Heisman Watch: Joe Burrow's climb continues; Jalen Hurts drops

Each week for the rest of the season, we will highlight the five players we think are the top Heisman Trophy contenders. The list could change weekly as new players emerge and the true candidates separate themselves from the pack.

Previously: Preseason, Week 5, Week 6

LSU’s new high-powered offense hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, and Joe Burrow is right in the middle of the Tigers’ ascendance toward the top of college football.

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In Saturday night’s 42-28 win over Florida, Burrow continued to combine explosiveness with remarkable efficiency. Burrow was already completing 78.4 percent of his passes entering the weekend. His pinpoint accuracy raised to another level following a 21-of-24 outing for 293 yards and three touchdowns against the Gators.

Through six games, Burrow has completed 148 of his 186 passing attempts — a 79.6 percent clip. If the season ended today, Burrow would hold an FBS record for completion percentage, besting Colt McCoy’s 2008 mark of 76.7 percent. And as we noted last week, Burrow’s Heisman (and NFL draft) profile can rise to even greater heights with the challenges ahead, most notably the Nov. 9 trip to Tuscaloosa.

Hours before the latest standout performance from Burrow, Jalen Hurts took some uncharacteristic risks in Oklahoma’s rivalry win over Texas. His statistics reflect a standard Hurts outing: 16-of-28 for 235 yards, three touchdowns and an interception with 131 yards rushing. But compared to the lofty standards he had set in his first five games in a Sooners uniform, it was a step back. Hurts had two red-zone turnovers in the first half, miscues that allowed Texas to keep the game close.

As such, you’ll see some changes in our rankings.

(Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)
(Paul Rosales/Yahoo Sports)

1. Joe Burrow, QB, LSU

Burrow is the new leader in the Heisman Trophy clubhouse. Burrow’s rise from Ohio State backup to LSU game manager to LSU world beater has been extraordinary, and now he has a chance to win the school’s first Heisman since 1959 while leading it to a national title.

After his effort against Florida, Burrow is up to 2,157 yards and 25 touchdowns. His yardage output trails only Washington State’s Anthony Gordon, who has 110 more attempts. Burrow and Gordon are tied for second in TDs behind Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. On top of that, Burrow is second in yards per attempt at 11.6, trailing only Jalen Hurts.

Burrow’s play is catching the eyes of NFL scouts as well.

“Accuracy, toughness, confidence, athleticism [and] good, quick decision-making,” one NFL scout told Yahoo Sports’ Eric Edholm. “It’s all on display there. It’s hard not to like.”

(Last week: 1)

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow has thrown for 2,157 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)
LSU quarterback Joe Burrow has thrown for 2,157 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

2. Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma

If you’ve been watching Hurts closely on a weekly basis, you might have noticed him forcing some throws into traffic. You can get away with throws like that against teams like Texas Tech and Kansas, but not against Texas in the biggest game of the season thus far. On first-and-goal of OU’s first drive on Saturday, Hurts avoided pressure and tried to thread one through a crowd of UT defenders to CeeDee Lamb. That pass fell incomplete and Hurts found Lamb for a score a few plays later, but he did not have the same luck later in the quarter.

In this instance, Hurts, after scrambling right and avoiding a Texas rusher, threw an ill-advised pass back across the field that was easily picked off by Texas DB Chris Brown. It was a ball Hurts never should have thrown, and it cost his team a chance at three points. The fact that the interception followed an earlier fumble only exacerbated issues.

(via FOX)
(via FOX)

The Sooners had a chance to be up two or three scores, but Hurts’ miscues allowed the Longhorns to hang around. Hurts also nearly threw another INT late in the third quarter, but he certainly had some bright moments as well. He notched his third 100-yard rushing effort of the year, and is now second in the country in rushing yards among quarterbacks (trailing only Navy’s Malcolm Perry). Hurts also ranks first nationally in yards per attempt (12.8), sixth in passing touchdowns (17), ninth in completion percentage (71.5) and 10th in passing yards (1,758).

(Last week: 1)

3. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama

Saturday’s 47-28 road win over No. 24 Texas A&M felt like another walk in the park for Tagovailoa and the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide. But watching it back, there were definitely some throws Tagovailoa would like to have back.

He finished the afternoon 21-of-34 for 293 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Purely from a completion percentage perspective, it was his worst outing since last year’s LSU game when he went 25-of-42. But Tagovailoa still made a number of perfect throws that he makes look so routine, especially a first-quarter slant — with pressure in his face, no less — that DeVonta Smith caught in stride and took to the house.

(via ESPN)
(via ESPN)

Through six games, Tagovailoa is third in the country in passing yards (2,011), first in TDs (27) and fifth in completion percentage (73.6).

(Last week: 2)

4. J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State

Through six games (OSU is coming off a bye), J.K. Dobbins is second in the country with 826 rushing yards, one ahead of Wisconsin star Jonathan Taylor but on 13 fewer carries. Dobbins looks as explosive as he did during his freshman year when he put up 1,403 yards while averaging 7.2 yards per carry. So far this year, Dobbins is at 7.1 yards per carry — the highest average among the 34 running backs with at least 100 carries.

Dobbins has gone for at least 140 yards in four of OSU’s six games, including a 193-yard effort against Indiana. His last two games have been stellar performances as well: 172 yards vs. Michigan State and 177 yards at Nebraska. OSU has Northwestern next on the schedule. The Wildcats allow 142.8 rushing yards per game. And with more challenging games ahead for the Buckeyes, Dobbins will have the opportunities to make an impression on the minds of Heisman voters.

(Last week: 5)

5. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin

Michigan State did pretty well in its effort to contain Jonathan Taylor on Saturday, but that was about all it did well in a 38-0 loss. Taylor rushed for fewer than 100 yards in a game for the first time all year, going for 80 yards on 26 carries. Taylor did score two touchdowns to move past Chuba Hubbard (13) for the national lead with 14. Taylor’s rushing total, 825 yards, ranks third in the country behind Hubbard and Dobbins.

Additionally, Taylor has shown noticeable improvement in two areas: receiving and ball security. Taylor has fumbled just once through six games after coughing the ball up a combined 14 times (losing 10) in his first two seasons. Taylor has also emerged as more of an option catching passes out of the backfield. He combined for 16 receptions for 155 yards and no scores in 2017 and 2018. In 2019? Taylor already has 15 catches for 136 yards and four touchdowns.

(Last week: 4)

Also considered

Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State had a bye in Week 7, and Hubbard probably needed it. The sophomore leads the nation with 1,094 rushing yards. His 162 attempts in six games are also tops in the country. Hubbard fell one spot behind Taylor in the race for most rushing touchdowns, but he’ll get the chance to add to that total on Saturday against No. 18 Baylor.

CeeDee Lamb, WR, Oklahoma: CeeDee Lamb stole the show in OU’s Red River win over Texas. The junior torched the Longhorns for 10 catches, 171 yards and three touchdowns. His second and third touchdowns were awesome efforts after the catch, especially the 51-yard score on a flea flicker that put the Sooners ahead for good in the third quarter. Lamb now has 28 catches for 610 yards and 10 touchdowns on the year.

Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State: Ohio State is sitting at 6-0 and hasn’t really been challenged thus far, and won’t face much resistance on Friday night against Northwestern. But Fields and the Buckeyes still have games against Wisconsin, Penn State and Maryland remaining on the schedule. Fields, who has thrown for 1,298 yards and 18 touchdowns with 283 yards and eight scores on the ground, will have his chances to move his way up this list.

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