11 Heisman Trophy winners that failed in the NFL

By Jarrett Hoffman

The Heisman Trophy is the most prestigious individual award that a player could win in college football. Established in 1935, the trophy was originally called the DAC Trophy inspired by New York City’s Downtown Athletic Club, the venue that hosted Heisman trophy proceedings from 1937-2001. The name was changed to the Heisman Trophy in 1936 when former football player, coach and the DAC’s athletic director John Heisman passed away due to pneumonia.

Winning the Heisman Trophy is not a guarantee that the player will have great success in the professional ranks. Of the 85 Heisman trophy winners, only 11 went on to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

This season, Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith won the Heisman, becoming the first receiver to win the award since 1991. He added to his resume this season, winning a National Championship after the Alabama Crimson Tide’s 52-24 win over the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Time will tell how DeVonta Smith will do once he is in the professional ranks. In the mean time, we will take a look at some former Heisman Trophy winners that did not pan out in the NFL.

Related: 20 Biggest NFL Draft Busts of All-Time

Johnny Manziel, first-round pick, Cleveland Browns (2014)

Tennessee Titans v Cleveland Browns
CLEVELAND, OH – SEPTEMBER 20: Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns throws a second quarter pass behind the defense of Brian Orakpo #98 of the Tennessee Titans at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 20, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

During the 2012 college football season, Johnny Manziel made history, becoming the first freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy. In that season, Manziel recorded 3,706 passing yards and 26 passing touchdowns. In addition, Manziel recorded 1,410 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns, becoming the first freshman to ever record at least 3,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season.

After one more season with the Aggies, Manziel entered the 2014 NFL Draft where he was selected 22nd overall by the Cleveland Browns. Manziel never got a fair shot as a starting quarterback in the NFL, playing just 14 games in the league. That’s primarily due to self-inflicted wounds.

Related: Johnny Manziel trolls Cleveland Browns

Sam Bradford, first-round pick, St. Louis Rams (2010)

2010 NFL Draft Round 1
NEW YORK – APRIL 22: Quarterback Sam Bradford of the Oklahoma Sooners holds up a St. Louis Rams jersey as he stands with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after Bradford was picked numer 1 overall by the Rams during the 2010 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 22, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

At the time of Sam Bradford’s Heisman Trophy-winning season in 2008, he was just the second player to ever win it in his sophomore season. Bradford finished the season with 4,730 passing yards and 50 passing touchdowns, leading the Oklahoma Sooners to a 12-2 record. His 50 touchdown passes made him just the third player at that time to do so in a single season.

Bradford moved on to the NFL in 2010 when he was drafted No. 1 overall by then-St. Louis Rams. After an impressive rookie season that saw him win AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, Bradford never lived up to the hype of being the top pick. In his eight remaining seasons in the NFL, Bradford finished with an overall record of 34-48-1, never finishing a season with a winning record and never making the playoffs.

Tim Tebow, first-round pick, Denver Broncos (2010)

New England Patriots v Denver Broncos
DENVER, CO – DECEMBER 18: Quarterback Tim Tebow #15 of the Denver Broncos scores a touchdown against the New England Patriots in the first quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on December 18, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

A season before Sam Bradford won the Heisman Trophy in his sophomore season, Tim Tebow became the first player to ever do it with the Florida Gators. In the 2007 season, Tebow put up 3,286 passing yards and 32 passing touchdowns as well as 895 rushing yards and 23 rushing touchdowns. Tebow played two more season in Florida before was taken with the 25th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos.

Tebow got his first chance at being a full-time starter in Week 4 of his sophomore season, posting a 7-4 record in helping the Broncos reach the playoffs where he led them to an improbable playoff victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers. That would be the peak of Tebow’s success in the NFL as he played just one more season with the New York Jets. He would sign with the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles but did not play any regular-season games with either team before moving on to a career in baseball.

Troy Smith, fifth-round pick, Baltimore Ravens (2007)

Baltimore Ravens v Cincinnati Bengals
CINCINNATI – NOVEMBER 30: Rashad Jeany #93 of the Cincinnati Bengals tackles quarterback Troy Smith #16 of the Baltimore Raven during their NFL game on November 30, 2008 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Ravens defeated the Bengals 34-3.(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Troy Smith is one of only four players to ever win the Heisman trophy receiving more than 90% of the possible vote. Smith won the Heisman Trophy after the 2006 season. Smith led the Buckeyes to a 12-1 record finishing the season with 2,542 passing yards and 30 passing touchdowns.

Unfortunately, his college career ended by the Buckeyes losing the inaugural BCS National Championship game in a 41-14 blowout to the Florida Gators. This loss saw his draft stock drop as he went on to be selected in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. He spent just four seasons in the NFL, playing 20 games (eight starts).

Related: Ranking and scouting best opt-out Prospects in 2021 NFL Draft

Matt Leinart, first-round pick, Arizona Cardinals (2006)

Arizona Cardinals v Tennessee Titans
NASHVILLE, TN – AUGUST 23: Matt Leinart #7 of the Arizona Cardinals gets up after being knocked down during the preseason game against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on August 23, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Titans won 24-10. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Matt Leinart’s Heisman season came in his sophomore year back in 2004 with the USC Trojans. He recorded 3,322 passing yards and 33 passing touchdowns, leading the Trojans to an undefeated season and a National championship. He would go on to be taken with the 10th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Leinart played six seasons in the NFL with his rookie season being the only in his career that he started at least 10 games. He finished his career with more interceptions (21) than touchdowns (15) and an 8-10 record as a starting quarterback.

Jason White, undrafted (2005)

FedEx Orange Bowl
MIAMI – JANUARY 4: Quarterback Jason White #18 of the Oklahoma Sooners gets up off the ground after being hit hard by the USC Trojans defense in the third quarter during the FedEx Orange Bowl 2005 National Championship on January 4, 2005 at Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Jason White won the Heisman Trophy in his senior season with the Oklahoma Sooners back in 2003. He led the Sooners to a 12-2 record, finishing the season with 3,846 passing yards and 40 passing touchdowns. White is the Heisman winner who not only failed to be selected in the NFL Draft, but never played a game in the NFL. After going undrafted in the 2005 NFL Draft, White received a tryout with the Kansas City Chiefs but did not receive an offer from the team. He later signed with the Tennessee Titans but did not play in a game with the team.

Chris Weinke, fourth-round pick, Carolina Panthers (2001)

Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers
CHARLOTTE, NC – DECEMBER 17: Quarterback Chris Weinke #16 of the Carolina Panthers watches after being removed from a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 17, 2006 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Steelers defeated the Panthers 37-3. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Chris Weinke holds the distinction of being the oldest Heisman winner ever winning the award at 28-years-old. In 2000, his senior season with the Florida State Seminoles, Weinke led the team to an 11-2 record while recording 4,167 passing yards and 33 passing touchdowns. The competition Weinke beat out to win the Heisman is a who’s who of NFL greats including Drew Brees, Ladainian Tomlinson and Michael Vick.

Weinke was selected 11th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers. His rookie season was disastrous as he recorded a 1-14 record as a starter and the team finished with a franchise worst 1-15 record. Weinke lost his starting job the next season and would serve as a backup with the Panthers for the next five seasons. Between 2002 and 2006, he played just 12 games.

Related: 2021 NFL mock draft – Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots land quarterbacks in 2021 NFL Draft.

Danny Wuerffel, fourth-round pick, New Orleans Saints (1997)

Danny Wuerffel
31 Aug 1997: Quarterback Danny Wuerffel of the New Orleans Saints looks on during a game against the St. Louis Rams at the Trans World Dome in St. Louis, Missouri. The Rams won the game, 38-24. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Dunn /Allsport

After finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting in his junior season with the Florida Gators, Danny Wuerffel went on to win the award in his senior season. Wuerffel finished with 3,625 passing yards and 39 passing touchdowns, leading the Gators to a 12-1 record and a national championship.

Wuerffel was then selected in the fourth round of the 1997 NFL Draft by the New Orleans Saints. In his six seasons in the NFL, Wuerffel was never a full-time starter only starting in 10 of his 25 career games. He finished with more interceptions (22) than touchdowns (12) and averaged just 84.9 passing yards per game.

Rashaan Salaam, first-round pick, Chicago Bears (1995)

Rashaan Salaam of the Chicago Bears (R) runs for y
TAMPA, UNITED STATES: Rashaan Salaam of the Chicago Bears (R) runs for yardage with Charles Dimry of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on his back during the second quarter of their game at Tampa Stadium 17 September. The Bears went on to win the game 25-6. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read TONY RANZE/AFP via Getty Images)

Rashaan Salaam is the only Heisman winner out of the University of Colorado. Salaam won the award in his junior year in 1994 after finishing with 2,055 rushing yards and 24 rushing touchdowns. He helped lead the Buffaloes to a school best 11-1 record. Salaam went on to the NFL where he was selected with the 21st overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears.

After a solid rookie season that saw him record 1,074 rushing yards in 11 starts, Salaam’s career went downhill for a multitude of reasons. He played just three more seasons in the NFL starting just nine games and never played in the playoffs. Tragically, he died at the young age of 42 back in 2016.

Gino Torretta, seventh-round pick, Minnesota Vikings (1993)

Miami Spring Game
MIAMI, FL – APRIL 13: Miami Hurricanes alumni Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta and NFL Hall of Famer Warren Sapp attend the annual Spring Game at Nathaniel Traz-Powell Stadium on April 13, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Gino Torretta is one of two players to win the Heisman Trophy as a member of the Miami Hurricanes. Torretta won the award in his senior season in 1992. He finished the season recording 3,060 passing yards and 19 passing touchdowns. Torretta was then drafted in the seventh round of the 1993 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings. He played just two games in the NFL, recording a total of 41 passing yards on 5-of-16 passing.

Related: If you’re a fan of the Vikings, check out #SKOL rumors, rankings, and news here.

Ty Detmer, ninth-round pick, Green Bay Packers (1992)

Green Bay Packers v Pittsburgh Steelers
PITTSBURGH, PA – AUGUST 13: Quarterback Ty Detmer #11 of the Green Bay Packers talks to head coach Mike Holmgren on the sideline during a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium on August 13, 1995 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Packers defeated the Steelers 36-13. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Ty Detmer won the Heisman trophy in his junior season with Brigham Young University in 1990. Detmer is the only player to ever win the Heisman that attended BYU. He recorded 5,188 passing yards and 41 passing yards leading BYU to a 10-3 record. Detmer is a rare case of a former Heisman winner that was drafted in the ninth round of an NFL Draft. He played in the NFL off and on from 1993 to 2003 only serving as the primary starter in two seasons. He recorded an 11-14 record as a starting quarterback.