Auburn Football: Is Quarterback Jeremy Johnson a 2015 Heisman Trophy Candidate?


The Auburn football team will lose a lot of great players to graduation and the NFL Draft, but quarterback Jeremy Johnson may still emerge as a 2015 Heisman Trophy candidate.

He’s already one way-too-early 2015 Heisman dark-horse list thanks to Brian Leigh at Bleacher Report, and for good reason. His ceiling his sky high.

Johnson, who will be a junior in 2015, is is listed at 6-foot-5 and 233 pounds, meaning he is built in the mold of prototypical NFL quarterbacks like Peyton Manning. While he has a long way to go before he makes it to the league, the talent is there.

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Johnson has a very strong arm and is extremely accurate with his throws (something Nick Marshall struggled with at times in his two season as the starting quarterback). He’s less mobile than Marshall, but he’s no statue either and has the ability to run the zone read head coach and offensive play-caller Gus Malzahn prefers. But, Malzahn has a terrific track record for molding his offenses to best fit the skills of his players.

It’s true that Auburn has been a run-based offense with Malzahn at the helm. The Tigers led the nation in rushing in 2013 and lead the SEC with 258.5 rushing yards per game following the regular season. After all, as a young high school coach, Malzahn based his attack in Tubby Raymond’s Delaware Wing-T and has developed it over time by adding wrinkle after wrinkle.

However, he’s had units put up plenty of passing yards as well.

Gus Malzahn Has a History of Producing Offenses With Huge Passing Yards

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee was Malzahn’s quarterback at Shiloh Christian High School in Arkansas from 1998-2001, and he still ranks in the top ten nationally in pass completions, passing yards, career touchdown passes, pass attempts in a season, completions in a game, pass attempts in a game and passing yards in a game.

Oct 26, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers quarterback Jeremy Johnson (6) looks to pass against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Jordan Hare Stadium. The Tigers beat the Owls 45-10. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Then, there was Malzahn’s tenure as the co-offensive coordinator at Tulsa. With Malzahn calling the plays, the Golden Hurricane led the nation in total offense in 2007 and 2008.

In 2007, the team ranked third in the nation in passing and were the first FBS team in history to produce a 5,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher, and three 1,000-yard receivers. Paul Smith completed 327 of 544 pass attempts (60.1%) for 5,065 yards and 47 touchdowns. He added just 119 rushing yards, but also scored 13 times on the ground.

The following season, Malzahn led Tulsa to top ten rankings in rushing (fifth) and passing (ninth). New quarterback David Johnson completed 258 of 400 passes (64.5%) for 4,059 yards and 46 TDs and had 186 rushing yards and three scores.

Sure, Malzahn and his offense put up those numbers in Conference USA and not the SEC, but Jeremy Johnson is a better quarterback than Paul Smith or David Johnson.

Plus, he’ll have a more talented supporting cast than Tarrion Adams (who ran for more than 1,200 both years, by the way), Brennan Marion, Trae Johnson, Charles Clay, and Damaris Johnson. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Jeremy Johnson throw for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns next season.

Johnson Has Talent, Experience, and a Quality Group of Skill Position Players

But what about the fact that Johnson will be a new starter? Tim TebowJohnny Manziel and Jameis Winston both won the Heisman Trophy in their first year as a starting college QB, and Johnson already has more experience than any of them did.

And let’s not forget, Gus Malzahn has already led an Auburn quarterback to a Heisman Trophy in his first season as the starting QB for the Tigers.

Interestingly enough, Johnson will actually be the first quarterback Malzahn has had as a collegiate assistant or head coach to start the season opener (assuming of course he stays healthy and out of trouble).

Because of Nick Marshall’s suspension, Johnson started the season opener for the Tigers against Arkansas, and we got a sneak peek at what he could do and how Malzahn would call plays for him.

Johnson played the first half against the Razorbacks and completed 12 of 16 pass attempts for 243 yards and two touchdowns and led a third TD drive.

And let’s not forget, Gus Malzahn has already led an Auburn quarterback to a Heisman Trophy.

Adding limited duty he received the rest of the season, Johnson has completed 28 of 37 passes (75.7%) for 436 yards and three TDs without an interception. As a true freshman, he was 29-for-41 (70.7%) for 422 yards, six touchdowns and was intercepted twice. He also earned his first career start that season against Western Carolina.

Of course, the Auburn football team must replace a lot of skill position players next season, and it may take a while for Johnson to mesh his supporting cast. However, Johnson is very familiar with the replacements having practiced with most of them over the last two seasons, and there are several extremely talented newcomers that will be put in the mix as well.

Cameron Artis-Payne is the SEC’s leading rusher and Corey Grant has been a dependable senior. But, Roc Thomas was one of the highest rated running backs in the 2014 recruiting class, Jovon Robinson is the consensus top-rated JUCO player nationally (and could be a Heisman contender in his own right) and Kerryon Johnson keeps racking up awards as a high school senior.

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  • Johnson won’t have Sammie Coates or Quan Bray to throw to (and probably won’t have Duke Williams, either), but Ricardo Louis, Melvin Ray, Marcus Davis and Jaylon Denson are a solid bunch and Jonathan Wallace and Stanton Truitt will be on hand as well. Additionally, the Tigers could land UAB transfer Jamari Staples and are in the mix for top-notch recruits Tyron Johnson and Christian Kirk.

    Finally, the Tigers should be in good hands on the offensive line despite the loss of two starters because five players are expected to return with starting experience.

    Overall, the offense has a chance to be even more explosive in 2015 than it was in 2013 or 2014 with Nick Marshall running the show.

    If that happens, and Auburn wins a lot of football games with the help of a new and (hopefully) improved defense, Johnson may find himself in New York in early December 2015.

    And he might just bring the Heisman Trophy home with him.

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