Is Lamar Jackson Having the Greatest Individual Season of All Time?

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Lamar Jackson’s next three games might not just define his Heisman Trophy chances, but his place in history.

When Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson threw for 231 yards, ran for 185 more and scored seven touchdowns against Boston College on Saturday, he joined some elite company in pursuit of college football’s most prestigious award, the Heisman Trophy.

In its illustrious history, there have been only two winners who have passed for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 in a single season: Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel in 2012 and Auburn’s Cam Newton in 2010.

Specifically, Manziel had 3,719 throwing (284.9 average per game) and 1,181 rushing (98.4), when the balloting occurred. Newton had 2,589 passing (199.2 average per game) and 1,409 running (108.4).

With three games to go in this regular season, Jackson’s already closing in fast on their respective total yards of 4,600 and 3,998. He has 3,936.

That’s more offensive yards than half of the teams in college football; all but 49, to exact. To say that he’s become the face of the game this season is no longer adequate—it doesn’t go far enough. Neither are descriptions that he’s posting video game numbers, unless you’re talking about Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl—programmers simply made him unstoppable. 

Jackson isn’t, but he has to be considered the toughest player for opposing defenses to game-plan against due to his speed and versatility. Consequently, the human highlight film is posting numbers that have never been seen before at this level.

In the air, he’s 170-for-288 with 2,753 yards and 26 touchdowns against six interceptions. He’s averaging 305.9 yards per game and has a passer efficiency rating of 164.9.

On the ground, he’s been credited with 1,183 rushing yards on 132 attempts for an average of 7.3 per carry, 131.4 per game and 19 rushing touchdowns.

He leads the nation in points responsible for with 272 and is second in total touchdowns. In rushing, he leads in touchdowns and is fifth in yards. In passing, his efficiency rating is up to eighth, and he’s ninth in touchdowns.

Plus, Jackson is on pace to score 60 total touchdowns, which would shatter the record of Heisman winners Marcus Mariota (Oregon, 2014) and Sam Bradford (Oklahoma State, 2008). Both had 53 when the balloting took place.

Mariota finished with 57, Bradford 55. The NCAA single-season record, which now includes bowls and the College Football Playoff, is 63 by Hawaii’s Colt Brennan in 2006. If he continues to average five scores each outing, Jackson will top it in four games.

He isn’t just standing out among his peers this season. Jackson is looking like a once-in-a-lifetime type of player.


Recent comparisons

Although the Heisman Trophy has been won by more running backs (42) than every other position combined, it’s lately become almost synonymous with quarterbacks. Since 2000, the award has gone to a quarterback every year minus three—Alabama running backs Mark Ingram Jr. (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015) and USC’s Reggie Bush (2005, since vacated).

Most Total Yards By Heisman Winners
Player Year Yards
Ty Detmer, BYU 1990 5,022
Andre Ware, Houston 1989 4,661
Robert Griffin III, Baylor 2011 4,642
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M 2012 4,600
Sam Bradford, Oklahoma 2008 4,529
Marcus Mariota, Oregon 2014 4,452
Chris Weinke, Florida State 2000 4,070
Cam Newton, Auburn 2010 3,998
Tim Tebow, Florida 2007 3,970
Jameis Winston, Florida State 2013 3,820

The last seven quarterbacks to win are all listed among the top 10 leaders in total offense among Heisman winners, with each having at least 3,820 yards when they were elected. They averaged 4,287.3 yards (3,600.7 passing and 686.6 rushing).

Although Nebraska’s Eric Crouch passed for 1,510 yards and ran for 1,115 when he edged Florida’s Rex Grossman to win the 2001 award, the rise of the dual-threat quarterback has taken things to a new level. 

But this is still a little different.

Jackson is on pace to finish the regular season with 5,247 total yards, more than any Heisman winner in history—and that’s assuming he doesn’t play in the ACC Championship Game.

Moreover, the two players currently topping the list didn’t play at a Power Five school: BYU’s Ty Detmer in 1990 (5,022 total yards) and Houston’s Andre Ware in 1989 (4,661).

Jackson has Louisville on the doorstep of the College Football Playoff with an 8-1 record.


Degree of difficulty

If there’s flaw in Jackson’s Heisman resume, it’s that he hasn’t played enough top competition, as Louisville has only faced only two opponents that were ranked at the time. However, both were in the top five of the Associated Press Poll.

Louisville Opponents’ Total D
Opponent Ranking
Charlotte 101
Florida State 73
Marshall 115
Clemson 12
Duke 57
N.C. State 26
Virginia 100
Boston College 15
Wake Forest 35t
Houston 10
Kentucky 84

NCAA stats (*yet to play)

Jackson ran for four touchdowns and threw for another to lead the 63-20 home thrashing of then-No. 2 Florida State, the most points ever allowed by the Seminoles, on Sept. 17.

At No. 5 Clemson two weeks later, he passed for 295 yards and ran for 162, scoring three touchdowns, but Louisville lost, 42-36. His rival that night, Deshaun Watson, had 306 passing yards and 91 rushing to go with five touchdown passes against three interceptions.

In the statistical category of total defense, Clemson’s was the toughest Jackson has faced this season, as the Tigers rank 12th, while Boston College is 15th. Houston, which Louisville will visit in two weeks, is 10th.

A similar criticism surrounded Baylor’s Robert Griffin III when he won in 2011. In addition to having Stephen F. Austin on the schedule, the Bears faced five opponents that finished ranked 95th or worse in total defense, including the team that was dead last at No. 120, Kansas.

What put him over the top was his season-ending performance against Texas, which was ranked No. 24 at the time and finished 11th in total defense. Griffin passed for 320 yards and had four touchdowns (two rushing, two passing) to lead a 48-24 victory.

His 4,642 total yards at the end of the regular season were the most ever by a Heisman winner from a Power Five program. Baylor finished 10-3 after defeating Washington in the Alamo Bowl, 67-56.


The most valuable player

Although Boston College coach Steve Addazio called Louisville “one of the top three talented teams in America” during his press conference after Saturday’s loss, one has to wonder how good the Cardinals would be without Jackson.

Louisville’s offense is tied with Washington for the most touchdowns scored this season with 59, but with field goals added in it has more points with 452 (50.2 average). The Huskies have totaled 435 (48.3).

Jackson’s credited with 45 of his team’s touchdowns, or 76.3 percent, while Heisman rival Jake Browning has been in on 38 of the Huskies’, or 64.4 percent.

In comparison, when Newton won in 2010, he went on to finish with 20 rushing touchdowns and 30 throwing as his team notched 75 offensive touchdowns (66.7 percent). Manziel was in on 47 of his team’s 78 TDs (60.3).

Nevertheless, we still don’t know how good Louisville really is this season.

On the preseason All-ACC team selected by the media, it was represented by just three players, all on the defensive side: defensive tackle DeAngelo Brown and linebackers Keith Kelsey and Devonte Fields.’s midseason All-ACC team had one Louisville player, Jackson.

On 247Sports’ team rankings of overall talent using recruiting grades, Louisville is 30th. In comparison, Clemson is 10th. 

Bleacher Report’s latest top 50 draft rankings by Matt Miller don’t include a single Cardinal. Jackson isn’t eligible until at least 2018.

Which Heisman winner had the best season when he won?

Submit Vote vote to see results

    Which Heisman winner had the best season when he won?

  • Sam Bradford 2008

  • Ty Detmer 1990

  • Robert Griffin III 2011

  • Johnny Manziel 2012

  • Cam Newton 2010

  • Barry Sanders 1988

  • Tim Tebow 2007

  • Andre Ware 1989

  • Jameis Winston 2013

  • Other


Should Jackson win the Heisman, history will have the final word on how good the Cardinals were as a team. Their roster returned 17 starters from last year, they had a favorable schedule and were a popular preseason pick for third place in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.

But the NFL draft will be telling. 

After Florida State’s Jameis Winston won the Heisman in 2013, 18 of his teammates were selected in the next three drafts. Bradford had 15 teammates picked after he won in 2008, and Florida’s Tim Tebow had 14. Even Griffin had 11, as wide receivers Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese were all high draft selections and Josh Gordon was taken in the supplemental draft after being suspended for the season.

Meanwhile, Newton had just five, of which two were offensive players. Yet he played for the national championship during his only year starting at Auburn. 

That has to count in the discussion, as football is first and foremost a team sport, and no Heisman winner landed the trophy without his teammates. Jackson has numbers that might end up being unparalleled, but eventually his legacy regarding this season will be heavily influenced by Louisville’s finish. 

As of now, the Cardinals need help making the playoff, as Clemson has a one-game lead in the ACC Atlantic Division and the head-to-head tiebreaker, while the playoff selection committee has yet to invite a team that hasn’t won its conference championship. Plus, among one-loss teams, Ohio State is perceived to be better overall. 

Of course, those are things over which Jackson and Louisville have no control, other than to win out and hope for the best. That’s the reality of the situation, but should Louisville not stumble and Jackson continue to post such prolific statistics and get his team in the playoff, his season could go down as the best ever by an individual.

At least the numbers say so. 


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.