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Heisman Trophy Winners Who Failed as Pros

Heisman Trophy Winners Who Failed as Professional Football Players

By Loot, College Football Handicapper,

Being a Heisman Trophy winner doesn’t guarantee professional success. There have been dozens of Heisman winners who never made a dent at the professional level. Sometimes, it’s due to the system. A player might thrive in a college system, but it’s clear that success will not translate well to the pro game. So it’s hard to call them busts because no one ever expected them to be great. But here are some Heisman winners where more was expected. And they just weren’t up to snuff.

Matt Leinart, 2004: Leinart would have been a bigger bust had he left school early, where he was projected as a number-one pick after leading the Trojans to the National Championship. He stayed aboard and paid for it financially, going at number-ten to the Cardinals in the 2006 Draft. Many felt he had signs of the prototypical QB, standing 6’5” and weighing 230, but it hasn’t worked out yet. He’s still in the league and you never know, but if he were meant to make it, it would have happened before now. And when he was at this peak at USC, that’s a fate that few would have thought possible.

Ron Dayne, 1999: Dayne parlayed a big college career at Wisconsin into becoming the number-11 pick by the New York Giants. Hopes were pretty high, but the lumbering Dayne only averaged 3.5 yards per carry in 4 seasons in New York. He had a few decent years for Houston, before fading into the sunset after 7 unspectacular NFL seasons. And it’s hard to think of a more dull player. Dayne just exuded blandness.

Rashaan Salaam, 1994: Picked in the first round by the Bears, perhaps it was unrealistic to expect Salaam to become a true big-time back. But even though he only averaged 3.6 yards per carry in his rookie campaign, he did manage to rush for 1000 yards and score 10 touchdowns. He didn’t get dealt the best hand injury-wise, but he fell off the face of the earth, carrying the ball once for two yards after the age of 23.


Mike Rozier, 1983: The former Nebraska juggernaut was the 2nd pick in the supplemental draft after 2 seasons in the USFL and was a projected superstar for the Oilers. He averaged under 4 yards per carry in 7 NFL seasons, cracking the 1000-yard barrier only once. He made 2 pro bowls and it’s hard to call him a bust, but those who saw Rozier shred defenses in college assumed he would do a lot better.

Archie Griffin, 1974-1975: The Bengals made the two-time Heisman winner their first-round draft pick in 1976. And those two Heisman trophies would prove to be his greatest successes in football. Griffin was by no means a bad running back, but as a member of the Bengals for 7 years, he never approached the star status he attained at Ohio State. He was never considered a “can’t-miss” pro prospect, but his lack of productivity was a disappointment.

Steve Spurrier, 1966: The 3rd pick made by the Niners was a top collegiate quarterback, but was mostly a backup in the NFL who played 10 seasons without too many successes. He only won 13 games as a starter. He threw for 40 touchdowns against 60 interceptions and it’s no wonder that most fans remember him as a coach more than a player.

Andre Ware, 1989: There were certainly experts who openly questioned whether Ware’s success in Houston’s run-and-shoot offense would translate to the NFL level. But with the 7th pick in the 1990 NFL draft, Detroit obviously had high hopes and it just didn’t work out. In college he was just ripping teams so it had to be a shock to his system when he failed to gain any foothold against NFL teams. The defenses he faced were a lot better than the SMU team Ware put up 95 points against. After 4 seasons and only 6 starts, Ware was history at age 25. The former college flamethrower managed only 5 touchdowns in his dreary NFL career.

If you enjoyed this article, you might also be interested in reading: The 8 Best Heisman Trophy Winners of All Time.

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