2023 Heisman Watch: Where NFL Draft Prospects Like Caleb Williams, Michael Penix Jr. Land After Week 5

    After Week 5, USC QB Caleb Williams has taken a comfortable lead in the Heisman watch -- but a few under-the-radar challengers have improving odds.

    The 2023 Heisman Trophy race is dominated by potential 2024 NFL Draft prospects. Five weeks into the 2023 campaign, who leads the way, and which new names find themselves in the hunt? Let’s take a closer look.

    2023 Heisman Watch: Caleb Williams Surging Toward Heisman Repeat

    Heading into Week 5, USC QB Caleb Williams — the 2022 Heisman winner — and Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. were widely regarded as the front-runners in the early Heisman odds, nearly tied at the top.

    Now, Williams stands atop the rankings on DraftKings, with +180 odds to win the award. Penix remains in second at +400. Texas’ Quinn Ewers and Oregon’s Bo Nix are tied for third at +900. Florida State’s Jordan Travis and Oklahoma’s Dillon Gabriel are the next two players on the board at +1500 and +2000, respectively.

    Both Williams and Penix scored victories in Week 5. Williams out-gunned a similarly high-octane Colorado offense led by Shedeur Sanders, while Penix saved the Washington Huskies from a potential upset at the hands of the Arizona Wildcats. But Williams’ output — 403 yards and six touchdowns on 75% completions — is perhaps most emblematic of his status.

    If the Heisman Trophy is intended to be given to the best player in college football each year, then there isn’t much dispute right now: Williams is the Heisman leader after Week 5.

    To be clear, the Colorado defense hasn’t been adept at stopping many QBs this year. But Williams did what he was supposed to do against that kind of competition. He dominated — both in-structure and out-of-structure. His hyper-elite creation capacity has yielded high-volume production each week, but in Week 5, he was just as lethal carving up the Buffaloes from the pocket.

    Now, after five games, Williams has completed 105 of 141 attempts (74.5%) for 1,603 yards, 21 touchdowns, and just one interception. He also has 83 rushing yards and three scores on the ground. Williams is somehow on pace to put up even greater numbers than his Heisman-winning campaign a season ago.

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    No matter how good players like Penix Jr., Nix, Ewers, and others play, it has been too hard to keep up with the USC standout. Williams isn’t running away with it yet, but as the thick of conference play approaches, he’ll only be relied upon more to lead his team to victory.

    Risers, Sleepers in the Heisman Race After Week 5

    It’s Williams and everyone else right now for the Heisman. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential challengers slowly rising in the “Everyone Else” tier. This past week, one of the biggest performances came from LSU QB Jayden Daniels — currently listed at +2500.

    Daniels didn’t get the win, unfortunately, as his LSU Tigers lost in a nail-biter to the Ole Miss Rebels, 55-49. LSU is now 3-2, but both losses are high-quality, with the other coming  against Florida State. And for the most part, over this five-game stretch, Daniels has been phenomenal.

    So far in 2023, Daniels has completed 117 of 160 attempts (73.1%) for 1,710 yards, 16 touchdowns, and just two interceptions. Meanwhile, on the ground, he’s amassed 292 yards and three additional scores.

    In just five games, Daniels has already nearly matched his 14-game passing output from 2022, and he’s blowing his career-best efficiency mark out of the water. And though he lost a shootout against Ole Miss, Daniels was the main reason they were so close to getting the win, throwing for 414 yards and four scores, and running for 99 yards and another TD.

    On the docket in SEC play, LSU still has matchups against ranked squads like Missouri, Florida, and Alabama — as well as a formidable Texas A&M program and a scrappy Auburn team. If Daniels can string together wins in this stretch and keep playing at a high level, he could climb up the Heisman pecking order.

    Keep an Eye on Washington State QB Cameron Ward

    If you’re looking for a potential high-value sleeper to gamble on in the Heisman pool, Washington State QB Cameron Ward — currently at +4000 — is another underrated contender.

    Ward had a bye in Week 5, but he led his Cougars to a 4-0 start in September, and his most recent showing — a 404-yard passing outing with five total touchdowns against Oregon State — was arguably the best game of his career. Ward dissected the Beavers’ secondary with brutal efficiency and precision, and he’s on track to crush his career-best numbers.

    Through a third of the regular season, Ward has converted on 105 of 141 pass attempts (74.5%) for 1,389 yards, 13 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Meanwhile, on the ground, he has 41 rushes for 109 yards and three additional scores. In the Cougars’ Air Raid offense, Ward’s passing volume surpasses even that of Williams, and he’s been absurdly efficient and consistent thus far.

    Unfortunately, Ward and Williams won’t duel head-to-head in the regular season. But a conference championship matchup is possible. Ward plays Nix and Oregon in Week 8. He plays Colorado and the Sanders squad in Week 12, and in Week 13, he plays projected Heisman runner-up Penix Jr. and the Huskies.

    If Ward stays the course and manages to upset Washington and Oregon while keeping a superior Pac-12 record, he could face USC in the Pac-12 championship game. That kind of streak would be massive for his Heisman resume. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, but after seeing Ward’s early-season production, it’s hard not to imagine what’s possible.

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