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Could a Receiver Win the Heisman in 2020?

The Heisman Trophy, like many awards, rewards flashiness, big numbers and a great storyline. Naturally, this award goes to quarterbacks and running backs more than any other position, leaving most destitute to be content with positional awards. But, 1987 was an outlier for the Heisman Trophy, as it was the singular time it was given to a wide receiver, being awarded to Notre Dame star Tim Brown.

But with college football constantly changing, becoming more wide open and playmakers being used in more unique ways than ever, there are two receivers that have the ability to end the drought this season: 

Ja’marr Chase – LSU

Ja’marr Chase was the nation’s best receiver last season and looks to continue his impressive production with new pieces around him. (Marianna Massey/Getty Images/AFP)

Chase was one of many stars for LSU’s offense in 2019. But,with Heisman trophy winner and QB Joe Burrow, WR Justin Jefferson, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire and tight end Thadeus Moss all plying their trade in the NFL, Chase seems to be the lone wolf left from arguably the greatest college football team to ever grace the field. Chase was also arguably the most impressive non-quarterback, trailing only Edwards-Helaire in all-purpose yards last season, while pacing the team with 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns en route to winning the Biletnikoff award (for nation’s best receiver) as only a sophomore.

Jefferson, Edwards-Helaire and Moss combined for 213 receptions, 2,563 yards and 23 touchdowns during their historic run. While it’s highly unlikely that LSU plays at the same level they did a year ago, the team does think highly of Burrow’s successor Myles Brennan. With the team lacking an elite replacement for Edwards-Helaire, Steve Ensminger’s offense will likely be pass-centric once again. 

LSU is losing an abnormally high amount of production from the year before. With the depth behind Chase mostly being a question mark, it’s possible that he improves upon his gaudy production. Chase set the record for most receiving yards by an SEC player in a season, but was less than 300 yards from former Nevada WR Trevor Insley’s NCAA record.

If Chase improves upon his stats, he would be looking to break the NCAA record, which would be a great storyline for fans and the media alike to follow. As long as Chase’s stats don’t decrease too much and he cements his place as college football’s best receiver, he should be a Heisman finalist. But if he maintains, or even increases, his production the season after losing the country’s best quarterback, a first-round pick opposite him at receiver and passing-game coordinator Joe Brady, that is a hell of an achievement; an achievement possibly worthy of a Heisman trophy. 

Rondale Moore – Purdue 

Rondale Moore is Purdue’s most electric player and the key to their offensive success. (Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports)

Moore was a college football sensation at Purdue in 2018. The freshman caught 114 passes for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns. But Moore’s a potential Heisman Trophy candidate because he’s much more than a one-trick-pony; he does it all. The Paul Hornung Award Winner (award for most versatile player in college football) recorded over 200 rushing yards and two touchdowns and was a threatening return man; eventually being the rare freshman to be a consensus All-American.

Moore was on pace to improve his receiving production as a sophomore before an injury ended a promising campaign. 

Amid Moore’s injury problems, Purdue found itself a quarterback controversy, but a surprisingly beneficial one. An injury to the departed Elijah Sindelar showed Purdue’s depth, giving Jack Plummer his chance. Plummer showed flashes in his debut campaign, completing nearly 60% of his passes, and an 11-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio before an injury ended his freshman season.

Plummer is the expected starter, but don’t sleep on junior Aidan O’Connell. O’Connell statistically fared slightly better than Plummer, completing 62.8% of his passes, to go along with an 8-4 TD-to-Int ratio. A steady quarterback situation will be crucial for Moore, who had limited to no time with either signal caller. Neither quarterback is amazing, but both are competent, and a poor offensive line should work for a lot of screens and quick throws which should play right into Moore’s bread and butter and make for a lot of catches, big plays and some amazing highlights. 

Brown’s 1987 Heisman Trophy wasn’t just won because he was one of the nation’s best receivers, but because he was much more than that. Brown was a dynamic returner throughout his college career and his 11.8 yards-per-return and three touchdowns on punt returns only aided his Heisman campaign. Moore is a dynamic returner and a proven jack of all trades, making his game a made for social media highlight machine that could make fans and the media alike fall in love with him. 

There may be a big difference in prestige when comparing Notre Dame and Purdue, but that is irrelevant here. In Brown’s Heisman campaign Notre Dame was 8-4, which was a stark improvement from their 5-6 record from the prior season. A rebuilding Purdue team went 4-8 last season. Half of their eight losses were by one possession, meaning they were routinely within striking distance. But with Moore returning and a maturing core around him, it seems possible that Purdue could see a similar rise to 1987 Notre Dame. 

Now let me ask you, a dynamic playmaker, an improving team, and a media world that loves a good storyline, which Moore and Purdue have the potential to be: Does that sound like a recipe for the Heisman?

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