Heisman Trophy Winners Who Were NFL Busts
Winning a Heisman Trophy is no guarantee of NFL success. But sometimes it can fool NFL teams into betting the farm on a player who wins the award.
Over the years, some of those bets have backfired big time, leading to dark periods for NFL franchises, front office executives, coaches and players. The lesson? A Heisman Trophy winner doesn't always equal a franchise savior in the NFL, and some teams learned that lesson the hard way.
These are the Heisman Trophy winners who were the biggest NFL busts.
15. Marcus Mariota
Heisman Trophy: 2014
Drafted: 2015, first round, No. 2 overall
Bottom Line: Marcus Mariota
NFL franchises were salivating at the prospect of having two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks in the 2015 NFL draft. There was little debate that Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston would be the first two picks.
But both ended up being incredibly average in the pros. Mariota was force-fed as the Tennessee Titans' starting quarterback his last three seasons. Once the team gave way to letting running back Derrick Henry dictate the offense, they became AFC contenders.
And Mariota was out the door.
14. Gary Beban
Heisman Trophy: 1967
Drafted: 1968, second round, No. 30 overall
Bottom Line: Gary Beban
USC running back O.J. Simpson was just a few votes away from winning back-to-back Heisman Trophies. He was denied the 1967 trophy when he lost by a few votes to UCLA quarterback Gary Beban.
Beban was picked in the second round of the 1968 NFL draft by the Los Angeles Rams and traded almost immediately to the Washington Redskins, where he signed a lucrative (for the time), three-year, $200,000 contract. He was out of the league after two seasons.
Beban never started an NFL game or accounted for a touchdown — passing or rushing.
13. Archie Griffin
Position: Running back
College: Ohio State
Heisman Trophy: 1974, 1975
Drafted: 1976, first round, No. 24 overall
Bottom Line: Archie Griffin
Archie Griffin remains the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner in college football history — six decades after winning the awards. Griffin actually played high school football, college football and in the NFL all in Ohio, playing seven seasons for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Griffin was a shell of himself in the NFL. In seven seasons, he never rushed for over 1,000 yards and had four seasons where he didn't even register a rushing touchdown.
12. Ron Dayne
Position: Running back
Heisman Trophy: 1999
Drafted: 2000, first round, No. 11 overall
Bottom Line: Ron Dayne
One of the greatest college running backs of all time, University of Wisconsin star Ron Dayne ran for over 2,000 yards twice during his college career and won the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 1999.
Dayne, a two-time Rose Bowl Most Valuable Player, went No. 11 overall to the New York Giants in the 2000 NFL draft and helped lead the team to the Super Bowl as a rookie, but he was never the featured back for the team.
Why did Dayne come up short in the NFL? He couldn't control his weight. He said he loved eating "cheesesteaks and pizza turnovers" and played his best football at 270 pounds. When he dropped down to 245 pounds, he didn't adjust to being lighter.
11. John Cappelletti
Position: Running back
College: Penn State
Heisman Trophy: 1973
Drafted: 1974, first round, No. 11 overall
Bottom Line: John Cappelletti
Of all the legendary players in Penn State history, perhaps John Cappelletti and his amazing story stand above all of them. It was even turned into a TV movie "Something for Joey" that was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Made for Television in 1978.
Cappelletti, a running back, was called the "best player I ever coached" by the late Joe Paterno, but Cappelletti was pretty average as a pro. He never rushed for more than 700 yards in a season during a decade in the NFL and only had three seasons where he rushed for over 500 yards.
10. Jameis Winston
College: Florida State
Heisman Trophy: 2013
Drafted: 2015, first round, No. 1 overall
Bottom Line: Jameis Winston
Jameis Winston was a constant source of embarrassment for Tampa Bay after the franchise took him No. 1 overall in the 2015 NFL draft, thanks to a series of off-field missteps and being drawn to turnovers like a moth to a flame.
During his time in Tampa Bay, Winston led the NFL in fumbles, twice in fumbles lost and in his final year with the team, led the NFL with 30 interceptions and set an NFL record with 7 interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Winston has been a backup/part-time starter with the New Orleans Saints since 2020.
9. Robert Griffin III
Heisman Trophy: 2011
Drafted: 2012, first round, No. 2 overall
Bottom Line: Robert Griffin III
Robert Griffin III became the first Heisman Trophy winner in Baylor history in 2011, then was selected No. 2 overall in the 2012 NFL draft after the man he beat out for the Heisman, Stanford's Andrew Luck.
RG3 looked like a star in his rookie year with the Washington Redskins, setting NFL rookie records for highest touchdown-to-interception ratio and highest passer rating, but injuries waylaid his career pretty quickly.
He lost his starting job to Kirk Cousins in 2015, spent one season with the Cleveland Browns, and three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens as a backup before his career was over.
8. Baker Mayfield
Heisman Trophy: 2018
Drafted: 2018, first round, No. 1 overall
Bottom Line: Baker Mayfield
We're not totally sure Baker Mayfield couldn't play his way off this list if he's given a shot with a different franchise than the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns drafted Mayfield No. 1 overall in 2018 but essentially cut bait after four seasons when they traded for quarterback Deshaun Watson and signed him to a five-year, $230 million fully guaranteed contract in March 2022.
How did things go so wrong, so quickly for Mayfield? Partly because of injuries but partly because of his own immaturity. No player in recent memory has been as bad at maneuvering the social media minefield as Mayfield.
One example of Mayfield's struggles was when he announced he was leaving social media, then got back on social media three days later to announce, no, he was really getting off of it for good. Headed into the 2023 season, Mayfield is with his fourth team in two years on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
7. Sam Bradford
Heisman Trophy: 2008
Drafted: 2010, first round, No. 1 overall
Bottom Line: Sam Bradford
Sam Bradford made $130 million in career earnings but never led a team to the playoffs, never made a Pro Bowl and missed almost as many games as he played in because of injuries.
The St. Louis Rams staked their franchise's future in Bradford in the 2010 NFL draft, taking Bradford No. 1 after an All-American career at Oklahoma. When he fell flat, the team cut bait from the Midwest and moved to Los Angeles.
After five seasons with the Rams, Bradford spent four more seasons bouncing around the league as a starter or backup with three different teams.
6. Tim Tebow
Heisman Trophy: 2007
Drafted: 2010, first round, No. 25 overall
Bottom Line: Tim Tebow
It's fair to put Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow on this list. But putting him up toward the top isn't. The Denver Broncos shouldn't have selected him in the first round in 2010, even though it was with the No. 25 overall pick.
Even though Tebow was one of the greatest college quarterbacks of all time, he wasn't up to the task in the NFL, where he was out of the league after just three seasons of smashing his facemask into the line of scrimmage.
In a weird twist, Tebow got another chance to play in the NFL nine years after his last game, as a tight end with the Jacksonville Jaguars and his college head coach, Urban Meyer, but was cut in the preseason.
5. Andre Ware
Heisman Trophy: 1989
Drafted: 1990, first round, No. 7 overall
Bottom Line: Andre Ware
In Andre Ware's junior year at the University of Houston, he threw for 4,699 yards and 44 touchdowns in the run-and-shoot offense on the way to winning the Heisman Trophy. These numbers were too good for the Detroit Lions to pass on at No. 7 in the 1990 NFL draft.
Behind the scenes, it wasn't as clear-cut. Detroit head coach Wayne Fontes overrode the team's scouting director to select Ware, the scouting director resigned, and Fontes realized quickly Ware wasn't the quarterback he thought he was.
Ware started six games in four seasons and was out of the NFL by 25 years old.
4. Rashaan Salaam
Position: Running back
Heisman Trophy: 1994
Drafted: 1995, first round, No. 21 overall
Bottom Line: Rashaan Salaam
Rashaan Salaam went from playing eight-man high school football in California to starring at the University of Colorado, where he ran for over 2,000 yards in 1994 and won the Heisman Trophy.
After he was a first-round pick by the Chicago Bears in 1995, he ran for over 1,000 career yards (1,682 yards) in three seasons in Windy City, but in 31 games with the team, he lost 14 fumbles. He finished his NFL run with the Browns.
Salaam's NFL career was brief and troubled. He pinned his problems on an addiction to marijuana and was out of the league after four seasons and two teams.
Salaam committed suicide in 2016 at a park in Boulder, Colorado. He was 42 years old.
3. Johnny Manziel
College: Texas A&M
Heisman Trophy: 2012
Drafted: 2014, first round, No. 22 overall
Bottom Line: Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel was one of the most exciting college quarterbacks in recent memory. The Texas A&M star became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy following the 2012 season.
Manziel wasn't long for college. He spent just two seasons with the Aggies before making the leap to the NFL. The Cleveland Browns selected him with the No. 22 overall pick of the first round in the 2014 NFL draft.
At 5-foot-11, Manziel was the shortest quarterback selected in the first round (until 5-foot-10 Kyler Murray in 2019), but drug and alcohol issues ended Manziel's NFL career after two seasons.
2. Matt Leinart
Heisman Trophy: 2004
Drafted: 2006, first round, No. 10
Bottom Line: Matt Leinart
Matt Leinart has done some pretty thoughtful interviews over the years regarding his time as quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals. The team thought they had a franchise player when they selected the former Heisman Trophy winner No. 10 overall in the 2006 NFL draft.
Long story short: He didn't love it, which is fine. Unfortunately for Leinart and for Cardinals fans, that showed itself in how hard Leinart liked to party. After they agreed to pay him just a shade over $50 million.
In Leinart's first two seasons, he and Kurt Warner went back and forth as the Cardinals' starter. When Leinart was finally benched in favor of Warner on a full-time basis in 2008, the Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl.
1. Terry Baker
College: Oregon State
Heisman Trophy: 1963
Drafted: 1963, first round, No. 1 overall
Bottom Line: Terry Baker
Nine of the 14 first-round picks in the 1963 NFL draft made multiple Pro Bowls or All-Pro teams. Terry Baker was not one of them. The 1962 Heisman Trophy winner flamed out after three seasons in the NFL and never even threw a touchdown pass.
Baker was selected No. 1 overall by the Los Angeles Rams, where he actually made good use of his time outside of football by earning a law degree from USC. He played one more season of pro football, with the Edmonton Eskimos in the Canadian Football League, before returning to Oregon to start his own law firm.