The Heisman Trophy is obviously a very prestigious collegiate award, rewarding individual success and also to some extent rewarding standouts on some of college football's best teams each year. The award does little to project further success in the professional ranks, with very few Hall of Fame-caliber players and a litany of players who failed to reach the same heights as they did as college players.
With that, here is my ranking, based on their pro careers, of the Heisman Trophy winners from 1980-2000.
1. Barry Sanders (1988)-
Sanders is third all-time in NFL history in rushing yards (15,269) and was elected to the Pro Bowl in all 10 seasons of his career with the Detroit Lions. Had he not retired so early, we might be looking at the NFL's all-time leading rusher. Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.
2. Marcus Allen (1981)-
Allen had a well decorated NFL career, being named AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in 1982 with the then Los Angeles Raiders, winning Super Bowl MVP and being named NFL Comeback Player of the Year twice (1985,1993). He would play 16 NFL seasons, be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003, and is still third in league history in rushing touchdowns (123).
3. Tim Brown (1987)-
Brown has yet to get a well deserved induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he is in the top 10 in NFL history in receptions (1,094-fifth), receiving yards (14,934-fourth) and receiving touchdowns (100-sixth). Add in his prowess as a return man during his 17 NFL seasons, 16 of which he spent with the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, and Brown ranks fifth all-time in all purpose yards with 19,679.
4. Charles Woodson (1997)-
Woodson has carved out an Hall of Fame-worthy NFL career for himself as a cornerback with a nose for the ball and he also was a very good punt returner when he was a younger player. He will turn 36 during the 2012 season, but it would not be surprising to see him play a few more seasons before hanging up his cleats.
5. Eddie George (1995)-
George qualifies as the perfect test case for NFL running backs suffering a drop in production after age 30, as he retired after an unproductive 2004 season with the Dallas Cowboys at the age of 31. His best years came with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans, highlighted by five straight seasons with at least 1.300 rushing yards from 1996-2000.
6. Ricky Williams (1998)-
Williams certainly had an eclectic pro career, playing for a Super Bowl winning coach (Mike Ditka), retiring in his prime and trying to play in the CFL before returning to the Miami Dolphins in 2007 and playing in one game before being injured. He retired for good (at least that what it looks like) after playing the 2011 season for the Baltimore Ravens, and it's easy to overlook the fact he is one of 26 backs in NFL history with 10,000 career rushing yards (10,009).
7. Doug Flutie (1984)-
Flutie spent his best pro seasons in the CFL, winning that league's Most Outstanding Player Award six times along with three Grey Cups. He returned to the NFL in 1998 with the Buffalo Bills and was named Comeback Player of the Year that season, and he would start all 16 games for the San Diego Chargers in 2001.
8. Bo Jackson (1985)-
Looking back, Jackson was ahead of his time. He gained notoriety as a two-sport athlete (football and baseball), and off the field with his "Bo Knows" ad campaign. His NFL career was derailed by a severe hip injury, limiting him to just four seasons and 16 rushing touchdowns, and fans were left to wonder what might have been.
9. Reggie Bush (2005)-
Bush's Heisman Trophy has since been vacated due to violations of NCAA rules, but he is coming off the best season of his NFL career in 2011 with the Miami Dolphins (1,086 rushing yards). He will never reach the expectations set for him coming out of USC, but Bush at least looks on track to have a solid career.
10. Carson Palmer (2002)-
Palmer has not been the same player since suffering a knee injury in the playoffs a few years ago, but he is 12th among active quarterbacks in passing yards (25,447) entering the coming season. The Cincinnati Bengals managed to trade him to the Oakland Raiders for a bunch of draft picks last season after he had threatened to retire, but Palmer will turn 33 during the 2012 season and should have some good years left.
11. Vinny Testaverde (1986)-
Testaverde struggled early in his NFL career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but still managed to fashion a lengthy career for himself as he played 21 seasons and started six games for the Carolina Panthers in 2007 at age 43. It may surprise a lot of people to know Testaverde currently ranks seventh in NFL history in passing yards with 46,233.
12. Herschel Walker (1982)-
Walker will forever be known for the trade that involved him, as the Dallas Cowboys shipped him to the Minnesota Vikings in 1989 to help set the stage for their dynasty of the early 90's. He would stick in the NFL through the 1997 season.
13. Ron Dayne (1999)-
Dayne was part of a "Thunder And Lightning" backfield duo with the New York Giants early in his career, but he ultimately lasted just seven NFL seasons and played for the Giants, Denver Broncos (2005) and Houston Texans (2006,2007). Certainly not what anyone expected from the 11th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft.
14. Desmond Howard (1991)-
Howard never became an elite NFL wide receiver, but he did manage to become a solid return man and play 11 seasons. His career highlight has to be his kickoff return touchdown for the Green Bay Packer in Super Bowl XXXI, which led to him being named MVP of the game.
15. Matt Leinart (2004)-
Leinart will never reach the expectations set for him coming out of college, and frankly he was overrated coming out of college. But he may be carving out a niche for himself as a career backup, and will join Palmer and the Oakland Raiders for the 2012 season.
16. Ty Detmer (1990)-
Speaking of career backups, Detmer managed to play eight NFL seasons being just that. He did start 18 games over a two-year span with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1997 and 1998, and he can say he backed up Brett Favre early in his career.
17. Mike Rozier (1983)-
Rozier played in the USFL for two seasons before spending seven seasons in the NFL with the Houston Oilers and Atlanta Falcons from 1985-1991. His best season, and only 1,000 yard season, came in 1988 with the Oilers as he had 1,002 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
18. Chris Weinke (2000)-
Weinke started 15 games as a rookie for the Carolina Panthers in 2001, but the fact he was an older player upon entering the league led to him starting five more games the rest of his career. He is now the director of the IMG Football Academy in Florida.
19. Rashaan Salaam (1994)-
Salaam topped 1,000 yards as a rookie with the Chicago Bears in 1995, but issues with injuries, fumbles and drugs quickly derailed his career. He would play in the XFL before trying to make an NFL comeback with the San Francisco 49ers in 2003 and ultimately being released by the CFL's Toronto Argonauts in 2004.
20. Danny Wuerffel (1996)-
Wuerffel was a product of Steve Spurrier's offensive system at Florida, but started just 10 games over six NFL seasons. It's probably no coincidence four of those starts came for Spurrier with the Washington Redskins in 2002.
21. Andre Ware (1989)-
The quarterback carousel Detroit Lions' head coach Wayne Fontes employed didn't do Ware any favors, but he still managed to play just four NFL seasons. He is one of the products of the "Run-And-Shoot" offense that was around pro and college football in the late 1980's and early 1990's.
22. Charlie Ward (1993)-
Ward never played in the NFL, but did manage to play in the NBA for 11 seasons. For that reason alone, he climbs a couple spots on this list.
23. Eric Crouch (2001)-
Crouch was ill-suited to be an NFL quarterback, and tried to make the transition to wide receiver and then safety at that level to little effect. He would get a chance to play quarterback in the CFL, but his pro career never found any stride.
24. Gino Torretta (1992)-
Torretta attempted just 16 passes in his NFL career, despite occupying a roster spot until 1997 before retiring. He did throw one touchdown pass.
25. Jason White (2003)-
White went undrafted out of Oklahoma in 2005 and ultimately signed as a free agent with the Tennessee Titans. But he ultimately cited knee issues as a reason to quit football, and is currently involved in multiple businesses in Oklahoma.