2022 Heisman favorites, sleepers and fades: Can Bryce Young pull a rare repeat?

·8-min read

Three of last year's top five Heisman Trophy vote-getters are back in college football this season, including Alabama quarterback Bryce Young.

Young won the Heisman last fall, beating Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson by a significant margin. Young, however, is not the betting favorite to win college football’s most prestigious award entering the 2022 season.

Only one player has ever won multiple Heismans — Archie Griffin back in 1974 and 1975. And in the most-recent odds at BetMGM, Young is listed behind Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud, who finished fourth a year ago.

Will Young be able to buck the trend and become the second two-time Heisman winner? Or will somebody else knock him from his throne?

Alabama quarterback Bryce Young poses for a photograph after winning the Heisman Trophy, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Alabama quarterback Bryce Young poses for a photograph after winning the Heisman Trophy, Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The favorites

  • Ohio State QB CJ Stroud (+200): Stroud had a monster redshirt freshman season, throwing for 4,435 yards and 44 touchdowns with only six interceptions while completing 71.9% of his throws. With so much talent surrounding Stroud, Ohio State is expected to have one of the best offenses in the country yet again. If the Buckeyes can get past Michigan, win the Big Ten and get back to the CFP, Stroud will have a great chance to garner plenty of Heisman votes.

  • Alabama QB Bryce Young (+375): In his first year as Alabama’s starter, Young led the Crimson Tide to an SEC championship before they fell short in the national title game against Georgia. Along the way, Young put up huge numbers to propel him to a Heisman victory. Young threw for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns while adding three rushing scores. Can he top that in 2022?

  • USC QB Caleb Williams (+600): A five-star 2021 recruit, Williams started his career with Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma and usurped Spencer Rattler as OU’s starter by the fifth game of his true freshman season. In seven starts, Williams threw for 1,912 yards, 21 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also ran for 442 yards and six scores. After the season, he followed Riley to USC. The Trojans have a lot of talent on offense, but there’s a lot of questions on defense. Will Williams be a worthy Heisman candidate even if the Trojans don’t end up being a top 10 team?

  • Texas RB Bijan Robinson (+1600): Robinson has been excellent ever since he stepped onto the Texas campus. Over his two years in Austin, he has rushed for 1,830 yards and 15 touchdowns in 19 games. He also has 41 catches for 491 yards and six TDs in his career. The Longhorns are just 12-10 over the last two years, including going 5-7 in 2021. Now in Year 2 under Steve Sarkisian, can Texas make a jump toward the top of the Big 12? The offense has a lot of weapons and Robinson should be in for a big year, but there are questions throughout the roster.

  • Alabama LB Will Anderson Jr. (+1600): Anderson finished fifth in the Heisman voting last fall after turning in a tremendous sophomore season. Anderson filled up the stat sheet, leading the nation in both tackles for loss (34.5) and sacks (17.5). Only one defensive player has ever won the Heisman. That was Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson back in 1997. Could Anderson become the second?

Best bets

Sam Cooper: Oklahoma QB Dillon Gabriel (+2000)

Stroud and Young are atop the Heisman odds board for good reason, but another quarterback who I think has a good shot to make it to New York City is Dillon Gabriel. A transfer from UCF, Gabriel is set to replace Williams at Oklahoma. At OU, he is reuniting with Jeff Lebby, who coached him at UCF as a freshman.

With Lebby calling plays under head coach Brent Venables, the Sooners will be even more pass-happy than they were in years past. Gabriel is a really good deep-ball thrower and is very accurate in the quick game. He should thrive in this offense even after missing most of the 2021 season with an injury.

Gabriel has already thrown for 8,000 yards and 70 touchdowns in his career, and I think he could have a massive season in Norman. I’ll invest a few bucks in Gabriel at +2000.

Nick Bromberg: Alabama QB Bryce Young (+375)

I realize that it may seem difficult to back the reigning Heisman winner given that no one has won consecutive Heismans in over 40 years. But I think Young can break that trend for a few reasons. Heisman voters love great players on great teams and I think Alabama will win the national title. And Young has an incredibly high profile already. It took exceptional seasons from both Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy to deny Tim Tebow a second Heisman in 2008.

Another great season from Young could also endear him to voters given the number of skill position players Alabama's offense is replacing. His top two receivers from 2021 are in the NFL along with last year's leading rusher. If Young has a prolific season spreading the ball around to a deep receiving corps and Alabama wins the SEC, he'll be on the stage in New York once again.

Sleepers

Sam Cooper: Louisville QB Malik Cunningham (+6600)

Let’s go further down the board here. I’m pretty high on Louisville this season and Malik Cunningham is a big reason why. Cunningham makes plays that remind you of Lamar Jackson, and it’s not just because he’s also wearing a Louisville uniform. Cunningham is that explosive.

Cunningham threw for 2,941 yards, rushed for 1,031 yards and combined for 39 total touchdowns a year ago. You don’t always have to be on a national championship contender to win the Heisman. If Cunningham puts up massive all-around numbers and Louisville contends for the ACC Atlantic, I could see him working his way into the mix. It’s a long shot worth taking at +6600, in my opinion.

Nick Bromberg: Ohio State WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba (+3000)

I'm very surprised that Smith-Njigba's odds are so low relative to both Stroud and RB TreVeyon Henderson (+2000). He showed how immensely talented he is in the Rose Bowl with both Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson out prepping for the NFL draft and takes over the WR1 role in Columbus.

DeVonta Smith showed that receivers can get enough votes to win the Heisman with a dominant season and I think Smith-Njigba is capable of putting up numbers similar to Smith's Heisman-winning 2020 campaign. Smith also won the Heisman with a QB that finished in the top three of the voting — Stroud's presence as the favorite shouldn't be that much of a detriment to Smith-Njigba's chances.

Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) runs past Utah cornerback Kenzel Lawler (2) during the second half in the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/John McCoy)
Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba (11) runs past Utah cornerback Kenzel Lawler (2) during the second half in the Rose Bowl NCAA college football game Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/John McCoy)

Who to avoid

Sam Cooper: Texas QB Quinn Ewers (+2000)

Quinn Ewers has the recruiting pedigree to be the next second-year quarterback to burst on the scene, but he hasn’t had the same path as guys like Young and Stroud. Those two worked as a backup for a full season without transferring before moving into the starting role.

Ewers, originally a 2022 recruit, reclassified to 2021 and enrolled at Ohio State just before the season. Instead of playing his senior year of high school, the Texas native went up to Columbus just a few weeks before the season and was deep on the depth chart throughout the season.

Ewers then went to Texas and went through all of spring practices before winning the starting job during fall camp. Still, he lost out on a whole season of reps in Steve Sarkisian’s offense. There are good weapons around him, but Texas’ offensive line is also a major question mark.

Ewers may end up playing well in the long run, but he’s way too much of a risk for a Heisman bet — especially at +2000.

Nick Bromberg: Clemson QB DJ Uiagalelei (+2000)

Uiagelelei has such favorable odds simply because he's Clemson's starting quarterback. It's not because of his play in 2021. He threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9) a season ago.

He should improve in 2022, but betting on Uiagalelei to win the Heisman is banking on a ton of improvement. And players don't make leaps like that all that often.

There's a distinct possibility that Cade Klubnik will see playing time at QB for the Tigers. Especially if Uiagalelei doesn't play well right away. While I think he still can be a very good college quarterback and Clemson is a playoff-worthy team, it's tough to predict a Heisman-winning campaign this season. Especially at +2000.