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Calculating Perception

Final Heisman Watch List

by Josh Norris
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:04 pm ET

The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.

At least that is the motto of the most highly sought after individual award in college football. We all know it is an offensive based award, typically given to the best player on a National Title contending team. The correctness of that process can be debated, and is each season.

This year, the three finalists are Deshaun Watson, Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey.

Raw statistics are usually the foundation of any argument, but those box score figures are much more difficult to compare at the college level than the NFL due to differences in approach on offense. So let’s dig a little deeper.

Enter the concept of Market Share.

I picked up market share from Jon Moore a few years ago. With the variance of collegiate offenses, it makes much more sense than citing simple box score figures for skill position players, namely running backs and receivers.

MS stands for Market Share

Passing MS total yds MS total TDs % of 20+ yd plays 3rd down Conv % Air Yards
Deshaun Watson, Clemson 66.27% 68.33% 17.42% 44.00% 46.40%
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma 58.47% 61.76% 17.70% 38.67% 47.20%

Deshaun Watson will be invited to New York, while Baker Mayfield did not make the final three. Watson’s numbers from a market share perspective are superior. After bursting onto the national scene last year, Watson looked rusty to begin the season. We all know early season struggles don’t bother the Heisman voters. It is all about the late season surge. Watson is in full command of the nation’s No. 1 team. Of the two passers, Watson deserved to be in the final three over Mayfield. Note: neither quarterback’s rushing totals are factored into these numbers, but both are mobile and create plays in that area.

Rushing MS rush yds MS total TDs MS rec yds MS total yds % of 20+ runs YAC avg
Larry Rose III, New Mexico St 76.41% 36.84% 10.34% 38.91% 10.32% 4.2
Dalvin Cook, FSU 76.37% 41.30% 7.45% 36.79% 10.43% 4.2
Derrick Henry, Alabama 73.37% 50.00% 3.48% 37.92% 4.72% 3.5
Leonard Fournette, LSU 64.36% 43.90% 10.98% 42.31% 5.54% 3.7
Christian McCaffrey, Stanford 63.12% 23.72% 19.63% 42.11% 4.70% 2.5
Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State 57.59% 35.84% 7.84% 35.90% 3.82% 3.7
Kenneth Dixon, LaTech 52.44% 44.00% 9.46% 23.65% 5.11% 3.4
Royce Freeman, Oregon 49.41% 25.81% 10.40% 30.86% 5.45% 3.9

I know Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey are the two running back finalists, but Dalvin Cook’s season has been more impressive based on these numbers. Consider that Cook still accounts for a higher percentage of the school’s rushing yards despite missing a game and a half of action due to injury (hamstring and ankle). Add on the fact that Dalvin Cook stands alone in big play runs (10 percent is a huge figure) and yards after contact. Cook is doing this all on just 36% of the school’s offensive touches (compared to McCaffrey 46% and Henry’s 42.5%). The FSU running back posted numbers similar to Ezekiel Elliott’s dominant three game stretch to end last year, but for the entire season. Dalvin Cook has been the best running back in the country this year… That is not to say Derrick Henry has not been outstanding. He has. I’m an advocate of Henry’s in terms of his NFL projection. It is amazing how his numbers actually improve against better competition (top 25 ranked teams). Henry also accounts for half of his team’s offensive touchdowns.... Christian McCaffrey is the other running back finalist, and I’d go as far to call him the favorite. If you are looking for all-around contributors, McCaffrey’s rushing and receiving combination is extremely impressive. However, McCaffrey has not found the endzone very often (Stanford tends to use another back in this area of the field) and he has not broken off big play runs. McCaffrey is also the school’s returner, but that is not a real factor here. McCaffrey just passed Reggie Bush’s 2005 season numbers for total yardage, however, McCaffrey has out-touched Bush by about 25%... Larry Rose III is the real surprise here. His numbers are the only candidate to rival Dalvin Cook.

Prior to updating the numbers this week, I was expecting to alter my view and side Henry or McCaffrey as the deserved winner of the award. However, Dalvin Cook (while impossible now) still produced the best season in my opinion. His ridiculous rate of producing big plays plus a large market share of the school’s yardage despite injuries are the key factors.

That will not happen, as we know. So who should win it between Deshaun Watson, Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey? “Deserving” is an odd word, because they all deserve it to some extent. An argument could be made for any of the three. Watson: Led an undefeated team to the No. 1 ranking despite losing his top receiver in the season opener. Henry: Responsible for half of the school’s offensive touchdowns in a run based offense. McCaffrey: Rushing, plus receiving, plus return yards.

Thanks to NBC Sports’ recent relationship with Pro Football Focus, a few pieces of important data (at least I think so) can now be accessed. That includes: Air Yards and yards after contact. The PFF college crew puts in a lot of work, so I thank them for these figures.

Josh Norris
Josh Norris is an NFL Draft Analyst for Rotoworld and contributed to the Rams scouting department during training camp of 2010 and the 2011 NFL Draft. He can be found on Twitter .