LSU’s Derek Stingley Only Defensive Player Among Top-20 Heisman Favorites

Derek Stingley pulling down an interception against Ga. Southern

Derek Stingley may be the undisputed best cornerback in the country, but that doesn’t mean he has a realistic shot of winning the 2020 Heisman. Photo by @tabinla (Wikimedia Commons).
  • The top-25 Heisman Trophy favorites include just one defensive player: LSU cornerback Derek Stingley
  • No primarily-defensive player has won the award since Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997
  • Do the sophomore CB’s odds (+4067) line up with his realistic chances of ending the 23-year drought?

The list of 2020 Heisman Trophy favorites is riddled with star quarterbacks from national championship contenders. The top-ten includes only one non-QB – Oklahoma State running back Chuba Hubbard, who may not even be on the field when the season starts.

Expanding the scope to the top 20, the list includes 17 QBs, two RBs, and one rogue cornerback: LSU’s Derek Stingley.

2020 Heisman Trophy Odds

Player Average Heisman Odds
Justin Fields (QB, Ohio State) +315
Trevor Lawrence (QB, Clemson) +383
Spencer Rattler (QB, Oklahoma) +1125
D’Eriq King (QB, Miami) +1200
Sam Ehlinger (QB, Texas) +1250
Jamie Newman (QB, Georgia) +1400
   Mac Jones (QB, Alabama) +1775
Sam Howell (QB, UNC) +2000
Kyle Trask (QB, Florida) +2125
Chuba Hubbard (RB, OK State) +2150
Travis Etienne (RB, Clemson) +2150
Kedon Slovis (QB, USC) +2300
Myles Brennan (QB, LSU) +2650
Kellen Mond (QB, Texas A&M) +2650
Ian Book (QB, Notre Dame) +2675
Bo Nix (QB, Auburn) +2950
Spencer Sanders (QB, OK State) +3933
Bryce Young (QB, Alabama) +4000
Derek Stingley (CB, LSU) +4067
Tanner Morgan (QB, Minnesota) +4125

Odds as of June 16th, 2020. 

Stingley’s Pedigree

Stingley’s chops as a cover-corner are not in dispute. His effectiveness as a freshman was unprecedented. Pro Football Focus rated him the best corner in the entire country at just 19 years of age.

He also finished fourth on PFF’s list of the 100 best players in college football, regardless of position. The only three names ahead of him on the list were: (1) LSU QB Joe Burrow, the #1 pick in the 2020 draft; (2) Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young, the #2 pick; and (3) Oregon OT Penei Sewell, a future top-five pick who “gave up just seven total pressures on 491 pass-blocking snaps,” per PFF.

Stingley is in elite company.

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The Baton Rouge native piled up six interceptions, tied for fifth-most in the FBS, and led the nation in pass breakups (22), despite the fact that opposing QBs avoided him like Paul Johnson avoided passing plays.

But winning the Heisman requires more than just being the best player at your position, especially when your position is on the defensive side of the ball.

Heisman Trends Working Against Stingley

Strictly looking at Heisman trends, Stingley has a lot working against him. Before getting to the fact that he plays primarily on the defensive side of the ball, note that he’s only entering his sophomore season. He won’t be draft eligible until 2022.

Over the last 30 years, juniors and seniors (i.e. draft eligible players) have won 24 Heismans, compared to just six for freshmen and sophomores. Only one non-draft-eligible player has won in the last seven years: Lamar Jackson, who earned the trophy as a sophomore in 2016.

The bigger issue is that Stingley is a defender. Offensive players have won 29 straight Heismans and lead the overall count 80-1.

Heisman Winners by Position Since 1990

Position Heisman Trophies since 1990
Quarterback 21
Running back 7
All others 2

The lone primarily-defensive player to win the award is Michigan CB Charles Woodson in 1997. But Woodson was also a punt returner and played snaps at wide receiver. His stats as a returner (33 returns, 8.6 YPR, 1 TD) and receiver (11 receptions, 231 yards, 2 TDs) did as much for his Heisman resume as his defensive acumen. His bio on the official Heisman website describes him as a “two-way player.”

Stingley returns punts (17 returns, 2.8 YPR) but is not the electric returner that Woodson was and he  doesn’t line up at receiver. Stingley will never be described as a “two-way player”.

2021 CFP National Championship Odds Tracker

LSU’s Overall Performance Could Hurt Stingley’s Chances

Woodson’s 1997 Michigan team went undefeated. The Bayou Bengals’ 2020 win total is at 9.5 and there’s a great argument to be made for betting the under on LSU.

A defense-only player on a 9-3 team is not going to wind up on stage in New York, barring record-setting stats, and that’s where Stingley’s reputation is actually going to hurt him. Opposing QBs are going to look to the other side of the field as much as they can. Offensive coordinators are going to scheme up ways to get their best receivers as far away from him as possible.

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The chances of Stingley breaking the single-season interception record (14) are almost nil. He simply won’t see enough targets.

Stingley’s average odds, +4067, imply a 2.4% chance of winning the award. If he has another phenomenal season, LSU is national-championship good again, and no QBs on title contenders have Heisman worthy seasons, Stingley will be in the conversation.

But I don’t see a 2.5% chance of that happening.

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