Sam Howell began the season as the Tar Heels outside Heisman shot and while he has had a strong sophomore campaign, he is no longer the Tar Heels best shot to win the Heisman Trophy this season.
That montra currently resides with Javonte Williams, who has exploded to have a tremendous junior season at running back for the Tar Heels. Headed up by Tar Heel freelancer John Bauman, the Javonte Williams Heisman train has begun to gain some momentum in the last couple of weeks, but Williams has been outstanding since the first snap of the season.
Despite splitting time with Michael Carter, who has had a big year of his own, Williams is still one of the country’s leaders in most major categories. His 14 rushing touchdowns and 17 total touchdowns are both tops in the nation and his 1,001 scrimmage yards are fourth-best in the nation right now. He has started the season with seven straight games with a rushing touchdown, one of just two running backs that have played more than five games this season to hold distinction so far this year. He has scored multiple touchdowns in all but one game so far this season and has already found the endzone three or more times in three games this season. He has averaged 7.2 yards per carry so far this season, which ranks fourth amongst running backs to have played in at least five games. He has 767 rushing yards so far this season, which ranks sixth in the nation to this point.
It’s hard not to say that Williams currently has the best résumé amongst non-quarterbacks if you just go by the stats. Alabama running back Najee Harris is the biggest threat to that case right now, but Williams is the more dynamic of the two with his ability to catch the football out of the backfield. The other big threat to his case here is Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who through three games has already run for 571 yards and ten touchdowns.
The biggest thing that hinders Williams' case, though, is the team around him. Even though the voting isn’t really supposed to be based on team records, the past results have shown that your team's record is taken into account as a factor in the voting. The Tar Heels two bad losses to Florida State and Virginia will be damaging to his case, as could the fact that he will still have to split time with Michael Carter. The award has become hard enough to win for non-quarterbacks, as well, and will be more difficult for a player who splits carries with another successful running back. The chances are thin that Williams takes home the most prestigious individual trophy in the sport, but he will definitely have a case to be a finalist if his numbers remain consistent with where they are through seven games.
It’s going to be hard to compare his season to anyone in the recent past in a season like this, but Harris is still hanging around in the race, meaning there’s still a glimmer hope for Williams. It feels like Williams’ case could be most closely related to the case of Andre Williams’ back in 2013. While the numbers may be there for Javonte at the end of the season, the team's success is going to be a big factor in his case. If the Tar Heels can win out and he can reach the 30 total touchdown mark, which is possible, he could have a chance to be a Heisman finalist. Anything short of that, though, and he would likely fall short, especially with the Heisman Trophy having transitioned into a quarterback award in recent years.
Regardless of if he receives Heisman votes or not, Williams' story is a remarkable one to say the least. The former 3✮ who was ranked as the No. 1476 overall player and No. 94 running back in the 2018 recruiting class was not supposed to turn into one of the top position players in the country according to the recruiting experts. However, the Wallace-Rose Hill graduate who was a two-way player on the football field and a valedictorian in the classroom, wasted no time making a name for himself with the Tar Heels. His first extensive action came against Western Carolina as a true freshman in 2018, but his breakout game was the final game of that season against NC State when he handled the bulk of the carries and nearly helped lead a depleted Tar Heel team to a win over the rival Wolfpack. As a sophomore last season, Williams won a share of the starting job along with Michael Carter and totaled over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and would have reached that mark on the ground alone had he not been banged up late in the season. Some thought it might be difficult to replicate that success in a shorter season and him continuing to share time, but he has taken another step forward, becoming one of the top running backs in the entire country.
Williams has had an amazing year to this point and has definitely become one of the complete running backs in the country in the early part of the season. With the Tar Heels not being in the championship picture, he still has a steep hill to climb if he wants to be a finalist for the most prestigious individual trophy in the sport. As for the Doak Walker Award...