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Heisman doesn't always translate into NFL success

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Posted Dec. 05, 2010 @ 11:11 a.m. ET
By Eli Kaberon

The Heisman Trophy will be awarded on Dec. 11 to the best college football player in the country, but don't automatically assume that means he's destined for professional glory. Lately it has become rare for a ­Heisman winner to become a star in the NFL. Not counting last year's winner, ­Alabama RB Mark Ingram, four Heisman winners dating back to 1997 are not in the NFL after having short-lived or no pro careers.

Bringing college success to the pro level is not an easy task, especially for players whose stats in college were inflated by their system and style of play. These guys were the toasts of their college campuses, but for many, reality hits home in the NFL.

Listed chronologically below are the eight current NFL players who won the Heisman. Some of them have been generally successful in their careers, while others have struggled to find their way off the bench.

1. CB Charles Woodson / 1997 Heisman — The first and only primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy has had a tremendous career in the NFL, most recently taking home the 2009 PFW/PFWA Defensive Player of the Year award. He was the PFW/PFWA Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1998. Woodson, a six-time Pro Bowler, has 47 career interceptions and has taken 10 of those back for touchdowns. He spent his first eight seasons with the Raiders before coming to Green Bay and is still looking for a Super Bowl ring.

2. RB Ricky Williams / 1998 — Williams has had a rocky career filled with bizarre occurrences. He missed all of the '04 (retirement) and '06 (suspension) seasons and played just one game in '07 (shoulder injury). When his head has been in the right place, Williams has shown his stardom in the NFL, with five seasons of 1,000 or more rushing yards. His best year came in 2002, his first with the Dolphins after originally being drafted by the Saints, when he rushed for 1,853 yards and 16 touchdowns.

3. QB Carson Palmer / 2002 — The first of three USC Heisman winners in four seasons, Palmer has had a solid NFL career, but 2010 has not been his season. Palmer has an 19-to-15 TD-to-interception ratio this season. He played in just four games in 2008 but started every game in 2005, '06, '07 and '09 — taking home the AFC North crown last season. His best years came in '05 and '06, when he combined for 60 touchdown passes to just 25 interceptions.

4. QB Matt Leinart / 2004 — There have been some disappointing NFL careers among recent Heisman Trophy winners, but what adds insult to injury for Leinart is that he is still in the league and can't find time on the field. Since starting 11 games in his rookie season, throwing 11 TDs and 12 INTs, he has played in just 17 games with six starts. When Kurt Warner retired, USC's golden boy was supposed to be the starter for the Cardinals, only to lose his job to Derek Anderson. He is now trying to jump-start his career with the Texans as their No. 3 QB.

5. RB Reggie Bush / 2005 — One of the most electrifying college backs of all time has not had the same success in the pros. Taken second in the '06 draft, Bush has yet to emerge as an elite every-down runner, though he is a dangerous weapon in the Saints' high-octane attack, scoring 11 total TDs (including playoffs) in the team's Super Bowl season of 2009. Bush forfeited his Heisman Trophy in September after an investigation showed he might have received illegal payments during his USC career.

6. QB Troy Smith / 2006 — A fifth-round pick of the Ravens in '07, Smith hasn't seen the field much in his four years as a pro. Entering the 2010 season, the former Buckeye had 89 career pass attempts. After he moved to San Francisco this season, injuries pushed him into the 49ers' starting lineup in Week Eight, and he won his first two starts.

7. QB Tim Tebow / 2007 — The Broncos selected Tebow in the first round of the 2010 draft yet haven't given him much of an opportunity during his rookie season. He has thrown only one pass — a three-yard touchdown in Week 10 — and rushed 12 times for 28 yards and three scores.

8. QB Sam Bradford / 2008 — Tons of questions surrounded Bradford entering the 2010 draft after he missed most of the '09 college season with a shoulder injury. He has provided all the answers with the Rams thus far, starting every game while completing 60.5 percent of his passes to a no-name group of receivers and is the favorite to win the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year award.


PFW associate editor Kevin Fishbain contributed to this article.

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