Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Why Jayden Daniels won the Heisman Trophy

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We now know the winner of the 2023 Heisman Trophy.

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels.

Daniels beat out a pair of prolific passers in Michael Penix Jr., and Bo Nix, as well as Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., to secure the award for the most outstanding player in college football this season.

As reflected in the final voting, it came down to the three quarterbacks. Daniels edged out Penix at the top of the board, with Nix finishing third and Harrison in fourth.

All three quarterbacks put up prodigious numbers this season. In fact, using data compiled from CFB Stats, here is a comparison of all three quarterbacks and some passing, and rushing, numbers:

Heisman Comparison

Player Completion Percentage Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Rushing Attempts Yards Touchdowns Explosive Plays
Player Completion Percentage Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Rating Rushing Attempts Yards Touchdowns Explosive Plays
Jayden Daniels 72.2 3,812 40 4 208.01 135 1,134 10 135
Michael Penix Jr. 65.9 4,218 33 9 161.43 29 -18 3 113
Bo Nix 77.2 4,145 40 3 186.24 53 228 6 107

All three quarterbacks have a stat or two that they could point to when trying to bolster their case. Nix could point to his efficiency numbers, his near-record completion percentage on the season, and just the three interceptions he threw on the year. For Penix, he led the three in yardage while guiding the Washington Huskies to the College Football Playoff.

But where Daniels separated himself is near the end of the column. Not only did he throw for the 40 touchdowns, tying Nix among the three, but when you factor in what he did as a runner — and how he led the trio in explosive plays — you can see where the LSU quarterback set himself apart.

That final column, “Explosive Plays,” contains passing plays of more than 15 yards, and rushing plays of more than ten yards. To break that down further, here are their numbers in each category:

Penix: 112 passes of 15 or more yards, one run of more than ten yards
Nix: 97 passes of 15 or more yards, ten runs of more than ten yards
Daniels: 94 passes of 15 or more yards, 41 runs of more than ten yards

While Penix had the lead among the three when it came to creating explosive plays in the passing game, where Daniels truly set himself apart was as a complete quarterback, and how he generated explosive plays as both a runner, and a passer.

So while all three of them were likely to create explosive plays in the passing game, like this from Daniels against Texas A&M:

Daniels also created moments like this, which were few and far between for the other two:

Daniels’ ability to create explosive plays in both the passing game, and the running game, set him apart this season.

In fact, not just this season, but the past five seasons:

The Heisman is awarded to the “most outstanding player in college football,” and not the best passer.

Although frankly, Daniels might have had a strong case under that criteria as well.

We will have all winter, and spring, to debate the draft profiles of all three quarterbacks, but on this night, thanks to his ability as a dual-threat weapon and ability to create explosive plays, Daniels stood tallest.

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