DeVonta Smith and the Eagles' long history of Heisman Trophy finalists

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The long, strange history of Eagles' Heisman Trophy finalists originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles drafted the first Heisman Trophy winner and the last Heisman Trophy winner.

What about the 84 years in between?

The Eagles’ history with Heisman Trophy winners and top-three finalists is a curious one. They’ve had plenty on their roster - including five Heisman winners - but only a few have been stars.

With the Eagles drafting a Heisman Trophy winner this year for the first time in more than half a century, we thought it would be fun to look back at every former Eagle that finished in the top three in the Heisman voting since the award’s inception in 1935.

QB Jay Berwanger, Chicago [1st in 1935]: I wrote last year about Berwanger, the first player drafted in the first NFL draft. Despite being the first player in the 1935 draft, Berwanger never played in the NFL.

QB Davey O’Brien, TCU [1st in 1938]: O’Brien had a remarkable college career, leading TCU to the national championship and earning All-America honors. The Eagles made him the 4th overall pick and although he led the NFL in passing yards as a rookie, the Eagles went 2-19-1 in his 22 starts, and he finished his brief NFL career with 11 TDs and 34 interceptions. He retired at 23 and became an FBI agent.

RB Chuck Bednarik, Penn [3rd in 1948]: Bednarik finished behind SMU running back Doak Walker and North Carolina running back Charlie Justice in the 1948 voting and of course went on to a 14-year Hall of Fame career with the Eagles.

FL Howard Cassady, Ohio State [3rd in 1954, 1st in 1955]: After finishing 3rd in the 1954 Heisman voting, the Ohio State flanker won the award in 1955. Although he spent most of his career with the Lions, he spent five games with the Eagles in 1962, with 14-for-188 receiving and two TDs.

WR Tommy McDonald, Oklahoma [3rd in 1956]: McDonald finished third to Hall of Famer Paul Hornung and long-time Tennessee coach Johnny Majors in the Heisman balloting before spending the first seven of his 12 NFL seasons of his Hall of Fame career with the Eagles.

FB/DB Walt Kowalczyk, Michigan State [3rd in 1957]: The Eagles made Kowalczyk the sixth pick in 1958, but he only spent two seasons in Philly, rushing 43 times for 80 yards, catching 17 passes for 105 yards and recording two interceptions.  

QB John Huarte, Notre Dame [1st in 1964]: The Eagles drafted Huarte in the sixth round in 1965, but he elected instead to sign with the AFL Jets. He eventually played briefly for the Eagles in 1968, losing his only NFL start against the Giants at Franklin Field.

RB Leroy Keyes, Purdue [3rd in 1967, 2nd in 1968]: Keyes had a short NFL career rushing for 368 yards in two seasons for the Eagles before switching to cornerback, where he had eight interceptions in two years. Keyes died last month at 74.

DT Rich Glover, Nebraska [3rd in 1972]: Glover, a New Jersey native, was drafted by the Giants but only played 13 games for them before starting all 14 games in 1975, his one year with the Eagles. The only pure defensive player on this entire list.

RB Herschel Walker, Georgia [3rd in 1980, 2nd in 1981, 1st in 1982]: Walker rushed for 2,344 yards and 14 TDs and caught 163 passes for 1,388 yards and seven more TDs in his three years with the Eagles. He had the 8th-most scrimmage yards among NFL running backs during that span.

QB Jim McMahon, BYU [3rd in 1981]: McMahon spent three years with the Eagles. He went 8-3 in place of injured Randall Cunningham in 1991 and was 9-3 as a starter in an Eagles uniform.

RB Keith Byars, Ohio State [2nd in 1984]: Byars, Buddy Ryan’s first draft pick, was second to Doug Flutie in the 1984 Heisman voting. He spent his first seven seasons with the Eagles and ranks 11th in Eagles history with 6,204 scrimmage yards. He went on to make a Pro Bowl with the Dolphins., 

RB Paul Palmer, Temple [2nd in 1991]: The College Football Hall of Famer was the Chiefs’ 1st-round pick in 1987 but only played 27 games for K.C. and a handful more with the Lions and Cowboys. He was in training camp with the Eagles in 1991 but didn’t make the team.

QB Don McPherson, Syracuse [2nd in 1987]: McPherson was second to Tim Brown of Notre Dame in the 1987 Heisman balloting. The Eagles drafted him in the sixth round in 1988 and he was on the roster in 1988 and 1989 but never played in an NFL game.

QB Rodney Peete, USC [2nd in 1988]: Peete, second to Barry Sanders in the 1988 Heisman balloting, spent 1995 through 1998 with the Eagles, going 15-9 as a starter, including 9-3 in place of benched Randall Cunningham in 1995 along with a historic 58-37 wild-card playoff win over the Lions, the team that drafted him.

QB Ty Detmer, BYU [1st in 1990, 3rd in 1991]: Detmer went 9-9 in 18 starts for the Eagles in 1996 and 1997 with 22 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. He started the 14-0 wild-card loss to the 49ers in 1996, the only time the Eagles have ever been shut out in the postseason.

RB Eric Bieniemy, Colorado [3rd in 1990]: Bieniemy finished his nine-year NFL career playing under Andy Reid with the Eagles in 2000. He averaged 6.3 yards on 12 carries. He’s now Reid’s offensive coordinator with the Chiefs.

QB Casey Weldon, Florida State [2nd in 1991]: The Eagles drafted Weldon, second to Michigan's Desmond Howard, in the fourth round in 1992 but he never played here. He spent five years with the Buccaneers and Washington.

QB Michael Vick, Virginia Tech [3rd in 1999]: Vick returned to the NFL in 2009 with the Eagles and went 8-3 with 21 TDs and 6 INTs during his 2010 Pro Bowl season. Overall, he was 20-20 in 40 starts with the Eagles from 2009 through 2013.

QB Vince Young, Texas [2nd in 2005]: After making two Pro Bowls with the Titans, Young finished his career with the Eagles in 2011, going 1-2 in three starts with four TDs and nine INTs.  

QB Tim Tebow, Florida [1st in 2007, 3rd in 2008]: After playing for the Broncos and Jets, Tebow spent the summer of 2015 in camp with the Chip Kelly Eagles. When he was released, he pursued a career in baseball. Now retired from baseball, he’s trying to return to the NFL as a tight end.

QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma [1st in 2008]: Bradford went 7-7 in 14 starts for the Eagles in 2015, his only season in Philly. He was traded to the Vikings during the 2016 preseason after Teddy Bridgewater’s season-ending knee injury, opening the door for Carson Wentz to start.

QB Jalen Hurts, Alabama [2nd in 2019]: Replaced Wentz with a month to go in the season and had 847 passing yards and 238 rushing yards in three starts in which he played the entire game. Had 2nd-most passing plus rushing yards ever by a rookie QB in his first three starts.

WR DeVonta Smith, Alabama [1st in 2020]: Rookie 1st-round pick will be the first non-QB Heisman winner to play for the Eagles since Herschel Walker and the first receiver since Howard Cassaday in 1962.

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