All Heisman Trophy voters agree to not reveal their vote before the award winner is announced.
Not every voter lives up to that commitment, which is why it’s so easy to find one of those ubiquitous straw polls of Heisman voters leading up to the announcement. But I’ve always reasoned that if I didn’t want to live up to the rules then I could simply decline the opportunity to be a voter.
So, I won’t reveal my vote until after everyone knows who has won the award. But that doesn’t mean I can’t share my thoughts on my ballot if it were submitted today.
My vote, with two weeks remaining before the actual ballots are due, is for the man with the coolest nickname in college football.
The Slim Reaper. Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith.
I know that a vote for Smith may be like casting a presidential vote for Ralph Nader, Ross Perot or Kanye West. In recent years, the award has gone to the best quarterback in the country who is also on a good team.
The last non-quarterback to win the prestigious award was Alabama’s Derrick Henry in 2015. Before Henry, the most recent non-quarterback was Tide running back Mark Ingram in 2009.
To find the last non-quarterback who played for anyone other than Alabama, you have to go all the way back to Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne in 1999. (The Heisman Trust doesn’t recognize Reggie Bush’s stripped award from 2005).
All the talk this year has centered around four superstar quarterbacks. I have nothing against Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Ohio State’s Justin Field, Alabama’s Mac Jones or Florida’s Kyle Trask.
But none of them has been as transcendent as Smith. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s what Alabama coach Nick Saban said about Smith following the win in Baton Rouge: “He’s probably done as much this year for our team as any player we’ve ever had … I don’t think there are many players in the country that have done more for their team than Smitty does for our team.”
While fans argue about whether Trask’s touchdown total is more impressive than Jones’ completion percentage or Fields’ efficiency running the Ohio State offense or Lawrence’s picture-perfect delivery, there is no comp for Smith.
The Alabama senior now leads the country in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Since Jaylen Waddle’s injury on the first play of the Tennessee game, Smith has put together a four-game stretch in which he has averaged nine catches, 188 yards and three touchdowns per game.
If Smith was missing a Heisman Moment before last weekend, he certainly isn’t now. The native of Louisiana put on a show in Baton Rouge. He caught eight passes for 231 yards and touchdowns of 20, 65 and 63 yards. The 20-yarder was a one-handed grab in the back of the end zone that deserves to be the subject of a Daniel Moore painting. A secondary subject in the painting would be LSU’s helpless Derek Stingley Jr., who is considered the best cover man in college football.
Stingley won’t have that reputation for long if he keeps getting the assignment to cover Smith.
Last season against Stingley and LSU, Smith went off for 213 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches.
That’s 444 yards and five touchdowns against LSU, which is self-proclaimed as DBU (Defensive Back University).
Almost all of Smith’s production this season has come on passes from Jones. So, for every yard or touchdown registered by Smith, those are also yards and touchdowns that are credited to Jones.
But here’s what distinguishes Smith. Jones is a great player, but nobody is talking about him being in the conversation as the best player in Alabama history. But Smith certainly is. With every record he breaks, every circus catch he makes and every block he throws, Smith makes a case for joining Henry, John Hannah and Derrick Thomas on the Alabama football version on Mount Rushmore.
It’s the same argument that makes Kyle Pitts a more viable Heisman candidate than his Florida teammate Trask. No Florida fan would dare say Trask has eclipsed Steve Spurrier, Tim Tebow or even Danny Wuerffel on the list of all-time great Florida quarterbacks.
But Pitts is the greatest tight end in Gator history and the undisputed best at his position this season.
In 2019, Smith was just another great player in the Alabama offense. But wide receivers Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy were selected in the first round of last year’s NFL Draft. Waddle suffered a serious injury on the opening kickoff against Tennessee.
That has left Smith as the clear No. 1 receiver on the greatest offense in Alabama history. It also puts him on top of my Heisman Trophy ballot at this point.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 18 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays on Sports Talk 99.5 from 7-10 a.m. and on the iHeart app.
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