August 20, 2023

Heisman Trophy Winners: NFL Superstars and Surprising Busts

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Heisman Trophy Winners: NFL Superstars and Surprising Busts

By Joel | August 20, 2023

From the hallowed halls of college football's elite to the intense battlegrounds of the NFL, Heisman Trophy winners have always been a focal point of attention. This distinction, awarded annually to the most outstanding player in NCAA football, frequently sets the stage for high expectations at the professional level.

However, not all Heisman winners translate their college success to the NFL. Today. we'll dive into a list of those who soared as NFL stars and those whose careers didn't quite take off as expected.

Learn more about the Heisman Trophy's rich history here.

Heisman to NFL Busts: (Players whose NFL careers didn't live up to their college hype.)

Archie Griffin (1974, 1975)

Heisman Trophy Winners: NFL Superstars and Surprising Busts

Why a Bust? Although Griffin remains the only two-time Heisman recipient, his NFL career with the Cincinnati Bengals didn't echo his college dominance. Griffin had some modest seasons but never became the standout star many envisioned.

Andre Ware (1989)

Heisman Trophy Winners: NFL Superstars and Surprising Busts

Why a Bust? Shattering records at the University of Houston, Ware's transition to the Detroit Lions was rough. He found himself often in the backup role and couldn't replicate his college success in the pro setting.

Rashaan Salaam (1994)

Heisman Trophy Winners: NFL Superstars and Surprising Busts

Why a Bust? After a promising rookie season with the Chicago Bears, injuries and ball security issues plagued Salaam's career, making his stint in the NFL relatively short-lived.

Troy Smith (2006)

Heisman Trophy Winners: NFL Superstars and Surprising Busts

Why a Bust? After a standout career at Ohio State, Smith never managed to secure a starting position in the NFL and bounced around as a backup QB for various teams.

Tim Tebow (2007)

Heisman Trophy Winners: NFL Superstars and Surprising Busts

Why a Bust? One of the most celebrated college QBs, Tebow's unconventional mechanics and playing style didn't translate well to the NFL. While he had a few memorable moments, including a playoff win, he couldn't find consistent success and eventually left the quarterback position.

See the full list of Heisman winners who struggled in the NFL here.

Heisman to NFL Stars: (Players who continued their exceptional play in the NFL.)

Barry Sanders (1988)

Heisman Trophy Winners: NFL Superstars and Surprising Busts

Why a Star? Sanders is often heralded as one of the NFL's finest running backs. Playing his entire career with the Detroit Lions, his agility, speed, and unmatched vision made him a perennial threat on the field.

Eddie George (1995)

Heisman Trophy Winners: NFL Superstars and Surprising Busts

Why a Star? The cornerstone of the Tennessee Titans' offense, George was known for his durability and consistency, amassing over 10,000 rushing yards during his illustrious career.

Charles Woodson (1997)

Heisman Trophy Winners: NFL Superstars and Surprising Busts

Why a Star? Excelling as both a cornerback and safety, Woodson's versatility and ball-hawking skills earned him a Super Bowl ring, multiple Pro Bowl appearances, and a reputation as one of the game's best defenders.

Cam Newton (2010)

Heisman Trophy Winners: NFL Superstars and Surprising Busts

Why a Star? A unique dual-threat quarterback, Newton made an immediate impact with the Carolina Panthers, winning an MVP award and leading them to a Super Bowl appearance.

Adrian Peterson (did not win the Heisman but was a finalist in 2004)

Heisman Trophy Winners: NFL Superstars and Surprising Busts

Why a Star? Though not a Heisman winner per se, Peterson is worth mentioning as an example of college excellence translating to the NFL. One of the best running backs in NFL history, Peterson has racked up over 14,000 rushing yards and counting.

Discover more about Heisman winners who made it big in the NFL here.

From the exceptional footwork of Barry Sanders to the unexpected NFL challenges faced by Andre Ware, the transition from a Heisman winner to the NFL has been a mixed bag of fortunes. Do you agree with our classifications? Who would you add or remove from these lists?


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