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What Does a Jayden Daniels Heisman Trophy Season Look Like?

Daniels is getting preseason Heisman love, but what would it take for him to take home the award?

Cheez-It Citrus Bowl - LSU v Purdue Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

As the summer draws to a close, LSU comes into the 2023 football season in uncharted territory: the Tigers have a preseason Heisman contender at quarterback in Jayden Daniels.

Joe Burrow may have had arguably the greatest season in college football history, but going into the fall of 2019 his Heisman odds were virtually nonexistent. Some sportsbooks had Burrow Heisman odds at +15000; others didn’t even have him listed at all. So in that regard, Daniels has a leg up on Burrow.

No matter what book you’re looking at, Daniels is somewhere in the top 10 as a preseason Heisman favorite. FanDuel has him tied with Penn State’s Drew Allar at +2000; DraftKings, our sister site, has Daniels at +1200 which is second only to reigning Heisman winner Caleb Williams.

I went through and looked up Heisman winning quarterbacks who Daniels profiles most similarly to, which is to say true dual-threat quarterbacks. Sure guys like Burrow, Baker Mayfield, and Bryce Young can move, but they don’t strike the same “oh shit oh fuck” fear in opponents’ hearts the same way Daniels does when he’s got an escape valve. There have been eight quarterbacks who ran for at least 500 yards in their Heisman winning seasons, and I listed them in ascending order. I then averaged out what type of output Daniels would need to have—running and throwing—in order to be at the very least invited to New York.

Dual-Threat Heisman QB Seasons

Player Year Pass Yards Rush Yards Total Offense Touchdowns (Pass/Rush)
Player Year Pass Yards Rush Yards Total Offense Touchdowns (Pass/Rush)
Robert Griffin III 2011 3998 644 4642 45 (36/9)
Marcus Mariota* 2014 3783 669 4452 53 (38/14)
Tim Tebow 2007 3132 828 3960 51 (29/22)
Kyler Murray 2018 4053 892 4945 54 (42/12)
Eric Crouch* 2001 1510 1115 2625 26 (7/18)
Johnny Manziel 2012 3419 1181 4600 46 (37/9)
Cam Newton 2010 2859 1409 4268 48 (28/20)
Lamar Jackson 2016 3390 1538 4928 51 (31/20)
AVERAGE 3268 1034 4302 47 (31/16)

*Also caught one touchdown pass

Last season Daniels ran for 885 yards—and remember that’s sack adjusted—which would put him above Tim Tebow’s efforts in 2007, but slightly behind Kyler Murray’s rushing output from 2018. He also ran for 11 touchdowns last season. That’s pretty good. It’s more than RGIII and Johnny Manziel’s nine from 2011 and 2012, and one off of Kyler’s 12. But it’s way off the pace of Cam (2010) and Lamar’s (2016) 20, Tebow’s 22, and five off the average of those eight seasons.

Daniels can more than compensate the rushing numbers with an uptick in the passing production. A novel concept for a quarterback, I know.

For all the flack Daniels caught last season about not pushing the ball down the field, his 2,913 passing yards last season was good for fifth in an LSU single season. Think about that. LSU went a solid decade begging for even acceptable quarterback play, and in Daniels’ first season in Baton Rouge he put up a top-five passing yardage season in program history. In fact I’d go so far as to say that an increase in passing production from Daniels will happen. Not “could happen” or “should happen,” but it’s a certifiable fact.

Let’s do another Burrow comparison. Here’s Burrow’s first year as LSU’s starting quarterback versus Daniels.

Burrow (2018): 2894 yards, 16 TDs/5 INTs, 57.8 completion%

Daniels (2022): 2913 yards, 17 TDs, 3 INTs, 68.6 completion%

The caveat here is Burrow’s 2018 was his first year as a starter and he didn’t get to LSU until June; Daniels had been starting for three years prior to transferring and also arrived in March. You could argue Daniels has already hit his ceiling going into 2023, while Burrow still had room to grow heading into 2019 (and man did he ever!).

But I think there’s an argument to be made for Daniels hitting a new level this fall. It’s his second year in Brian Kelly and Mike Denbrock’s system, and unlike last spring he wasn’t splitting first-team reps with Myles Brennan and Garrett Nussmeier. This is undoubtedly Daniels’ team and he’s had all offseason prepping with that mindset.

Not only is Daniels comfortable with the system he’s running, look at what he’s got at his disposal. Malik Nabers is a future first round pick at receiver; Mason Taylor is an All-SEC tight end; he’s got five of LSU’s top six offensive linemen back heading into this season, plus four proven vets at running back on top of a couple of talented newcomers.

Daniels has never thrown for 3,000 yards in his career. He came close as a true freshman in 2019 (2,943) and wasn’t too far off last year (2,913). To get to that average shown in the table, he’ll need to increase his yardage by about 12 percent. That’s not a huge jump, but remember that average amount of 3,268 yards is weighed down by Eric Crouch’s 1,510 passing yards when he won the Heisman in 2001. Of the remaining seven quarterbacks shown in the table, six all threw for at least 3,100 yards, the only exception being Cam Newton and he had 1,400 yards and 20 TDs on the ground. If Daniels is going to be in the Heisman discussion this December, he’s gotta level up in terms of passing.

But you know what Daniels will need more than gaudy stats or trending clips on Twitter? Moments. LSU’s two biggest games this season won’t be inside the friendly confines of Tiger Stadium, instead they’ll be at Orlando against Florida State Labor Day weekend, and at Tuscaloosa against the Tide. He’ll have ample opportunity to show the world what he’s about all fall long, but especially in those two games.

If Daniels can have another 25-yard touchdown run on a read-option in OT against Bama or leads another 99-yard drive against Florida State (let’s assume this time the PAT isn’t blocked) and the Tigers can get to Atlanta for a second consecutive season then why couldn’t he at the very least be a Heisman finalist? He’s already getting the necessary summer buzz, now he’ll just have to have his play do the talking this fall.