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The Heisman Class of 2016

Cun Shi illustration

The 2016 Heisman Trophy race has the potential to be among the best in college football history. The 2015 winner, Derrick Henry, is gone, but four of the next five vote-getters from last season -- Christian McCaffrey, Deshaun Watson, Baker Mayfield and Leonard Fournette -- return. How do these front-runners stack up? With the help of some advanced stats, we look ahead to this star-studded season by taking a look back at these four players' success in 2015.

Expected Points Added accounts for the game situation (down, distance, yard line) to determine how much a team, player or unit contributes to its net scoring margin on every play. An individual player's Total EPA is the sum of the EPA on plays he is directly involved in (passes, rushes, receptions, returns, etc.)

Quarterback Points Added measures the total production of a quarterback compared with what an average quarterback (average = QBR of 50) would be expected to have, taking into account efficiency, usage and level of competition.

Comparing the RBs

The Heisman Trophy is a stat-driven award, but looking only at yards and touchdowns is an incomplete representation of a player's impact. The problem with traditional stats is they don't account for when those stats are compiled (a 5-yard gain on second-and-5 is different from one on third-and-10) or how they impact a team's success. By accounting for game situation, expected points added provides a truer representation of a running back's overall impact on the game. No running back had a greater impact last season than Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, whose plays (rushing, receiving and returns) contributed 112 points to Stanford's net scoring margin -- that's about 20 percent more than any other player in the country!


McCaffrey broke Barry Sanders' record for all-purpose yards in a season (3,864), so while his rushing numbers may not stack up with those of Leonard Fournette or Derrick Henry, his overall impact was unmatched. In terms of EPA, McCaffrey's plays added 48 points on the ground, 45 through the air and 19 on returns. No other player has had that large of a single-season impact in each phase of the game since 2005.

Comparing the QBs

QB points added measures the total production of a quarterback compared with what an average quarterback (average = QBR of 50) would be expected to have, taking into account efficiency, usage and level of competition. By this measure, no quarterback came close to adding more total value to his team last season than Deshaun Watson, who added 134 more points than an average QB would have with the same number of plays. Where does Baker Mayfield stack up? His 78 QB points added ranked 11th overall and is the fourth-highest mark among returning QBs.


How does Watson's 2015 campaign match up against other all-time great single seasons? When compared to Heisman-winning QBs over the past 10 seasons, Watson had the fourth-most points added and provided more total value than Cam Newton, Tim Tebow and Jameis Winston in their Heisman-winning seasons. Amazingly, all signs point to Watson having an even more efficient and impactful season in 2016. No wonder he enters as the Heisman front-runner.