
Robert Griffin III
In 2011, Andrew Luck finished second in the Heisman Trophy vote for the second consecutive year, this time to Robert Griffin III, who led Baylor to a 10-win season for just the second time in the program’s history. Griffin threw for 4,293 yards and 37 touchdowns against just six interceptions and added 699 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Griffin was taken with the second overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft by the Washington Redskins and won Offensive Rookie of the Year with 3,200 passing yards and 20 touchdown passes and 815 rushing yards and seven scores.
When 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield left Oklahoma for the NFL, Kyler Murray became the starting quarterback for the Sooners in 2018 and had a phenomenal season, a season that actually altered his career plans. Murray was expected to join the Oakland A’s organization but changed his mind after winning the Heisman Trophy with 4,361 passing yards, 1,001 rushing yards, and 54 touchdowns.
Murray was taken with the top overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals and earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors with 3,722 passing yards, 20 touchdown passes, 544 rushing yards, and four rushing touchdowns.
All stats courtesy of Sports Reference