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Heisman Watch: Early Look at Top Heisman Trophy Candidates for 2022

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Bryce Young, Alabama Crimson Tide Football

Barring an injury, Bryce Young will enter the 2022 season as the heavy favorite to repeat as the Heisman Trophy winner but he's certainly not the only one that can win the award

Bryce Young helped Alabama become just the sixth school with back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners, and he'll enter the 2022 college football season looking to do something only one other player has ever done — take home the stiff-armed trophy in consecutive years.

Related: Way-Too-Early College Football Top 25 for 2022

So while plenty of attention will be paid to whether Young can join Ohio State's Archie Griffin as the only back-to-back Heisman winners, the odds are more likely that someone will emerge and capture the attention of the majority of voters. It's not like it would be the first time the favorite entering the season didn't end up winning the award.

Here are the players that could factor into the Heisman race next season.

The odds-on favorite

Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
Young will try and join what is arguably the most exclusive club in sports. As the heavy favorite to go back-to-back, Young will likely need to put up even bigger numbers than he did in 2021, as he'll carry the biggest bulls-eye of any player in the country. Young also will have to try and make history with a new-look receiving corps following the early departures of his top three wide receivers (Jameson Williams, John Metchie III, Slade Bolden).

The other returning finalist

C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
Similar to Young, Stroud wasted little time in his first season as the starter in making a name for himself. The Big Ten's offensive player, freshman, and quarterback of the year, Stroud re-wrote the Ohio State record books as a redshirt freshman and should only continue to get better running head coach Ryan Day's offense. Stroud finished with 4,435 passing yards, 44 touchdowns, and only six interceptions while completing 72 percent of his passes. He capped off his impressive campaign by throwing for 573 yards and six touchdowns in the Rose Bowl.

Alabama's next breakthrough Heisman winner

Will Anderson Jr., OLB, Alabama
DeVonta Smith ended a three-decade drought for wide receivers when he won the Heisman Trophy in 2020, so can Anderson do the same as a defensive player? He finished fifth in the voting this past season, meaning he was the top vote-getter outside of the finalists that got invited to the ceremony in New York. He led the country in both sacks (17.5) and tackles for a loss (33.5), the latter by a wide margin, and is back to wreak even more havoc. It won't be easy for Anderson to steal the spotlight from Young, his teammate, but it's clear he'll be on Heisman voters' radars entering 2022.

Quarterbacks on the move

It's entirely possible that the next Heisman Trophy recipient will end up being a quarterback who was at a different school in 2021. Such is the current state of college football thanks to the transfer portal. At the top of the list of the change-of-scenery signal-callers is Caleb Williams, the freshman phenom who flashed his immense talent and potential at Oklahoma. He would have been a potential Heisman contender wherever he landed, but that's especially the case since he reunited with Lincoln Riley at USC.

And speaking of former Sooners, everyone is eager to see how Spencer Rattler, who was the Heisman favorite for many entering last season, does at South Carolina. And there's also Dillon Gabriel, the former UCF starter, who could be Oklahoma's first QB in the post-Riley era after transferring there to join new head coach Brent Venables and reunite with offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby (was at UCF in 2019).

Other transfer QBs to watch (alphabetical order)
Zach Calzada, Auburn (from Texas A&M)
JT Daniels, West Virginia (from Georgia)
Jaxson Dart, Ole Miss (from USC)
Quinn Ewers, Texas (from Ohio State)
Bo Nix, Oregon (from Auburn)
Kedon Slovis, Pittsburgh (from USC)
Cameron Ward, Washington State (from FCS Incarnate Word)

Running backs that can give everyone the stiff arm and win it

The last time a running back won the Heisman Trophy was 2015 when Alabama's Derrick Henry ran away from the competition. He did so behind 2,219 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground. So it will take a big season from a ball carrier to win it, but there are definitely some backs to keep an eye on.

Braelon Allen appears to be the next great Wisconsin back, as he put up nine 100-yard efforts over his last 10 games to end his freshman season. Fellow freshman TreVeyon Henderson emerged as Ohio State's No. 1 back and flashed his big-play ability (6.8 ypc, 15 TDs), but he'll have to outshine his own quarterback to get the Heisman votes.

Bijan Robinson entered the 2021 season in the middle of the Heisman talk and he was among the nation's most productive backs in the first half of the season before tailing off as Texas endured a crushing six-game losing streak. He'll get another shot at being the focal point of Steve Sarkisian's offense.

The next DeVonta Smith

Smith showed that it's possible for a wide receiver to win the Heisman. But his breakthrough in 2020 was due to a very special season under unusual circumstances. So which wide receivers could follow in Smith's footsteps? Ohio State's Jaxon Smith-Njigba certainly got everyone's attention with his eye-popping, record-setting Rose Bowl performance that saw him put up 347 yards and three touchdowns on 15 catches. With Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson both off to the NFL, Smith-Njigba will be the clear-cut No. 1 option for the Buckeyes, but he'll be catching passes from a returning Heisman finalist (Stroud) and battle another potential contender (Henderson) for touches.

Jordan Addison is the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner after his 100-catch, 1,593-yard, 17-TD season. He won't have Kenny Pickett as his quarterback, and he may not even stay at Pittsburgh after putting his name into the transfer prior just prior to the May 1 deadline. Wherever he ends up, expect Addison to have a major impact right away. LSU's Kayshon Boutte is another to keep an eye on. After setting an SEC single-game record for receiving yards (308) as a true freshman in 2020, much was expected of Boutte entering this past season. He picked up where he left off, recording 38 catches and nine touchdowns in the first six games before an injury sidelined him the rest of the way. Expect Boutte to be featured prominently in new head coach Brian Kelly's offense as the Tigers look to rebound after finishing a disappointing 6-7.

Other names to watch (alphabetical order)

Brennan Armstrong, QB, Virginia
Tank Bigsby, RB, Auburn
Brock Bowers, TE, Georgia
Myles Brennan, QB, LSU
Sean Clifford, QB, Penn State
Blake Corum, RB, Michigan
Malik Cunningham, QB, Louisville
Jayden Daniels, QB, LSU (transfer from Arizona State)
Zach Evans, RB, Ole Miss (transfer from TCU)
Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama (transfer from Georgia Tech)
Jake Haener, QB, Fresno State
Sam Hartman, QB, Wake Forest
Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee
KJ Jefferson, QB, Arkansas
Mohamed Ibrahim, RB, Minnesota
Devin Leary, QB, NC State
Grayson McCall, QB, Coastal Carolina
Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
Cameron Rising, QB, Utah
Will Rogers, QB, Mississippi State
Will Shipley, RB, Clemson
Sean Tucker, RB, Syracuse
D.J. Uiagalelei, QB, Clemson
Tyler Van Dyke, QB, Miami
Deuce Vaughn, RB, Kansas State

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