The Heisman Trophy has been won by a quarterback in four consecutive seasons, and in nine of the past ten. A quarterback or running back has taken home the hardware every year since 1997, when Charles Woodson, a cornerback and punt returner for Michigan brought the trophy to Ann Arbor. So although including a defensive player on our Heisman watchlist may seem like a long shot, if there’s a star on the other side of the ball to break the defensive drought, it might be LSU sophomore Derek Stingley. Stingley is probably the best athlete on LSU, and there’s even been talk about him being utilized as a two-way player in 2021. But as of now, Stingley resides as the most dangerous returner on LSU’s championship defense, and likely the Tigers’ best chance of keeping the Heisman Trophy in the Bayou.
Having graduated Patrick Queen and Grant Delpit, LSU head coach Ed Orgeron is well aware that Stingely is the best piece on his 2020 defense, and without all-world Joe Burrow under center, he will need the Baton Rouge product to step up while Myles Brennan adjusts to the brutal life of a SEC quarterback. Orgeron is prepared to utilize Stingley in multiple roles, mixing him into some blitz packages as well as his traditional man-coverage role in LSU’s secondary. The ability to be a jack-of-all-trades defender increases Stingley’s Heisman potential, as edge rushers and linebackers more visibly impact games on every play, and thus they get more Heisman votes. Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young and Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith were the only two defensive players to finish in the top ten of Heisman voting in the previous three seasons. Stingley’s versatile skill-set draws natural comparisons to Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o in 2012, who finished second in Heisman voting, second only to the legendary season of Johnny Manziel. The Irish star finished that year with 113 tackles, 7 interceptions, and 1.5 sacks. Stingley finished last year with six picks and 38 tackles. As the best playmaker for the Tigers in 2020, he should get a chance to boost those numbers significantly.
Last season, Stingley faced 94 targets, the second most by a cornerback in the nation, but he allowed just a 38.3% catch rate, a top-5 mark in college football. He played his best football towards the end of the season, intercepting Jake Fromm twice in the SEC title game, and recording four tackles and a fumble recovery in the Playoff. Playing in the SEC, Stingley will have some natural chances for Heisman moments – and if he can be the driving force in leading the Tigers back to SEC supremacy, expect him to be up in the Heisman conversation.
Top Heisman Moment Opportunity
November 21, at Auburn
Finding a Heisman moment is a difficult balance between finding a big game on the schedule and one that brings chances for the candidate to put up big numbers. I think this contest at Auburn is a great chance, as it matches LSU against possibly the best SEC quarterback in Bo Nix, and with Auburn’s balanced offense playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium, Stingley will have a chance to be at his versatile best and stop the Tigers in a critical late season SEC West contest.
Game most likely to trip him up
September 26, vs. Ole Miss
Last year, Ole Miss quarterback John Rhys Plumlee led the Rebels to 37 points against LSU defense. It wasn’t enough to take down Joe Burrow, but it was an extremely impressive performance from the freshman. Ole Miss is not a good team, but Plumlee leads a productive offense for the Rebels, and they could pose some serious issues early in the season for LSU’s defense. It’s a high-risk, low-reward game for Stingley, as a strong performance against a below-average SEC team does little to boost his Heisman chances, but if he struggles against the dynamic Plumlee, it will destroy his limited chances of breaking the stranglehold quarterbacks have on the Heisman Trophy.