Lamar Jackson ran away with the 2016 Heisman Trophy, to the point where he was a massive Las Vegas favorite to take home the hardware well before the official announcement was made. That isn’t a surprise given his prolific performance through the air and on the ground (where the quarterback rushed for 1,897 yards and 21 touchdowns), but in advance of the 2017 campaign, Jackson isn’t seen as the best returning player in the country by at least one respected outlet.
Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus produced a list of the top 25 returning players in the nation this week and Jackson did not land at No. 1. To be fair, the talented quarterback came in at No. 2 overall, but it was another quarterback that topped the list after a productive season in 2016.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who was a Heisman finalist last season, comes in at No. 1 and PFF indicates that Mayfield was their winner for “offensive player of the year” a season ago. With some help from a terrific supporting cast of weapons, Mayfield threw for 3,965 yards and 40 touchdowns (against just eight interceptions) in 2016, and his 71 percent completion rate soundly trounced Jackson’s efficiency.
Florida State defensive back Derwin James, who missed nearly all of the 2016 season with injury, is rated as the No. 3 player on the rankings.
Other quarterbacks like Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and USC’s Sam Darnold make the cut of the top 25, but this looks to be a two-horse race between Mayfield and Jackson as the campaign nears. This is, quite obviously, a controversial choice but both players are excellent and it wouldn’t be a surprise if either or both replicated their dominant performances.