The last and only time a defensive player won the Heisman Trophy is Charles Woodson of the University of Michigan in 1997. Woodson is the only primarily defensive player to win the award, beating out the Heisman favorite Peyton Manning, quarterback for the University of Tennessee, in 1997. He was a standout cornerback but also occasionally played as a wide receiver and punt returner.
Current Heisman Trophy Odds
According to current Vegas Insider Odds, The only defensive player they have listed is Georgia DL Jordan Davis at +6000 odds.
The Formula For a Defender To Win The Heisman
We only have one data point because there has only been one defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy (Charles Woodson). Charles Woodson's measurable impact on that 1997 Michigan team was on defense more than on offense, even though when he was on offense a handful of times, he made plays at WR in critical moments. Charles Woodson was also a dynamic punt returner. Woodson's iconic Heisman moment was a 77-yard punt return against Ohio State in 1997 and is the play where he likely sealed his Heisman fate.
In that 1997 Ohio State Michigan game, Woodson caught a 37-yard pass to set up Michigan's first score of the game; he intercepted a pass in his end zone ending a promising Ohio State drive and then returned the above-aforementioned punt 77 yards for a TD.
The Current list of defenders we believe present the best chance to win the Heisman will have opportunities against some of the current top Heisman candidates on the offensive side of the football to potentially outshine them and make a move towards winning the Heisman.
Potential Opportunities For An Iconic Heisman Moment
Jordan Davis will have a shot against the current favorite, according to Vegas odds Alabama QB Bryce Young. Aidan Hutchinson will get a shot against Ohio State QB CJ Stroud and their Freshman RB TreVeyon Henderson. Alabama LB Will Anderson is another player who will have a chance to shine against Georgia down the road in the SEC title game if the stars continue to align.
Why Michigan Edge Aidan Hutchinson Could Win?
So far, Aidan Hutchinson has been impossible to block in 2021. Jim Harbaugh has made it clear to the media that he is sending film cut-ups of uncalled holding penalties against Hutchinson by opposing blockers. According to SIS Data Hub, Aidan Hutchinson currently has 7 sacks, 6 solo, and two assisted, with 43 total pressures, ranking 2nd to only Alabama's Will Anderson.
Aidan Hutchinson's impact also allows other defenders an opportunity to shine. Opposite Aidan is David Ojabo, who has 7 solo and 2 assisted sacks of his own. It is not a coincidence, and not to take anything away from Ojabo, who is becoming a force on this Michigan defense, Aidan Hutchinson receives more attention to his side, which presents more one-on-one opportunities for Ojabo.
Why Georgia DT Jordan Davis Could Win?
Similar to Aidan Hutchinson, Davis makes everyone around him better. Davis will not stuff a stat sheet from where he plays on the DL. What he does do is take up a lot of space in the middle standing 6-6 and 340lbs; Davis forces opponents to give him extra attention because he is also an outstanding athlete who uses his size to out-leverage blockers on the interior. What this does is allow the other athletes on the defense to make more one-on-one plays. Georgia has also brought him in on offense for short-yardage plays. Davis is a big reason why the Georgia defense is allowing an incredible 6.6 pts per game.
Why Alabama LB Will Anderson Could Win?
Anderson is the nation's leader in tackles for loss with 21 and is 2nd in sacks with 8.5. Anderson plays a role as a LB and Edge player, so stuffing a stat sheet is not a problem for the long 6-4 243lb Anderson that can play on or off the football. His speed at a position where NFL teams covet longer, faster players is off the charts.
Anderson is the fastest player on the team, going from a standstill to 5 yards at 10.7 mph, according to Dr. Matt Rhea, the Crimson Tide's director of sports science. Does any of this mean a whole lot to his being a Heisman contender? Not really; what will matter is how much Anderson continues to dominate, and if he, like the other two defenders mentioned before, can garner that key Heisman moment.
The odds that Chares Woodson would win the Heisman in 1997 against guys like Peyton Manning and Randy Moss were not good, but again, he did it because he made plays in pivotal moments in every big game for Michigan. His game against Ohio State turned the tables for good. The one important factor is that there is not a Peyton Manning or a Randy Moss in college football this season.
So far, the most impressive offensive payer has been Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker, and even he is behind guys like Bryce Young and CJ Stroud, according to the oddsmakers (not us obviously). Still, if there was ever a year that a defender could win the Heisman, 2021 feels like the perfect storm for that to happen.