A look back at some Heisman winners that didn't quite meet expectations

As we prepare to welcome our newest Heisman Trophy winner, let's take a look back.

High expectations go along with the winning the Heisman , but in many cases, a stellar college career doesn’t always continue into the pros. This is by no means a top 10 list; we left a few deserving others off, but look at it more as a subtle reminder that all that glitters in college is not NFL gold.

Matt Leinhart, QB USC
2004 Winner

At USC, Matt Leinhart was the second coming. In 2003, the golden boy celebrity QB beat out Matt Cassel for the starting job after Carlson Palmer went pro. In 2004, he was named that year's winner of the Heisman Trophy, and also led the USC Trojans to the BCS national championship. He was selected 10th overall in 2006 by the Arizona Cardinals.

After Kurt Warner's retirement, Leinhart was named the presumptive starter, but he lost the starting job in training camp to veteran Derek Anderson, who signed with the Cardinals as a free agent before the 2010 season. Leinart then went on to the Houston Texans, where he had a brief opportunity to be a starter once again. Starting QB Matt Schaub injured his foot and was later declared out for the rest of the season. Head coach Gary Kubiak announced that Leinart would be the starting quarterback for the rest of the season. Just days after the announcement, Leinart was injured himself against the Jaguars on November 27, 2011 breaking his collarbone and ending his season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pat Sullivan, QB Auburn
1971 Winner

Another great college QB that was a terrible NFL QB. In 30 games as a starter for the Auburn Tigers, he threw for 6,284 yards, 53 passing TDs, and ran for 18. That earned him the chance to become the Atlanta Falcons QB of the future.  Unfortunately, he was relegated to a mere backup in his 4-year career, completing just 42 percent of his 220 career passes, five touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Career QB rating: 36.5.

 

 

Steve Spurrier, QB Florida
1966 Winner

Future head coach Steve Spurrier completed 392 of 692 passes for 4,848 passing yards and 37 TDs in his college career at Florida, but was to become Mr. Backup in the NFL. He served as starter John Brodie’s backup for nine seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, then was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976 to take part in their epic winless season.

 

Gino Torretta, QB Miami
1992 Winner

Torretta led the Miami Hurricanes to two championships. Despite his success, his actual numbers were weak, holding a career pass 56% completion rate. The Vikings drafted him in the 7th round pick, 192nd overall. He sat the entire year and was later shipped off to Detroit to be the seldom-used backup he never dreamed of. After the Lions cut him, he caught on with the 49ers and continued his backup QB career. After a stint with NFL Europe’s Rhein Fire, who also released him, he returned to this side of the pond to play for Seattle, where he played in his only NFL game against the Oakland Raiders. After a final stop in Indianapolis, he retired in 1998.

 

Ron Dayne, RB Wisconsin
1999 Winner

Dayne’s Wisconsin career had everyone believing in what was supposed to become the NFL’s newest star running back. He just ran for 1,834 yards to surpass Ricky Williams to become the Division I-A’s career rushing leader with 6,397 and grabbing the coveted Heisman in the process.

The New York Giants, under head coach Jim Fassel, drafted him in 2000 with the 11th pick overall, and things looked on the upside in his first year. The so-called team of "Thunder and Lighting", Dayne and Tiki Barber, helped the Giants reach the Super Bowl that season. Still, 770 yards just wasn’t enough to live up to his reputation, averaging only 3.8 yards per carry until the Giants had enough. After just 52 carries for 179 yards in 2004, his final year in New York, Dayne’s continued his road of mediocrity in Denver and Houston.

 

Rashaan Salaam, RB Colorado
1994 Winner

As a junior in 1994, Colorado’s Rashaan Salaam had one of the best individual seasons in college football history, rushing for a school-record 2,055 yards and becoming only the fourth college running back to run for more than 2,000 yards in a season. He was a unanimous first-team All-American and became Colorado's first Heisman Trophy winner, besting running back Ki-Jana Carter and QB Kerry Collins. Salaam opted to forgo his final college season and enter the NFL Draft.

Salaam was off to a great start in his rookie year with the Chicago Bears, rushing for 1,000 yards and 10 TDs. Then it was all downhill from there. Fumbles, injuries, a little marijuana use, etc. ended his 3 years in Chicago. He then went on to play for both Cleveland and Green Bay during 1999. His stints in the XFL and CFL were nothing of note.

 

Ty Detmer, QB Brigham Young
1990 Winner

Detmer won the big prize in 1990, but he wasn’t really high on anyone’s draft radar despite leading the nation in passing yards his senior year (5,188 yards) and scoring 41 TDs. Scouts thought he was too small for the NFL. Not your traditional bust, but a Heisman bust nevertheless.

He slipped all the way to the 9th round where the Green Bay Packers selected him. He spent 4 seasons with the Packers, appearing in only seven games while serving as back-up to starter Brett Favre. The NFL journeyman has also played for the Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons.

 

Danny Wuerffel, QB, Florida
1996 Winner

Fresh off of throwing for 3,625 yards, 39 TDs and leading the Gators to a national championship, Danny Wuerffel was drafted in 1997 by the New Orleans Saints, where he played for 3 years (18 games, 126 completions for 1,404 yds). After consecutive one year stints in Green Bay and Chicago, newly hired Washington Redskins head coach Steve Spurrier, a man that knew a thing or two about being a Heisman bust, dealt for his former QB. Things didn’t go all that well in Washington. All hopes of Danny starting in a real game were dashed when in their final preseason game against the Patriots, he fumbled three times. "They popped him, and he usually fumbled," Spurrier said. "I asked him, 'Why are you fumbling all the time?' and he said, 'I don't know.', "Right now, he's not our best one to go play, in my opinion."

Wuerffel retired from the NFL after that year, but found a bright spot in his fledgling pro career when he led the NFL Europe’s Rhein Fire to the World Bowl 2000 championship, beating the Scottish Claymores 13–10 (Look for our less popular post “Gallery of NFL Europe Heisman successes”).

 

Andre Ware, QB Houston
1989 Winner

Ware lit it up in his junior year at the University of Houston, setting college records for throwing 4,699 yards and 46 TDs. He decided to skip his senior year and enter the NFL draft. One scout reportedly stated "Gentlemen, we are looking at the next great quarterback in the National Football League" after a pre-draft workout. He was selected by the Detroit Lions in the first round.

He should have stayed for his senior year. Ware played very little in his 4 NFL seasons with Detroit and Minnesota, amassing 83 completions in 161 attempts for 1,112 yards and 5 touchdowns. He later went on to play for the CFL's Ottawa Rough Riders, where he was equally as insignificant.

 

Troy Smith, QB Ohio State
2006 Winner

Just released by the Pittsburgh Steelers, QB Troy Smith is again without a job. Things look great for the promising dual threat QB back in 2005-06 when he led the Buckeyes to a Fiesta Bowl win over the Irish. The 86 first place Heisman votes were a record, but the count probably would’ve been a whole lot less if the BCS National Championship were played before the voting. Smith and his teammates got eaten alive by the Gators 41-14.

After seeing his stock drop immediately after that game, he was finally drafted by the Baltimore Ravens at the end of the fifth round.  Due to Baltimore's quarterback injuries, he climbed his way up the latter: 3rd string, 2nd string, backup and finally a starter, where he completed fewer than 50% of his passes and fumbled twice in his first career start against the Seahawks. The Ravens stuck with him for a while, but parted ways with him in 2009. San Francisco wasn’t his place to shine either, and it was off to the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL. His latest attempt to stick with an NFL team lasted 5 months.