Heisman Finalists in the NFL Draft

At last, the 2015 NFL Draft begins this Thursday. For the third time in the last six years (and fourth time since 1990), two Heisman trophy winners (Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston) are featured in the draft. While the last three instances saw the more recent Heisman winner being drafted higher (1991 winner Desmond Howard went #4 overall ahead of 1990 winner Ty Detmer taken at #230 in 1992; 2008 winner Sam Bradford went #1 overall ahead of 2007 winner Tim Tebow taken at #24 in 2010; 2010 winner Cam Newton was taken #1 overall ahead of 2009 winner Mark Ingram taken at #28 in 2011), it appears that trend won’t continue as Tampa seems set on taking Winston with the top pick this year. In (likely) going first overall, Winston has avoided the fate of most Heisman winners who return to college after taking home the trophy (although Winston was not eligible for the draft following the 2013 season since he was not yet 3 years removed from high school).

Marcus Mariota is projected to go between #2 and #6 in most mock drafts. In either case, this would be well ahead of both the average draft position of all Heisman winners since 1990 (50th overall) and the average draft position of Heisman winning quarterbacks since 1990 (74th overall).

This year’s draft also features 6 of the top 10 Heisman finishers from last year, including all 3 finalists. Since 1990, the average draft position for Heisman finalists has been 57th overall. According to most mock drafts, Melvin Gordon is projected to go between 24th overall and 27th overall, while Amari Cooper is projected to be picked #4 overall by Oakland, both well ahead of the average.

I’ve broken down the average draft position since 1990 of players who finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting by where they finished in the voting. For players who finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting multiple times within that span, I used their highest finish in voting (for example Colt McCoy finished 2nd in 2008 and 3rd in 2009; he counted among 2nd place finishers).

Heisman Voting Finish Average Draft Position (since 1990)
1st 50th overall (2 undrafted)
2nd 64th overall (2 undrafted)
3rd 44th overall (2 undrafted)
4th 43rd overall (3 undrafted)
5th 66th overall (3 undrafted)
6th 38th overall (0 undrafted)
7th 45th overall (2 undrafted)
8th 49th overall (1 undrafted)
9th 72nd overall (1 undrafted)
10th 91st overall (2 undrafted)

The correlation between Heisman voting finish and draft position (.47) is higher than one might expect given that people evaluate players in Heisman consideration differently than they do in draft considerations. In particular, defensive players are under represented among Heisman vote-getters (making up less than 10% of vote-getters all-time, with only one winner), often falling toward the middle/lower end of Heisman voting. Yet six of the #1 overall NFL draft picks since 1990 have been defensive players. This point becomes clearer after breaking down top 10 Heisman finishers by position and looking at their average NFL draft position.

Position Average Draft Position (since 1990)
QB 76th overall (15 undrafted out of 90)
RB 56th overall (3 undrafted out of 61)
WR 37th overall (0 undrafted out of 23)
LB 34th overall (0 undrafted out of 8)
DB 19th overall (0 undrafted out of 5)
OL 15th overall (0 undrafted out of 3)
DL 17th overall (0 undrafted out of 10)

Defensive players have three of the four highest average draft positions, with none going undrafted. Offensive linemen (again underrepresented among Heisman vote-getters) have been picked #1 overall three times since 1990.

An interesting sidenote: Two players rushed for over 2000 yards in the 2014 season, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (2587 yards, 2nd in Heisman voting) and Indiana’s Tevin Coleman (2036 yards, 7th in Heisman voting). Prior to 2014, 20 players rushed for 2000+ yards in a season, 18 of which finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting that year, 6 taking home the trophy. The average draft position of these running backs was 31st overall (only one, Northwestern’s Damien Anderson, went undrafted). Melvin Gordon looks to be off the board by the end of the first round, while Tevin Coleman is projected to be a mid second round pick (possibly at 45th overall to the Vikings). Those projections would come close (though slightly below) the average for running backs breaking the 2000 yard mark.

We get three days (Thursday, April 30 through Saturday, May 2) to see how things play out this year. Enjoy.

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