Way-too-early 2024 Heisman Trophy contenders

ByMark Schlabach ESPN logo
Sunday, December 10, 2023

LSU quarterback Jayden Danielscaptured the 89th Heisman Trophy in New York on Saturday night, appearing on 90% of the ballots.

With Daniels and fellow finalists Marvin Harrison Jr. of Ohio State, Bo Nix of Oregon and Michael Penix Jr. of Washington expected to move on to the NFL after this season, who are the top contenders in 2024?

Will it be a returning quarterback such as Alabama's Jalen Milroe or Texas' Quinn Ewers? Or a sleeper who comes out of nowhere? Or a transfer playing at a new school?

Here are the top Heisman Trophy contenders for 2024:

Jalen Milroe, QB, Alabama

Benched after a home loss to Texas in Week 2, Milroe regained the starting job and led the Crimson Tide to another SEC championship and CFP appearance. He has a rare combination of size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds), speed and arm strength, and he became a more effective pocket passer throughout the 2024 season. Milroe should flourish even more in offensive coordinator Tommy Rees' offense in Year 2.

Ollie Gordon II, RB, Oklahoma State

The Cowboys' offense didn't ride on Gordon's shoulders until the fourth game, and the sophomore had six straight games with 100 rushing yards or more once it did. In back-to-back victories over Cincinnati and West Virginia, Gordon had 271 and 282 yards, respectively. He led the FBS with 1,614 rushing yards and was No. 2 with 20 rushing touchdowns during the regular season.

Quinn Ewers, QB, Texas

Ewers ended up being the quarterback who finally brought Texas back to the sport's upper echelon. The Longhorns could be right back in the mix if he returns, as expected, in 2024. This past season, Ewers threw for 3,161 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions, while completing 70.7% of his passes in 11 games. In a 49-21 victory against Oklahoma State in the Big 12 championship game, Ewers threw for 452 yards with four scores. Texas tailback Jonathan Brooks (1,139 yards with 10 touchdowns) is another potential contender if he returns healthy from a torn ACL and doesn't enter the NFL draft.

Shedeur Sanders, QB, Colorado

Sanders is considered a potential first-round pick in the NFL draft, so it's unclear whether he'll return to play for his father, Deion, for another season. Sanders showed plenty of guts playing behind a dreadful offensive line this past season, throwing for 3,230 yards with 27 touchdowns and three interceptions. If he comes back to school -- and the Buffaloes can cobble together some protection -- he might contend for the Heisman Trophy and be the No. 1 pick in the 2025 NFL draft.

Carson Beck, QB, Georgia

Beck had the unenviable task of replacing Stetson Bennett, who led the Bulldogs to back-to-back national championships in 2021 and '22. He did well in his first season as a starter, completing 72.4% of his passes for 3,738 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. Georgia went 12-1 and came within one victory over Alabama in returning to the CFP. The Bulldogs will probably lose star tight end Brock Bowers and receivers Ladd McConkey and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, but there are other talented players coming back.

Jaxson Dart, QB, Ole Miss

The former USC quarterback has revived his career in coach Lane Kiffin's offense, leading the Rebels to a 10-2 record and a berth in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. He threw for 2,985 yards with 20 touchdown passes and five interceptions this past season. He made much better decisions after throwing 11 picks in 2022. Dart also ran for 377 yards with seven scores. Tailback Quinshon Judkins (1,052 yards with 15 touchdowns in 2023) is another legitimate candidate for the Rebels.

Omarion Hampton, RB, North Carolina

The Tar Heels were supposed to live and die with quarterback Drake Maye's arm, but it was Hampton who carried the offense throughout the regular season. He led the ACC and was fifth in the FBS with 1,442 rushing yards with 15 touchdowns. The sophomore had seven games with 100 yards or more, including 234 on 26 attempts in a 40-34 victory in two overtimes against Appalachian State.

Travis Hunter, CB/WR, Colorado

Another Colorado player who captured the sport's attention early in the 2023 season, Hunter won the Paul Hornung Award as the most versatile player in the FBS. On offense, he had 57 catches for 721 yards and 5 touchdowns. On defense, Hunter had 30 tackles, 3 interceptions and 5 pass breakups. Hunter missed three games because of injuries but still logged 1,032 snaps, the most of any player in the FBS.

Dillon Gabriel, QB, Oregon

The one-time UCF starter unexpectedly entered the transfer portal after throwing for 3,660 yards with 30 touchdown passes and six interceptions at Oklahoma this past season. Oregon and USC were potential landing spots, and Gabriel announced Saturday he's headed to Oregon. He should flourish in their offense as a replacement for Bo Nix, a Heisman Trophy finalist this year.

Cam Ward, QB, TBD

Ward is also looking for a new home after he threw for 3,736 yards with 25 touchdown passes and seven interceptions at Washington State this past season. He started his career at FCS program Incarnate Word and was one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the Pac-12 the past two seasons, throwing for more than 6,400 yards with 43 passing touchdowns and 11 rushing. Ohio State, Florida State and other top programs might be interested.

Luther Burden III, WR, Missouri

The top receiver and No. 5 prospect in the 2022 ESPN 300, Burden has more than lived up to his lofty recruiting ranking at Missouri. As a sophomore, he was 10th in the FBS in both receiving yards (1,197) and receptions (83) in his first season playing slot receiver. Burden had six games with more than 100 receiving yards, including 158 on nine catches in a 33-31 win against Florida.

Riley Leonard, QB, TBD

Leonard is on the move after helping Duke return to respectability in the ACC. This past season, he threw for 2,967 yards with 20 touchdown passes, while running for 699 yards and 13 scores in 13 starts. Notre Dame might be his next destination.

J.J. McCarthy, QB, Michigan

McCarthy could take his chances in the NFL draft, especially if the Wolverines win a national championship. Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh's future at his alma mater is also murky. McCarthy's statistics aren't as gaudy as those of some of the other quarterbacks in wide-open offenses. He does a great job running Michigan's offense and largely avoids mistakes. He threw for 2,630 yards with 19 touchdown passes and four interceptions during the regular season.

Noah Fifita, QB, Arizona

There wasn't a better freshman quarterback in the FBS than Fifita, who was tied for third with a 73.6% completion percentage with 2,515 yards and 23 touchdown passes. He is attempting to become the first quarterback with at least 100 attempts in Arizona history to complete more than 70% of his passes in a season. In a 59-31 victory over rival Arizona State, Fifita completed 30 of 41 attempts for 527 yards with five touchdown passes. Chances are he's only going to get better.

Jalon Daniels, QB, Kansas

Daniels' 2023 campaign was derailed by back injuries. He was sidelined for much of the season and last played Sept. 23. He was the Big 12 preseason offensive player of the year after a standout season in 2022. If he's healthy in 2024, Daniels could be right back in the hunt for the stiff-armed trophy.